Roundtable (Part 2): Career Stages and Conferencing Strategies

March 21, 2013
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Photo courtesy of Lindsay Hogan

Photo courtesy of Lindsay Hogan

In Part One of this series, Erin Copple Smith offered perspectives on conferencing from graduate students. In Part Two, she continues with advice from faculty at various stages of their careers. 

Each respondent was asked: What did you do during SCMS? What were your strategies, if you had them? And how do you think your decisions reflect where you are in your career? Please note that the contributors here are not meant to represent a full spectrum of SCMS participants–many perspectives are missing. I encourage you to contribute your own strategies in the comments.

Early Career Assistant Professor

This year, I spent SCMS connecting and reconnecting with my academic network. My goal was to spend time with my grad school cohort, other conference and social media friends, current colleagues, and new connections. Since so many of us are flung all over the U.S. and beyond, this conference is an intense few days of bonding, bitching, and general shenanigans. Therefore, organization was vital. The best strategy I had prior to SCMS was setting up meetings, coffees, and lunch dates weeks in advance. One of my favorite dates was a happy hour with other new junior faculty. It was an opportunity to check in on the first year and share everything from how we are adjusting to our new campus cultures to decorating our offices. No matter where you are in your academic trajectory, from graduate student to full professor, spending time with others who are experiencing similar career points or transitions is incredibly cathartic. Maybe next year I will spend more time in panels or the book room, but this year was about reinforcing this support system. I truly believe that investing time in relationships and growing my community will help me shape the experience I want from this crazy academic game over the next 20+ years.

Advanced Assistant Professor

Because I am deeply involved with one of the Special Interest Groups, there was more tension for me than usual at this conference: do I attend all the SIG-sponsored and -related panels (which could have consumed most of my week), or do I skip some of those panels and thereby risk undermining the efforts of the SIG (not to mention running the risk that some of my friends and colleagues might feel snubbed).  Ultimately I decided that, if the SIG thrives, it will be because many people work to support it; letting go of that sense of responsibility freed me up to attend more panels that would help my teaching:  topics that students are perpetually interested in but that don’t directly relate to my research.  I also skipped more of the workshops that I would have attended in the past; I’m at the point where I kind of know what most of the participants are likely to say, and social media will cue me to anything really novel. Finally, my social time was spent almost entirely catching up rather than networking, but in actual fact I’ve found that there’s usually at least one person at the table who is new to me, so “catching up with old friends” and “making new connections” seems more and more like a false dichotomy.

Advanced Assistant Professor

This has been a trying year on the personal and emotional fronts. In addition, confronted with the prospect of explaining myself via the tenure dossier and exhausted from life on the grinding treadmill that is the tenure track, I needed to use SCMS to recharge my batteries and to renew my excitement (and perhaps even faith and confidence) in my work. This year at SCMS I spent most of my time outside of panels catching up with the friends from grad school who helped me finish the dissertation and have provided the online and offline network that has provided me with both encouragement and sober reason. At this point in my career, I’m realizing that the most interesting projects I have worked on and have been working on have been hatched over dinners, glasses of wine, drinks, or espressos grabbed quickly between panels. This year, though, I wasn’t thinking about networking; I was thinking about renewal. To twist the prompt of this post from what we should be doing at major conferences, I think we need to think about what we need to be doing, not necessarily for professional advancement, for  securing book contracts, or for enlarging our personal network of acquaintances and collaborators, but for ourselves, especially during the stressful moments in our lives and our professional journeys.

Advanced Associate Professor

This is an interesting assignment. I decided before the conference this would be my last SCMS for a while and almost didn’t attend this year. I find myself at a career point where I’m not getting a lot out of the conference, and rising service demands at my home institution have me needing to shift my service load. I’ve attended SCMS every year since 2001 and have held some position in the organization since 2005. So for the span of the last five years I’d say a lot of the purpose of the conference was the opportunity to network with collaborators and perform whatever duties my various roles have required. Until this year, I usually presented personal scholarship at some point and maybe attended a handful of panels, but the most meaningful experiences have been the coffees and lunches where I caught up with colleagues elsewhere and often brainstormed projects.

I’m not sure how much of my questioning the utility of the big conference is a function of career space versus how technology has changed the world of academia. In recent years I’ve tended to Skype with collaborators and maintained projects by email, decreasing the necessity of the annual meet up. I can’t say I’ve ever seen or gotten substantive feedback at a conference like SCMS—the panel format rarely leaves much time for questions, though now and again a workshop will come together nicely, and I’m now at a career point where I have relationships with those whose opinions I most respect, and am more likely to approach a colleague directly for feedback (though I must acknowledge that attending all these years is largely what has helped me cultivate many of these relationships). I’m also not a particularly auditory learner and have always preferred to read work. I review about 10-12 article submissions a year and usually 2-3 book manuscripts, and find this a better way to stay abreast of the work in my field. I still find smaller, interest-focused conferences to be worth the effort and enjoy the extended conversations and engagement those venues allow, and faced with competing demands on time and tightening university support, will likely focus my conference travel to those venues in coming years.

Now it’s your turn!  What are some of your conference strategies, and how do you think they reflect where you are in your career? Chime in with comments!


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