Friday, June 11, 2010

The SAA and Graduate Students

by J J Cohen

I started this conversation on Facebook, but I'm moving it here because (1) Eileen hijacked it and made it about (what else?) martinis; and (2) it's important, and merits wide public attention from we who care about the future of the study of the past.

The Shakespeare Association of America (SAA) is the Big Single Author Association for early modernists, a larger version of the medievalists' New Chaucer Society. I know a bit about the organization because GW MEMSI helped sponsor their annual meeting DC in 2008, and of course many of my colleagues, friends and students attend their convocations. I was incredulous when I was told that the SAA is putting into place a policy through which graduate students who hope to participate in their seminars need to have their thesis supervisor confirm via official email their status as engaged in late stage doctoral work. (The SAA annual meeting is structured into workshops and seminars into which participants apply. Work is precirculated, and the seminars may be audited by those who have not been selected for participation). So I looked at the most recent bulletin, and there it is, reprinted three times in the course of 12 pages:
Seminars and workshops are appropriate for college and university faculty, independent postdoctoral scholars, and graduate students in the later stages of their doctoral work. The SAA now seeks to monitor this policy of long standing. Graduate students are registered in SAA seminars only when their thesis supervisors have verified their status by means of a confirming e-mail to the SAA office (saa@georgetown. edu). The message should be sent from the advisor’s university e-mail address, should not be evaluative, and should give the title of the student’s dissertation project. For students in programs with a terminal degree other than the Ph.D., advisors should explain the program as well as the student’s status.
OK, what am I missing here? What does this policy hope to achieve, other than the infantilzation of those whom the SAA ought to strive to cultivate? Doktorvater needs to send a note to the SAA saying that Little Johnny ABD is approved for admission to a seminar, and isn't trying to misrepresent himself as someone smart enough, skilled enough, engaged enough to be a valuable contributor -- because you have to be late stage before that can possibly happen, right? I was under the impression that graduate students are adults, and that when they go on unchaperoned trips they don't need permission slips -- I mean, confirmation of status emails from thesis advisors.

I am hoping that someone more familiar with why the SAA should adopt such a policy will post here. In the meantime, I keep thinking that the SAA is conducting the same self-sabotage that the MAA is doing in hesitating over moving the annual meeting from Arizona: angering and alienating the very people who are the organization's future.

The enduring ardor for hierarchy endemic to our profession puzzles me. Graduate students and faculty are colleagues engaged in a mutual enterprise. The commitment to study for an advanced humanities degree is a brave and perilous one, because the road is difficult and the destination extremely uncertain. Those who undertake such a commitment should be honored and cultivated for that choice, not made to feel like kids who need a strong dose of paternalism to keep them from overstepping.


Eileen Joy said...

One of the most paradoxical things about our profession, and I've written and spoken about this elsewhere before, is that, after thirty or so years of the most radical blasting open of modes of thought and scholarly practice [i.e., critical theory, posthumanism, deconstruction, etc.], that the institution of the humanities--by which I mean, its managerial structures--could still be so mired in nineteenth-century (and earlier) notions of privilege, patronage, prestige, orthodoxy and discipline, anonymous authority, and hierarchy? If an organization wants to monitor, or somehow ensure the quality of presentations/participation at its conferences [although there's never a 100% guarantee since some of the worst behavior/poor performances I ever see at conferences comes from established scholars], they can do that through the careful examination of proposals and/or actual papers *in advance* of the conference [and even then there is still a "who knows what will happen when September rolls around?" factor].

Rimbaud wrote his best poetry while he was still a teenager, and I wonder sometimes what professors have invested in the idea that their students [even, sometimes, their undergraduate students] cannot possibly be their peers until they have reached a certain "stage" in their so-called career as a "student." First of all, we are all lifelong "students" and we might also recall that most of the professional structures currently in place in the discipline of English studies [and even of the humanities more generally] are of a fairly recent historical vintage. There's a kind of weird "ageism" at work here as well, and sure, we all learn valuable things as grad. student from our professors, without which, we might make fools of ourselves at conferences [and the like--i.e., all of us all the time have something we can learn from those who have been around a bit longer], but haven't we all met senior members of the profession who act like ill-mannered children and also first-year graduate students who seem wise beyond their years [both intellectually, but also as human beings]? We need a more capacious vision of our field, one in which it is assumed ahead of time that we never know where the best ideas might come from and where we work, with great diligence, to impart welcoming, friendship, camaraderie, intellectual respect, and affection to anyone [old, young, senior scholar, student, Ivy League or community college-affiliated, etc.] who wants to do this work which, last time I checked, was under-valued and underpaid in our society at large.

