Report from SCMS: Saturday, Sunday, and Beyond

March 16, 2011
By | 36 Comments

Why do we attend academic conferences?

While there have been a number of diverse responses to this year’s SCMS, many of them coming from fellow graduate students, a substantial portion of the discussion boils down to this central question, one which I found myself asking as things were winding down on Sunday (after attending compelling panels on criticism and the disruption of media specificity). and as I followed the post-conference discussion on Twitter.

There are, of course, a number of possible answers: bolstering the C.V., networking, socializing, an excuse to visit New Orleans, and (lest we forget) a desire to workshop your research and engage with other academics doing much the same. For each of us, a conference like SCMS means something different, and thus its ability to meet our expectations very much depends on what those expectations might entail.

On a personal level, I hesitate to professionalize SCMS as a first-year PhD student. While many of the workshops I attended featured discussions centered around the deflated job market, and the challenge that those on the market face in terms of getting their names out there, I’ll be honest: I don’t want to think about it. Yes, my presentation on Thursday will become a line on my C.V., and I did my share of handshaking, but I consider neither the presentation nor the handshaking in terms of their future benefit to my academic career.

I am aware that this is naïve, and that to some degree I am delaying the inevitable. The reality of conferences like SCMS is that they bring together scholars from every rung of the academic ladder – there was even an undergrad or two, unless I’m mistaken – and offer the promise (and, arguably, illusion) that the ladder is horizontal rather than vertical: Professors present alongside graduate students, and associates present alongside assistants. And yet, the reality is that each of these groups sees conferences like SCMS as very different beasts, a reality that becomes expressly clear in workshops and even casual conversation as the conference unfolds. For every moment where it appears the ladder is lying on the ground, set aside for a weekend of collaboration, an off-hand comment or an awkward moment in a Q&A has the ladder propped up against the wall with grad students squarely on the bottom rung.

It is our natural inclination to want to climb a ladder – that is its function, after all – but there is often nothing natural about the most common strategy for doing so. The Oxford English Dictionary defines networking as “The action or process of making use of a network of people for the exchange of information, etc., or for professional or other advantage.” This seems to capture the struggle of SCMS: while the former seems like an ideal description of a collective group of scholars coming together to share ideas, the latter often seems like SCMS’ true raison d’etre. At times, it feels as though very little separates us from the publishers set up in the book room, and one wonders if any enterprising young scholar has ever inquired about taking out an ad in the back of the program.

I do not begrudge those who see SCMS as an opportunity to gain professional advantage. I just think that we need to acknowledge the fact that not everyone needs to see it that way. During Saturday’s panel on blogging and tweeting and their role in “scholarly promotion,” this kind of behavior was often framed in terms of branding, a term that flat out bothers me. It’s not that it doesn’t describe the potential use of this kind of online interaction: Twitter and professionally-oriented blogs can be invaluable tools for scholars on the market. My concern is that the term deemphasizes what we blog in favor of why we blog, and also risks framing these behaviors as promotional or performative when they are often personal and collaborative.

Yes, my experience on Twitter and through my own blog have been professionally valuable – heck, I would not be writing this post as a PhD student at UW-Madison were it not for connections made through these outlets. However, these tools are also about an exchange of ideas, the potential to push myself as a writer, and the opportunity to gain valuable feedback almost instantaneously. Using the term branding obfuscates this process of self-discovery – while a brand may be a by-product of this process, to suggest that it is its primary function reflects the pervasiveness of networking rhetoric within the field (and, as evidenced by some of the above concerns, within SCMS).

On a personal level, as noted, I find myself trying to tune it all out. What others call networking I call meeting new people, and what others consider self-promotion I simply consider asking questions during Q&As, being active in the Twitter backchannel, and generally engaging with the discussion at hand. For my first SCMS, my goal was simply to be a part of my first SCMS: I attended a panel or workshop in every session but two, and asked a question or offered a comment in all but a handful. And while SCMS 2011 had its ups and downs much like any conference, I ultimately felt it was a worthwhile and largely comfortable experience.

However, I am aware that I am in a somewhat privileged position: UW-Madison had a substantial presence at the event, offering a pre-existing network of scholars to engage with, while the strong community of television scholars on Twitter has managed to transition over from the virtual world. For those who come as part of a smaller department, and those who may be from smaller (or less Twitter-active) disciplines without the same sense of built-in camaraderie, the question shifts to what SCMS should (or can) do to better facilitate an exchange of ideas unencumbered by the rungs on which we stand.

