Advice For Attending Academic Conferences (For Scholars On The Margins)

In the last couple of weeks, I have been seeing tweets and Facebook posts about academic conferences, including some great advice for surviving these events.  From this buzz, I have been reminded of two things. First, despite the negative aspects of my own graduate training (no program is perfect), I sometimes forget that I am fortunate because of the strength of my training relative to others’.  Some academics are given incomplete (if any) training for preparing for, surviving, and benefiting from conferences.  And, related to that, that many academics are kind enough to publicly share such advice, rather than harboring it for their own and their colleagues’/students’ advancement.

Second, much of my networks are made up of academics!  In between FB posts about babies, jury duty, cats, upcoming weddings, and gripes about work, I see my fellow academics getting excited about upcoming conferences, making plans to meet, and asking for preparation tips.  Indeed, the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association (ASA) kicks off at the end of next week in New York City.

Enough babbling.  Below, I offer links to advice that other academics have already provided.  And, in this spirit of this site’s purpose, I try to tailor the advice for scholars on the margins of academia.

Survival Tips For Scholars On The Margins

While the above advice is useful for any and all academics, we must be honest about the additional concerns and burdens of conferences (and interacting with other scholars in general) for scholars on the margins.  Though we are told that the “imposter syndrome” fades by the end of your first year of graduate school, we are not told that marginalized scholars may experience it and general self-doubt well through their training and even into the tenure-track.  It continues for many because our competence and  authority are regularly questioned by our colleagues and students.

I would say the best kind of advice, at least that I have received, has been placed in the context of my own life.  For example, I devoured every word of The Black Academic’s Guides to Winning Tenure — Without Losing Your Soul by Kerry Ann Rockquemore and Tracey Laszloffy because it presented general advice about being productive and staying healthy, but with explicit consideration of the additional burdens that scholars of color face.  (In addition to the book, I strongly recommend joining the National Center for Faculty Development & Diversity.  You’re welcome.)  The American Psychological Association’s Surviving and Thriving in Academia also looks useful, including the rarely discussed “what now?” if one is denied tenure (particularly for women and people of color).    We also need to be honest about the dilemmas trans*, queer, bisexual, lesbian, and gay scholars face, particularly around pressure (from the department, institution, or society in general) to hide one’s gender and/or sexual identity.

Ideally, advice for scholars on the margins of academe (and society in general) are tailored to consider these contexts.  Academia is not immune to the social forces of the world beyond the ivory tower.  Yet, somehow we forget that we, too, are shaped and constrained by the society we live in, and end up giving generic advice to one another and holding each other to identical standards of productivity.  Tailored advice includes acknowledging the aforementioned realities — the external burdens of microaggressions, harassment, stereotyping, disrespect and the internal burdens of self-doubt, mental health problems, and fear — and ways to overcome them.  It includes taking care of yourself and seeking support from others who deal with similar challenges.

And, back to more specific practical advice, you may need to do your homework about meeting your needs during the conference.  Ideally, conferences offer child-care, some aid to those who are low-income or employed, accessible spaces and events, and gender-neutral bathrooms.  You may have to ask other scholars about these services (or making due without them if not available).  Also, schedule in some time to do things to recharge yourself: breaks throughout the day; lunches/dinners with friends; receptions for people from your own background or with similar politics to balance the mixed/”mainstream” events; and, exploring the host city a bit.

What strategies have worked for you?

3 thoughts on “Advice For Attending Academic Conferences (For Scholars On The Margins)

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