I just want to highlight some of the early comments to my last post. Overnight, several readers offered recommendations and critiques. Let me mention a few of them.
goxewu asks: First question: How does Prof. Jackson cover his undergraduate classes when he’s off at a conference? Second question: What does Assoc. Dean Jackson think of the way Prof. Jackson covers his undergraduate classes when he’s off at a conference?
I teach on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays this semester, so I haven’t had to miss any class sessions for conferences, even during this recent stretch. Your point, however, about how to juggle conferences and teaching is a fair one. And it isn’t always easy to pull off.
rachel321’s strategy is to *often* take students with me to conferences as part of their professionalization. sometimes i even take along with me senior undergrads who are considering graduate studies so that they can see what some of their fate may look like.
joelcairo writes: I guess what I dislike most about Jackson’s “tirade” is that he uses most of the space talking about the virtues of academic conferences. Frankly, I get very little out of conferences and I make a point of going to as few as possible. There is no real reason Jackson has to spread himself so thin. He simply needs to map out the conference schedule and decide on two per year, for example, that he’d like to go to. He can rotate his choices so that he is sure to hit each one every few years. It doesn’t have to be so complicated...unless, of course, Jackson has careerist reasons for attending all these many conferences, which he has not revealed.
I think joelcairo is right about the piece’s ambivalence, which is part of my point. I definitely have a love-hate relationship with academic meetings. Maybe more than a few scholars do. I also don’t believe that unrevealed “careerists reasons” are the only other way to explain my attempt to attend more than two academic conferences a year. By the end of this semester, I will have attended four academic conferences in all. It just so happens that all four take place during the same two week stretch. And I do skip conferences. I think we all try to pick our poison, alternating conferences and the like.
Also, part of the issue pivots on commitments to inderdisciplinarity. As more and more of us position our work at the nexus between fields, we craft a growing list of conferences that might allow us to gain different perspectives on our research. I am attending conferences (selfishly!) with my current book project in mind. Is that was joelcairo means by careerist reasons?
writes: While Prof. Jackson seems none too worried about the embarassment he has endured over the years by “talking through” (what he describes is really rambling) and not reading prepared remarks at conferences, I implore him to rethink his narcissitic decision -- apparently made with the full measure of grad student arrogance. I don’t want to listen to you (or anyone else) ramble on incoherently, forgetting major and semi-major points, failing to bring the talk to some conclusion, etc. It is a waste of my time. Yes, you should be embarrassed...Yet, I still hate conferences. The jockeying about status, the name dropping (see Prof. Jackson’s comment about who he hangs out with), and increasingly the cost.
I actually don’t think that I “ramble” too, too badly at conferences. There is always that danger, but I try to be mindful of it. Again, I do prepare my comments; I just don’t read them. I try to be engaged, clear, hitting the main themes. I actually prefer that to presenters who prepare remarks, read them, under-estimate how long that reading will take them, and then end up stopping before they get to the end because they’ve run out of time. That is the scandal! I try to have a beginning, middle and end for my short presentations. I also make sure to hit the substantive points. (Also, when I miss something, which the audiences usually won’t even notice, the Q&A often allows me to circle back and include it.)
About the “name dropping” criticism: I’m not sure how to respond. snarkygirl, an anthropologist, expresses something similar: Oh, Mr. Jackson, as always you use chronicle space to self promote...this piece was particularily crass...my advice, put the tape measure away...
And livefreeordie2 writes: I suppose that for me, the whole “tirade” sounds rather narcissistic. Kinda like, ‘Oh God, I hate conferences, but look at me! I’m so important because look at how many I conferences I go to! Oh, my life is so tough because I’m so important!’
livefreeordie2 offers a less generous version of joelcairo’s point. I guess I should make it clearer that I don’t think I am the exception. Most of my colleagues (at Penn and other places) are similarly committed to multiple conferences. That is more like the rule these days. And those conferences are often scheduled right on top of one another. In many ways, what I’m describing is par. If anything, I feel like a slacker. There are so many other conferences that are relevant to my work (that I simply can’t attend), not because I’m important, but because of the proliferation of such conferences and new associations, and the expectations we hold about trying to stay up on the field. If the field is just, say, political science or anthropology of sociology, that is one thing. But what if the field is plural? How do you choose? Could you always cut out even more conference appearance? Of course. But where do you draw the line, and at what point does that impact your ability to stay in the conversation?
I do apologize if I came off as measuring my private parts, an especially complex and troubling reference given the history of black masculinity’s reduction to the mere penis. I will try to avoid any name-dropping or crass self-promotion in the future. (Is that really all I do, snarkygirl? If so, I’ll do better.) I was trying to add some recognizable/intelligible details to my story about last week. I met with a former editor and my current editor. I should have just said that. Fair enough. In the future, I will avoid the appearance of such self-promotionalism. (However, I should say that when the paperback copy of my most recent book comes out, I will definitely blog about that -- but with a disclaimer.)says:
I like Jackson’s work, mostly, but I think in this column that he confesses to a a sort of crime, and then blames something else for his decision to commit that crime. Given a chance to go to conferences, I GO to sessions, and I network with colleagues as well. If someone else doesn’t, that’s not the conference’s fault.
How about a mini-tirade along this line? Doesn’t it seem wrong that, while faculty members at schools all over this country are either unable to attend professional conferences, or are asked to spend their own money to do so, Mr. Jackson is so lucky that he can attend three conferences in succession, and then complain about the excess? I feel rather like a hungry relative listening to my cousin complaining about his troubles losing weight.
And your point about starving vs. well-fed scholarly relatives is a good one.
I would just ask us to think about the logic we are all taught to internalize about how “irresponsible” it is to not do our professional duty by attending conferences. With a ballooning number of interesting conferences, it takes more and more self-discipline to pass on potentially valuable scholarly conversations/gatherings, especially when you are taught that you do so at your own promotional peril.
I’ll end with chguk’s comments: ksledge - I find that my appreciation of Chronicle articles is improved immeasurably by mentally inserting the words "... in the Humanities” after every article headline. Some examples: “Loathing Academic Conferences ... in the Humanities” “Why Universities Must pay more Attention to Small Disciplines ... in the Humanities” “I am so Frustrated at my Dean’s Lack of Attention ... in the Humanities”
All of the conferences I’m talking about here boast attendees from the humanities and the social sciences, but I know that that isn’t quite chguk’s point. It is interesting to see that even hard scientists sometimes feel marginalized within the academy. Is there really no equivalent conference-angst among your tribe?