And of course, right now, my attention has turned to the Law and Society Associationmeetings – June 7 – 10 in Toronto, Canada and to the Consortium Pre-Conference Workshop. The Consortium will have several professional development panels at LSA – on undergraduate research, getting and loving a tenure track job in legal studies at an undergraduate focused institution, and a panel on the connections between LSA and CULJPS (they are long and deep connections!).
With all of the recent attention to “Manels,” as well as to the multiple ways that women are showing “we also know stuff,” I’ve been reflecting lately on how proud I am of how inclusive CULJPS is, and how inclusive my time at LSA has been (with caveats, and acknowledged limits – I find CULJPS to be really supportive of women’s leadership, and LSA to be terrific at being an inclusive and international organization; both still have room to grow).
I’ve also been thinking about who I am when I attend a conference, why I go, and how I act while there. For instance, I avoid APSAmeeting – going only once a decade or so – but I usually attend the WPSA. I find myself at home with the public law people there, the popular culture people there, and the feminist political theory folks; and I always attend an environmental theory panel, even though they don’t usually relate to my areas of research or teaching. I like the WPSA focus on pedagogy, the intimate and relaxed feel of it, and the ability to construct a “conference within a conference.”
I presented at some graduate student conferences when I was earning my PhD at NYU in the late 1990s/early 2000s, and I attended disciplinary conferences related to my dissertation, as an observer, during the same time. But it wasn’t until I attended the 2000 LSA meetings and the graduate student workshop in Miami Beach that I began to see myself as “an academic attending an academic conference.” In the nearly twenty years since then, I’ve cycled through loving, and loathing, the conference process – and I’ve noticed that the wayI conference has changed over time. When I was first out of grad school, and still working to develop the book that grew out of my dissertation, I attended in order to present. Because I was a junior scholar, I almost always presented fully formed work, and therefore didn’t get as much benefit as I could have, from presenting work in progress.
It wasn’t until my first book came out, and I switched gears, that I began to see conferences as a place to have meaningful conversations about my work and teaching – it wasn’t until tenure that I saw conferences as places to be vulnerable, intellectually. Now, I love to be on panels where I can present work where the research is mostly done and the argument is in formation, but I am still trying out different approaches. Even more, I love being on panels that are focused on something outside of the research, and use the research as a springboard – a roundtable on Data Access and Research Transparency, for example, or a panel on pedagogy and engaging undergraduates in research.
Early in my career, I understood that conferences were important places to network, even as I hated the term, and cringed at the thought. I was lucky to have an advisor who did lots of heavy lifting on my behalf – she’d introduce me to her peers, saying things like, “Renee’s research is on ...” and when I listened closely I learned not only how she saw my research, but how to talk about it within the different subfields of my disciplines.
On my own, though, I didn’t start out strategically – in fact, I was such a dork! I’d actually follow senior scholars around the book room, or around the reception buffet (grabbing as much food as I could, to supplement my super small assistant professor at a state university per diem), and “accidentally-on-purpose” run into them, smile, and blunder through “I love your work” conversations. I was lucky that so many senior folks were generous – they gave me their cards, they sat down with me to hear what I loved about their work, they invited future conversation, they helped me connect with their graduate students and colleagues. Over time, I learned to be more strategic (and respectful) – to email in the month ahead of a conference to introduce myself and ask for a cup of coffee, to follow-up with everyone I met with an email in the weeks after the conference, thanking them for their time, suggesting an article, sending my work whenever they invited it. I learned to ask my panel mates to meet up for breakfast before, or for drinks after, as a way of extending our scholarly connections and conversations.
I learned, actually, to be much more extroverted than I am.
Years later, I learned the value of three special treats: one hotel breakfast-in-bed, the ability to say no to an evening out, when I was wiped out, and the pleasures of an afternoon in a strange and fabulous city. As a new mom, I learned that conferences were also places I could sleep in, and take uninterrupted showers, and eat breakfast alone.
While conferencing, I was always aware that I was making connections – I didn’t realize that I was also making friends. I didn’t realize that slowly, over the course of a career, conferences would become the highlight of my academic year – a chance to see and talk with people I only get to see once every twelve months, as well as a chance to meet junior scholars who are just beginning to develop their research agendas and teaching personas.
Time at conference is, for me, like a miniature sabbatical on an amazing fellowship – three to five days of focused conversation about my work, and your work – the chance for adequate sleep (or not) and the chance for a morning writing retreat in a new city with great coffee. I try to do two conferences a year – more doesn’t seem sustainable (though I’ve done four, before), one doesn’t seem quite enough. I try not to grade during conferences – except on the airplane (airplane grading is the best) – and I try to return from conferences refreshed and energize for future work.
I am certain that LSA will be all of that that this year – and I am incredibly excited about the pre-conference workshop that CULJP is planning.
We will meet – and I hope you’ll join us – the day before, in the conference hotel in Toronto, to engage in sustained and invigorating dialogue about undergraduate legal studies. We’ll start the day with presidents – past and future – of CULJP and LSA, discussing the interplay and overlap between our two organizations, and the role of sociolegal studies in undergraduate legal studies. We’ll network and chat at lunch – and maybe even take a walk – and then return in the afternoon for a hands-on and interactive set of sessions on program development and maintenance, curricular outcomes and assessment, and how best to serve our students.
The CULJP pre-conference workshop will be an intimate gathering 20 – 30 people, and a perfect place to have a conference experience as a junior scholar new to LSA and CULJP, as well as a place for those of us who are more ‘seasoned’ to connect in different ways with our peers.
I hope you will join us – register here, then email me and ask to meet up for a cup of coffee at LSA!