Rob Barrett said...

Wow. That's a whole new level of stupid right there.

Eileen Joy said...

There should be a "how is it" before "that the institution of the humanities" in my first sentence above. Oh well.

Rob Barrett said...

For clarity's sake, "whole new level of stupid" refers to the SAA policy, not Eileen's comment.

Karen Bruce said...

As a graduate student, I find the policy deeply stupid and insulting. It suggests that you can't produce any valuable work or conduct any important research before your Ph.D thesis, which is definitely not the case. A number of my M.A. papers will become the basis of chapters in my Ph.D thesis, admittedly with some revisions and reworking. It also suggests that you don't have any sense of professional pride or judgment about your own work. I would never submit a paper that I felt was second-rate or that I'd thrown together at the end of a quarter for a course. I don't need a professor to do that process of self-auditing for me.

As a sidenote, of the five grad students who presented at Kalamazoo from my department at OSU, three of us were in the process of wrapping up our MA! We hadn't even started on our Ph.Ds yet! Only one of us was ABD. Our department encouraged all of us to do it, and even held a practice session where we could give our papers and get initial feedback, if we wished to do so. So, I'm pleased that my own department has the opposite attitude to the one displayed by the SAA.

P.S. I have Barbra Steisand's Don't Rain on my Parade playing in my head now. "If someone takes a fall, it's ME, and NOT YOU!"

Jeffrey Cohen said...

Thanks for the wider contextual note, Eileen, and thank you Karen for the feedback from the trenches. But I have to ask: did you get your thesis advisor's permission before you posted here? We really only want comments from late dissertation graduate students. Until then, you're dead to us.

More seriously, I want to restate the point that many people have made on FB: grad students papers are often among the best in mixed panels. I enjoy the democratic openness of Kalamazoo (even though through too light a hand from the panel organizer I've seen many sessions go wrong). I wholeheartedly approve of the NCS rule that every session at their conference must include at least one graduate student.

Unknown said...

Yeah, isn't the program committee there to ensure high quality? Thought experiment: what if proposals for a professional conference were anonymized before they got to the program committee? I suspect some established scholars would be called out on their laziness and self-satisfaction and lots of those many graduate students who are way smarter than I am would be giving papers at the conferences that are the most prestigious, often for the wrong reasons.

Unless program committees can't recognize uncredentialed good work when they see it, which is possible.

I am currently working with an undergraduate who is totally capable of giving a good paper/performance at a professional conference.

Just sayin.'

Ethan Zadoff said...

The Association for Jewish Studies (AJS)- the umbrella organization for all things related to Jewish Studies- has a similar policy. As a doctoral student whose own work focuses on elements of medieval Jewish history and is just beginning his dissertation by peering down the long and lonesome road of research and writing, I am completely and utterly frustrated by the fact that one of the best mediums to share my ideas and thoughts- some of which I hope are innovative and fresh- is mostly inaccessible.
All of these silly rules and regulations just adds fodder onto the already frustrating lives of graduate students.

Bruce Venarde said...

Ethan's comment tells the sad truth: we're hazing when we should be nurturing. I dislike my kind.

In case anyone cares, "Samson" is me.

Anonymous said...

The policy is all kinds of bad, but I'm doubly gobsmacked by the fact that it's SAA. I've never been, but my friends come back with tales of bed-hopping (not them, never them) and independent scholars who hijack seminars to pontificate on crackpot theories (I remember one example, of a guy who thought we've been dating Shax wrong all along, and that he was really writing in the 15C).