I don’t entirely have an answer to this question, but I do want to emphasize that I think it’s a question we need to ask. There has been a common thread of “it gets better” within responses to the post-conference discourse among graduate students, but are there no ways we can try to make that a more immediate possibility? Should we move towards more pro-am panels and workshops that actively seek to bring scholars from different generations together? Should the first-time attendee orientation be more strongly encouraged, and made more useful through a social (or, if we must use the term, networking) form? The ladder might always exist, and graduate students may always be on the lowest rung, but there seem to be plenty of avenues which could at least assure everyone that it’s okay to look down every once in a while.

Advice that might help graduate students get a clearer sense of their position, and which might further encourage experienced scholars to reflect upon their time on those lower rungs.


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36 Responses to “ Report from SCMS: Saturday, Sunday, and Beyond ”

  1. […] Myles McNutt – Report from SCMS: Saturday, Sunday, and Beyond (via Antenna) […]

  2. Anne Helen Petersen on March 16, 2011 at 11:45 AM

    As the person in the blogging/tweeting panel who brought up the concept of “branding,” I very much see your point, Myles — the term signifies a repugnant practice that seems at odd with the central tenets of graduate work in the humanities. Or at least it *should*: in an ideal academic world, there would be no need for Tweeting, or conjuring a memorable blog name, or even deciding on what your professional name should be, because people who work hard and produce innovative, insightful work would have that work read and appreciated. As one audience member exclaimed, academia is still one of the few meritocracies that persists in American culture.

    I so very much wish this were the case. But as several members of the workshop (and others sitting in the audience) shared with me afterwards, academia is NOT a meritocracy. Whether this is due to the overarching crisis in the humanities, funding structures that increasingly depend on “data and outcomes” produced, or the fact that some of us deal with “bad objects,” matters little. What does matter is that toiling in obscurity — even if your work is genius-level — will not get you a job. This sucks; I wish it were different; but the reality is, it’s not. Heck, I wish that graduate work could be considered a valuable process in and of itself, without always considering how a particular activity contributes to one’s dissertation or CV. But the reality of loans — and the paucity of career options open for those with a Ph.D. in media studies — means that we have to be mindful, especially as each of us proceed towards the job market, of our own visibility. That doesn’t mean that we need to have a “brand,” or that we have to define ourselves narrowly according to what we primarily study. Not all graduate students should feel compelled to blog, to Tweet, or even to participate in online scholarship like Antenna or Flow. But in a horrible market, those things do seem like one way to make your own name stick out amongst the 400 applications for a job.

    It’s unfortunate that the market is so horrible that it encourages branding over thought, networking over engaged scholarship. But even if we change the way that SCMS works — and continue efforts to make the ladder more horizontal — will that change the reality of life post graduate school? I realize I’m writing from a particularly discouraged and disillusioned subject position…..but how, exactly, can we change the logic of the market? Is it actually possible from the bottom up?

    [As a final note, I’ll also reiterate what I said in the workshop re: branding — getting my name out has *always* been secondary to the actual action of blogging for me, which, with its ability to reach far outside of the academic sphere, has always aligned with my personal and political beliefs as a cultural theorist and feminist. Plus, as I know you understand, it’s also tremendously pleasurable, and we shouldn’t discount that.]

    • Myles McNutt on March 16, 2011 at 12:16 PM

      Annie, thanks for your thoughtful response (and for raising some more details of what emerged from the workshop – I was pushing Antenna limits as it was, and the added context is valuable).

      I certainly agree that changing the logic of the market is a pipe dream. However, I think we can change the fact that this logic is pervasive the second we step foot into graduate school. We need to acknowledge that blogging/tweeting is a sliding scale, one which often starts in the realm of the personal before evolving into the professional. I think that you are absolutely right that we must be realistic about what role these actions can play when one is on the job market, but I worry that marrying these two elements too closely.

      My problem, in other words, is rhetorical rather than behavioral – I have no issue with those who use blogging and twitter with an eye towards branding (and would certainly agree with the point you raised both during the workshop and here in regards to that function remaining secondary in many instances), but I do worry about how some of the terms we use to describe it risk, well, branding it within a job market context that I personally feel shouldn’t be the dominant perspective from which we blog/tweet/etc. when we first enter into these types of settings. And while you note that it isn’t that way for you, and I would echo the same, I worry that the more we talk about it in these terms the more younger scholars will start to think that they DO need to do these things despite our best efforts to dissuade them of its necessity.

      This will not change what the job market will be like in 4-5 years’ time, but I think there is value to finding ways to encourage a few years of personal development before professionalizing this discourse. Perhaps one could argue that this is just putting grad students into a bubble, hiding the harsh reality from them, but I don’t mean to suggest that they be kept in the dark about what awaits them: I just think that we should be told that we still have time before we need to be thinking in terms of “branding.”

      And that when we do start to think in those terms, we come up with a word that doesn’t sound so artificial.

      • Jonathan Gray on March 16, 2011 at 6:02 PM

        I worry about “branding” too, Myles. Granted, I wasn’t at that panel, so my comments are offered without knowledge of that context. But:
        (1) Branding risks narrowing, and while we all do that in our careers, grad school should be a place for exploration and testing some stuff out, and branding may conflict with that.
        (2) The more material that’s put out there to brand instead of to answer or to pose an important question, the more that the online academic sphere could seem disinteresting to a lot of academic readers, and thus it could spike not only the person hoping to be noticed, but also others blogging, if would-be readers take their eyeballs elsewhere.
        (3) Yucky term — could we say people need to think about their paratexts instead 😉 Joking aside, branding connotes a lack of sincerity and a calculated attempt to affect a certain response in people. It’s too icky a term, therefore

    • Max Dawson on March 16, 2011 at 11:45 PM

      I’m not as allergic to the concept of branding as it seems most other folks are, perhaps because I use it in a slightly differently way. When I was first going on the market, I had a friend explain branding to me as being able to tell people who you are and what you do in a concise and compelling way, whether in a Twitter bio, a job letter, or a two-minute conversation in the hallway at SCMS. The way it was explained to me, branding doesn’t necessarily have to be about getting your name out there. Rather, it can be about arriving at a clear sense of your identity as a scholar. Know who you are, and be prepared to tell others. It seems like obvious advice, but I think it’s something that many of us put off thinking about until we have to – i.e., until we’re on the market.

      • Jonathan Gray on March 17, 2011 at 4:18 AM

        To elaborate on my sense of branding’s “ickiness” as a term, though, Max, I think the difference is that branding suggests an inductive process to me, and an attempt to create, whereas what you’re describing is deductive, a reflection of what’s there. So, yeah, I’m all for knowing who you are, and being able to say it (and, I’d add, being bold enough to say it with confidence — too many grad students feel they need to be apologetic for and tentative about what they study. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard people tell me about their awesome work, yet frame it like it sucks). And I’m sure that’s what Annie means, so I hope Annie doesn’t feel a sharp edge to my comments here — none is intended. I realize this is semantics, but the semantics matter if others can misinterpret.

  3. amanda on March 16, 2011 at 12:43 PM

    Myles and Annie,
    These are great points re: the uses of blogging and social media, and of course, you are both right. I went on the job market in the days before social media really took off (unless you count “Friendster”), but my guess is that having a strong online presence (if it is a positive one) will certainly make you slightly more visible in a sea of strong job applications. But as Myles rightly points out, those on the market should not *have* to have an online presence, particularly since different fields of study are more amenable to “tweets” and blog posts than others.

    What I want to speak to, though, is Myles’ question about how grad students can feel more involved in the conversations taking place at large conferences like SCMS, both within the walls of the conference rooms and outside of them. There was an animated discussion of this issue on Twitter a few nights ago, with some graduate students expressing a feeling of alienation and wondering how SCMS might promote more avenues of exchange between grad students and more seasoned conference-goers.

    I too offered the advice of “it gets better,” not a way to brush off these legitimate concerns, but because I think it’s the truth. Just as the first years of graduate school are overwhelming and anxiety-producing, with first years feeling like they have no useful way of communicating with older students or faculty, large conferences like SCMS are often the same way. My first experience of SCMS involved hanging out with 2 other grad students from my program in the Super 8 Motel where we were staying, eating cake and watching MONA LISA SMILE. True story. I think it just takes time to find your way in the field, to meet people outside of your department, and to decide exactly how (if at all) you want to engage with other conference participants.

    Having said that, I do think there are some things that can be done to make a large conference like SCMS more welcoming to new scholars. First, events like “Grrrl’s Night Out” (which I could not attend) certainly encourages conversations between female scholars on different rungs of the academic ladder (should there be a “Boys Night Out” too?). I also felt the Tweet Up on Thursday night was a great opportunity for a mixed bag of individuals to meet and talk face to face. Given that the SCMS website has become much more interactive over the last few months, perhaps there could be a space there for folks to volunteer to be mentors or mentees at the next conference; this could involve agreeing to meet with someone in your field individually, or in a group, introduce them to others in the field, answer questions, etc.

    However, even with such structures in place, large conferences are going to be daunting no matter what.

    • Jonathan Gray on March 16, 2011 at 5:50 PM

      I’d second the note that “it gets better,” not because becoming a faculty member makes it so, but simply because the more you go, the more people you know (I was reminded of this recently when talking to a wonderful scholar who I went to grad school with, who doesn’t attend conferences much and who feels much the same way as many grad students do).

      But I’d also add that conferences really take on a new spin for the better when one lets go of the need to meet those above one on the ladder. Sure, it’s nice if those likely to be on hiring committees can place your name and face, but the best connections I’ve made at conferences have always been with those who are roughly at the same spot on the ladder as am I. They’re the ones who became my collaborators, my confidantes, and often the ones who’d read my work and perhaps even cite it.

      None of the above is to say that we couldn’t find ways to get senior scholars and junior ones mixed and matched, though, as I remember vividly and painfully the feeling of being utterly alienated.

      • Jason Mittell on March 16, 2011 at 7:11 PM


        I’d just note that we met at a conference when you were still a grad student (or maybe had just finished), and our first interactions were more of the imbalanced variety in terms of who’d published what. But that changes fairly quickly once you get past that initial awkwardness and connect with people beyond concerns with rank & lengths of CV, and focus on who they are and what they have to say. That’s certainly happened to me with many of the grad students working on Antenna, Flow and the like.

        (And, of course, now you’ve lapped me!…)

        • Jonathan Gray on March 17, 2011 at 4:46 AM

          I remember it well. I’d finished my degree a year earlier. And you were wonderfully gracious.

          Indeed, to be clear, I don’t mean to downplay the importance (and excitement) of making such connections. Instead, my point is retrospective, noting from the vantage point of “years in the future” that when I look back at my early conferences, what I most value are often the connections I made with others in my cohort — and meeting Jason Mittell 😉 Even though at the time I felt like I should’ve been doing more to get the Big Names movers and shakers to notice me, ultimately I was befriending those who would inherit the world 🙂

          • Erin Copple Smith on March 17, 2011 at 10:16 AM

            I couldn’t agree more with this thread. The more conferences I go to, the less I feel inclined to meet and greet Big Names. It’s cool, yes, to put faces with names, and hear from favorite scholars out loud in a conference setting. But more importantly, I find that connecting with my own peer group is both inspiring and fulfilling.

            The panel I put together this year, comprised of three other female PhD candidates whom I consider good friends, really inspired me with a sense of “this panel is the future of industry studies…how exciting!”

            I think part of this is that, so often in our home departments, we’re the only one (or one of two or three) doing “what we do”. Going to conferences is a chance to meet others doing similar work in a way that is extremely rewarding. Sitting over lunch with Courtney Brannon Donoghue, for example, was thrilling, because we were both able to get into the nitty gritty of our dissertations–knowing that our companion spoke the same language and was truly interested. It was wonderful to get beyond the 2-minute elevator speech, as it were, for the first time in months with someone who really understood!

            In any case, over time, it DOES get better! I used to really loathe conferencing, as I felt awkward and artificial and out-of-place. Amanda Lotz told me, though, “One day, you’ll love conferences, because it’s the only time you get to see your friends.” Now that I’m away from UW as a VAP, I understand that truth all too well–and not just the joy of reuniting with my UW pals, but also my newly-acquired friends from other institutions and places.

            All of this to say: it DOES get better. Last year at SCMS, I was rooming with strangers, and awkwardly trying to introduce myself to everyone–grad students and Big Names alike. This year, it was much different–it was about reuniting with friends and continuing conversations. And, honestly, it was much more rewarding this time around for that reason.

            It does get better.

  4. Elana Levine on March 16, 2011 at 1:01 PM

    Thanks for your thoughts, Myles, and the other commenters thus far. I really appreciate the way that Myles has reminded us of the importance of content and ideas. While Myles mentions this in terms of blogging, I’d just like to emphasize its significance for the conference itself. I wish more people would talk about what they learned–you know, about media–at SCMS. Of course there are social and professionalizing functions for conferences but I’d hate for us to lose sight of their role as spaces for the presentations and sharing of RESEARCH. While not every presentation is stellar, my favorite thing about conferences is still getting to hear about new research from colleagues across the field and to engage in conversations about ideas with others who share my interests and intellectual background. Many of us in the world after grad school know all too well how rare and valuable it is to be able to participate in such a space.

    • Anne Helen Petersen on March 16, 2011 at 1:06 PM

      Really great point, Elana. I’ll also note that the highlight of the conference for me was attending an 8 am panel where I met two scholars whose work was really inspring and intersectional with my own….neither of whom are on Twitter or blog. Ideas really are the reason for this conference, and it’s essential to keep that in mind.

    • Jason Mittell on March 16, 2011 at 4:50 PM


      You’re definitely right that research presentations can be great and a vital part of a conference. But in my experience trying to blog about the conference for the SCMS site, I found it hard to really dive into the research that I heard, and similarly was not terribly active tweeting research presentations. I think it’s a problem of translation from written essay to oral presentation to listener-produced notes/tweets/blogs – I don’t want to misrepresent those ideas into a caricature or over-simplification, as is one of the dangers of public note-taking. I’d rather read the papers to fully digest & think about them before reporting/commenting publicly (hence my lobbying for people to post their papers online). I also get quite blurry with research presentations after a few back-to-back, while the conversation of workshops (& unofficial chatting) seems more conducive to the marathon of a conference & reportage of blogging/twitter.

  5. alexj on March 16, 2011 at 4:27 PM

    I’m the audience member who said academia is a meritocracy (hi! Alex Juhasz here) and while of course it is a dysfunctional one on many accounts (several listed above, the fact of no jobs and an insanely large and overly qualified pool the most immediate) those of us who do have the power to hire and promote actually try our best within our institutions to do so on the quality, integrity, originality (whatver are our attempted standards) of people’s work. We do attempt to see beyond more superficial things like branding, image, hair color, shoe size, or website, while of course these do contribute to the body of work (or at least some of them do). As I say in my blog post about this workshop (mostly focusing upon the use of anxiety in this session), a lot of this is the frame and terms one uses to see, understand, and experience these professional experiences (and people are right, above, that this changes across one’s career)–is it networking, or sharing, for instance?

  6. Mabel Rosenheck on March 16, 2011 at 4:50 PM

    The thing I want to highlight (and tried to highlight in my blog post) is not just why do we attend academic conferences but why do we attend SCMS specifically? What function does SCMS specifically serve, especially for those of use whose work and scholarly heroes may not be represented in such an environment? This is really part of much broader personal negotiation of the work I do and where it fits in, a negotiation which included selecting a media studies PhD program despite the fact that I often want my basic objects of study to expand beyond media. So the question is not only how welcoming is SCMS of graduate students but how does the field’s sense of what media is construct the constitution of the conference.

    • Derek Kompare on March 16, 2011 at 8:07 PM

      When I first started attending SCS (as it was known then) in the early 1990s, any work about any non-film medium was marginal. The handful of television panels were critical spaces for a field just starting to emerge. Moreover, the conference was only just starting to become welcoming to work addressing forms and cultures outside the usual white hetero Euro-American zone. All of the caucuses and SIGs in SCMS were formed because of this perceived lack in what the “mainstream” of the Society offered.

      As many of us can attest, there certainly were grumbles about how the Society’s sense of “the media” seemed constricted. As recently as a decade ago, several of us were actively seeking another primary outlet (including flirting with NCA). In the years since the expansion of the society’s name (which happened in 2003, in time for the Minneapolis conference, which featured a conference program graced by a TV-centric photo of the city’s Mary Tyler Moore statue), television, sound, new media, and other forms (video games, non-theatrical imaging, comics) have all found some space under the expanded umbrella. In the same time span, other conferences have emerged as new, vital spaces for reconceiving our work and our modes of work (I’m thinking in particular of Media in Transition and Flow).

      While this may sound like another verse of “it gets better,” it does indicate that the Society has changed, and will continue to change. Barring the (let’s face it) debacle of the 2009 Tokyo conference, the Society’s leadership, efficiency and communication has improved markedly over the years. Still, it can hardly claim perfection, and your interests may very well shape new directions for the Society; I hope that’s the case. This *should* be a different experience in 2031 than it was in 1991 or 2011.

      Keep making your case, and we’ll keep listening. In the end, this might not be the home for you after all. That said, most of us here have felt exactly that as well in the past.

      • Jonathan Gray on March 17, 2011 at 4:50 AM

        What both of you point to here is, I believe, the absolute necessity of attending more than just one conference. Maybe not each year. But having different publics and cohorts with different governing logics has helped keep me sane.

      • Mabel Rosenheck on March 17, 2011 at 9:36 PM

        this is a great comment and though i don’t really have a formal response, i just wanted to appreciate it and say thanks to derek for making it!

  7. Karen Petruska on March 16, 2011 at 7:10 PM

    To second Annie’s comment, I agree that acknowledging market realities within academia may be viewed as a realistic playing of “the game,” dystopian though that game may be.

    I know a scholar who is super utopian about new media but deeply pessimistic about academia (you won’t be surprised to hear that this professor avoids SCMS). This professor introduced me to Marc Bousquet’s “How the University Works: Higher Education and the Low-Wage Nation,” in which Bousquet details the multiple levels of exploitation upon which the university system depends. To encounter a book like this during grad school is unsettling, to say the least. But it also reminded me that I knew what I was getting into when I entered grad school.

    I didn’t come here to get a job (though that would be nice, of course–since the alternative is my parents’ basement). If I wanted a job, I would go to trade school. Instead, I came to graduate school to be challenged, to enjoy a life of the mind, to spend every day doing something that I genuinely love. There are costs to this life–if there weren’t, I’m not sure I’d see its value truly. Studying media for a living is the most indulgent thing I have ever done (no, wait, I used to work in theater–the job market in academia is actually better than in theater).

    I can make arguments till I turn blue about the value of what we do–the benefits of a liberal arts education, the importance of studying culture, even the significance of my efforts to write about television (no matter how small the audience may seem). These arguments, however, face the overwhelming obstacles of a university system that has embraced a neoliberal set of values. A local college in town asks professors to refer to their students as “customers”–no joke. While I find myself recoiling from a such an approach, I also likely won’t have the luxury to pick and choose at which institution I work.

    It may seem that I have wandered far afield from SCMS, but I think all these matters are related. I kind of embrace the gauntlet that is SCMS because I consider it training. The disparity in number between film and TV panels? Reflective of most university departments and course offerings. The need to sell your work? First stage in eventual need to submit to a journal, find a job, apply for tenure, draft a book proposal, etc. The terror of networking? Pretty much part of any job you will apply for anywhere. It always helps to know someone–I don’t care in what industry you work. We’re lucky that in TV Studies, many of the folks are genuinely open and willing to chat.

    There are many alternatives to SCMS, and I’m glad about that. But I’m also glad SCMS has to “get better” since it teaches me through its less enjoyable qualities. In writing this, I don’t mean to discourage conversations about how we can improve the experience of SCMS. And I am grateful for opportunities at SCMS and other conferences that allow me to engage in stimulating conversations about exciting work with others that share my interests. Nevertheless, it is better (for me, at least), to acknowledge the darker side of academia, for fear that disappointment or discouragement will dampen my enthusiasm. With my eyes open, I know the stakes and the risks. I hope that I will also always believe that the pleasure of doing work I love will make it worth it.

  8. FYSCMS | fytelevision on March 16, 2011 at 9:46 PM

    […] been those of first-time attendees, including graduate students Mabel Rosenheck, Noel Kirkpatrick, Myles McNutt, and Justin Horton. Though Mabel, Noel, Myles, and Justin each have their own unique perspective on […]

  9. Jason Mittell on March 17, 2011 at 7:53 AM

    Since this seems to be an active conversation, let me re-pose a question I asked on Max’s (new!) blog: did any of the SCMS rookies attend one of the New Members Orientations? These were implemented this year as a reaction to some of the concerns about new people feeling alienated & lacking guidance. But I didn’t go, so I don’t know if they would have addressed any of the issues raised here or on other blogs – I’m sure if anyone who attended one has feedback, the SCMS brass will be interested & willing to adjust. Any reports?

    • Myles McNutt on March 17, 2011 at 12:02 PM

      I personally did not go, for a few reasons:

      1) The time – since I was presenting at noon on Thursday, the 11am start time was inconvenient, as I wanted to be able to get lunch, be prepared, etc. Obviously, this only impacts me, but it kept me from considering attending.

      2) The day – while a Thursday session makes sense, by the time Friday arrived I had already been to a number of panels, which made the whole orientation seem somewhat unnecessary given that I had already experienced what the conference had to offer. It might have worked for people arriving on Friday, but it didn’t work for me.

      3) The description – “Learn more about the Society, the conference, the journal and other benefits of membership” sounds like a time-share presentation waiting to happen.

      I think it’s the description that ultimately dissuaded me. As mentioned, I think there is value in the idea of orientation, but it should be more along the lines of Erin’s (great) comment – make it a first-time attendees social event where people can meet one another and find people with similar interests. Have a few senior faculty attend to facilitate some generational connections, put out some snacks, and instead of TELLING people about the potential of the conference, SHOW people the potential of the conference.

      • Noel Kirkpatrick on March 17, 2011 at 12:31 PM

        I second Myles’s reasons above, to a tee actually, but I’ll expand just a bit to say that the description was vaguer sounding than even some of the panels, like the conference didn’t know what it wanted to do with this orientation session either. The e-mail that was sent out likewise provided little push to go, or seemed like it provided little information that I couldn’t get from someone more seasoned in SCMSing (I even know one of the board members now, I think).

        And, please, if you’re going to make a social event, no band. Oy.

    • Max Dawson on March 17, 2011 at 12:49 PM

      I’m going to plagiarize a comment I just posted on my own blog (I still can’t get over saying that) in response to Jason.

      …I’m still wondering, though, if there is a place for a personal mentoring program at SCMS – something where a first timer would get paired with a repeat offender. My personal take is that this invariably ends up happening on its own. At least in my own case I know that even without a formal mentoring program more established scholars in the field (Jason included!) stepped up and offered me guidance when I needed it, for instance during the job search process. I’d imagine that other people have had similar experiences, but then again I don’t want to take it for granted. I’m curious to hear what others – from established scholars like Jason to up and comers like Mabel, Noel, Myles, and Justin – think about the possibility of a program like the one I’m describing…

      So – thoughts?

      • Elana Levine on March 17, 2011 at 12:57 PM

        I’d be happy to be part of the kind of mentoring program you mention, Max. Even if people are getting this from their home institutions, might be nice to get perspectives from those outside, too.

        • amanda on March 18, 2011 at 8:44 AM

          As a junior faculty member I am in that strange gray area between grad student and wise tenured professor. But I would be very happy to be a part of any mentoring program. Count me in!

      • Myles McNutt on March 17, 2011 at 1:22 PM

        This sounds like a great idea. On a personal level, Twitter and UW’s wide outreach have sort of offered something of this nature already, but I would very much support (and be willing to eventually participate in from the other side of the aisle) such an endeavor.

      • Noel Kirkpatrick on March 17, 2011 at 1:59 PM

        Aw, Max! You start a blog and then no one comments on it, and you have to repost it here! You’ve truly arrived in the blog-o-dome!

        As Alex points out below, there’s already some forms of this idea of mentoring going on at the conference, and it would seem wise to expand it (I believe that DML did a similar program this year, though I am not sure how successful it was).

        Certainly if the program goes well, a solid base of mentors can be built as people who took advantage of the program could pay it back by being mentors themselves later down the line.

      • Mabel Rosenheck on March 17, 2011 at 4:13 PM

        I don’t think I’ve really felt mentored by faculty (or actively felt faculty were interested in me/my work), much less faculty who had similar interests to mine (outside of my home institution). In any case, I’ve certainly never felt faculty reach out to me. And this is actually a big part of the point I wanted to make throughout these discussions. I want to make some kind of a call not just to say “it gets better” but for to work harder on being available, keeping track of each other and our interests, making introductions, etc. I think more formal mentoring could be a great way to do this, though perhaps its something that would work better through SIGs (which as I’ve also mentioned could operate much more effectively– I also have come to wonder, should there be more? Could they better reflect the state of media studies today?) than through the organization at large.

        And I want to emphasize throughout, the idea of common interests and the fact that some forums like twitter and the SCMS conference itself may be more conducive to discussion of certain research topics and interests than others.

        There are also, however, numerous perhaps unique aspects of my own personality and my own situation that contribute to my relationship to all of the things I’ve been talking about.

        • ajuhasz on March 17, 2011 at 7:43 PM

          Mabel: You hit the nail on the head and I’m sorry you haven’t felt mentored. I was (and not by someone in my department, no one worked on activist video in my cinema dept) but by someone I sought out in another field. Her ongoing mentoring meant the world and my career to me! So, this is all about mentoring, and also “friending” one’s peers as another form of mentoring, and we all need this at all stages of our career. SCMS (and other conferences, list-serves, reading groups, blogs) are disparate opportunities to connect to people with shared academic interests, to learn from and make use of people “up the ladder” as well as our peers, and to build communities. This happens best over the longer term (by going again and again, even if it is painful), and in a myriad of ways: you end up editing a book or journal and rely upon those connections to fill it, you want to sound out an idea, you’re thinking about an idea in your work and hear a great paper on it and ask the person to email you more. Meanwhile, these connections in the short term allow us to work through a lot of the anxiety that has been another thread of this conversation (the personal is the political), as well as the isolation written in to the kind of labor practices of our chosen profession.

          When I go to conference at this stage in my career, I am most keen to hear exciting work by grad students, and because at this stage of my career I oversee some things, I try to offer them to people who I’ve heard or met whose work I think is exciting, and I often try to collaborate with younger scholars as well as “offering opportunities,” and I want to learn from them. Mentoring is a relationship, and these are always two ways, even if certainly laced by power (but this is changing as people move in their careers and get to know each other better). Meeting “famous” people always seems scary to me (although it’s fun to see what they look like), and this gets back to the branding thing in this thread. I go to SCMS (etc.) on the lookout for smart people working in the areas that interest me with whom I can make connections. Then, I make the effort to make that connection: like we are all trying to do here.

          • Mabel Rosenheck on March 17, 2011 at 9:34 PM

            very well said and thoughtful, thank you! indeed I appreciated the things you said at the blogging/tweeting panel about meritocracy and how we should all be getting jobs etc. etc.

            its interesting that (I don’t think) comments from the mentoring panel haven’t come up more. i was in the generations of media studies panel at the time, but followed as much as I could via twitter. it seemed to talk more about mentoring at the individual institutional level rather than in organizations like SCMS or elsewhere. twitter itself came up as a possible resource, but as has been noted throughout these discussions the people on twitter and the topics discussed there can be limited. however, the reason I raise the issue of that panel is that though I’ve heard some good (and even encouraging) advice about mentoring especially over the last few days (and months of starting my phd) which has emphasized knowing what you want you from a mentor relationship and making it clear to the mentor, I still have trouble figuring out what that is for me (especially as someone who doesn’t really like to talk about my work until its in a form im at least somewhat confident in). Even if comments like yours and Elana Levine’s are encouraging, hearing that more senior faculty members would be interested in this kind of work, even if I feel more comfortable potentially email someone whose work I admire or who I would like to develop a relationship with, I’m still unsure of what to say or ask of them, of what kind of relationship I want, what kind of relationship might be most useful. its a similar dilemma to approaching someone after a panel. finding questions to ask that might inspire a real dialogue is something that tends to leave me at a loss.

            I’ll fully acknowledge my own awkwardness and discomfort with reaching out myself. I’ll fully acknowledge a simple desire for all of this to be easy, which it probably never will be. But there’s still a nagging suspicion that others in the field aren’t meeting me part way.

            • Jason Mittell on March 17, 2011 at 10:20 PM

              Mabel – did you see my summary of the mentoring workshop on the SCMS website blog? We definitely talked about mentoring outside of your institution – for mentors to make ourselves available to people (both through organizations like SCMS as Alex mentions, and through informal avenues like Twitter and blog comment threads), and for mentees to reach out to people they meet or admire. This is especially useful for “special-interest” groups, like the queer caucus or if you’re looking for alternative career paths.

              Another thing we discussed that might be relevant is the potential usefulness of peer mentoring, either through an intra-institution reading group or finding cohorts of like-minded grad students at other institutions. Talking to other people about what they’re getting (& giving) to their faculty mentors might help you figure out what would work best for you. Good luck!

  10. Josh S. on March 17, 2011 at 10:20 AM

    Love this post, Myles!

  11. ajuhasz on March 17, 2011 at 1:35 PM

    The Queer Caucus currently does this, and I have an amazing mentee, and I think that program works really well! I’d say, using the SCMS queer context as a jumping off point, that intersecting points of interest (subject matter, personal, method) are really vital to make this work. I was very well matched with my mentee (I actually new his work beforehand and had written on some of it on my blog!)

    • Kristina Busse on March 17, 2011 at 9:08 PM

      That’s a great model. I actually feel the same way within fan studies, where we often have used the networks and the fannish models and transferred them into academia. I think in both cases the sense of shared cultural spaces may indeed somewhat equalize an otherwise inherently imbalanced power relation and make the academic mentoring but one of several ways in which one can engage…