If the goal is to raise the quality of the conference, vet the quality of the work, not the age or status of the participant (whether grad student, independent scholar, or Regius Chair). And if the goal is to reduce the bed-hopping, they've got another think coming.

Sarah Werner said...

There's some important context to understanding SAA: The majority of the conference consists of seminars in which papers are precirculated and discussed in the seminar room (there are typically 40 or so seminars; the number of participants ranges from 5 to 20 in each seminar or workshop). There are also a handful of workshops, in which the bulk of work is done at the conference itself (3-5 workshops). There are a few traditional panels in which 3 scholars read 20 minute papers in the traditional conference format. (I'd say there are around 10-12 such panels in total.)

For the seminars, seminar leaders propose the topics for the sessions, and the slate is set by a committee at the previous year's meeting. People wishing to participate in a seminar or workshop sign up for 4 ranked choices; they do not propose a topic for their paper, submit an abstract, or a fully blown paper. In other words, there are no opportunities for vetting the quality of the work for seminar and workshop participants in advance of the conference itself.

In recent years, the SAA has grown to what is nearly an unmanageable size; compared to earlier years when the conference had 400 or so participants, more recent years have seen closer to 1000, depending on the location of that year's conference. I am not, nor have been, on any of the organizing committees for the conference. But it's not hard to imagine the stresses this places on the conference and its participants. The types of conversations that used to happen organically are now harder to encourage.

I am certainly not saying that this is the fault of graduate students. And I am certainly not commenting on the quality of work that graduate students are producing in general. I have been in seminars where graduate students have circulated great papers, and I have been in ones where grad papers were, simply, wretched. The same thing goes for their participation at the seminar table: it's ranged from productive to hostage-taking. Everything that I've said about the quality of work being distributed is true of every level of scholar, of course.

Given the nature of the field, I assume that the SAA's officers will be receiving questions about this new monitoring. They are easy to track down on the SAA website. But I hesitate to condemn their action without reflecting further on the structure of the conference and the organization.

One other aspect that has not yet been commented on is the pressure that is put on grad students to be going to conferences in order to get jobs. I know professors who have lamented the time that students devote to conference presentations at the expense of focusing on their research. Can we also think about the SAA's decision in terms of the larger pressures of the professionalization of being a student? Is the problem not only what is being perceived as the SAA's paternalism but a larger question about how graduate students ought to be students?

Rick Godden said...

I'm certainly late to the party in saying that the SAA's policy is both bizarre and infantalizing. When I was an "advanced" PhD student, I witnessed some pretty awful conference papers from grad students who were in their MA. I also saw some great ones. I also saw some pretty awful papers from people with PhD's. And so on.

But the larger point is that I think younger scholars (I'm still counting myself in that category) should be able to freely submit work, and be able to freely present it. Sure, there's going to be some "not ready for primetime" work presented, but that can be a good thing. While there are people that will hijack panels with crackpot theories, or while there are audience members who will hijack sessions with spectacular performances of crankiness, there's also a lot of room for generosity.

My first conference paper was, I discovered later, a retread of work that's already been done. I didn't get renounced though, but rather, the assembled audience members asked good questions, pointed out some different ways of thinking, and even came up to me after the panel to suggest new directions. It was a great experience for me, and no one treated me as someone lesser because I was at the time an early grad student. And as I've attended more conferences, I've noticed this same behavior. When there's a grad student on the panel, the audience often is a bit gentler with their questions as long as the speaker isn't obstinately resisting any sort of criticism. (Unfortunately, I've seen the complete absence of generosity as well.)

I know this doesn't always happen, but that should be the atmosphere we strive to cultivate, rather than reinforce gatekeeping roles beyond the normal round of initial peer review called submitting your work.

Jeffrey Cohen said...

Thank you so much for that useful context, Sarah.

As an outsider to the conference and, in fact, to the field, it does strike me that if there is a quality control issue that cuts across academic rank (as you say), and given that the SAA does not request an abstract or even a topic ahead of time from would-be participants, it seems obvious where to make changes in policy. Likewise, if the number of people attending has placed such a burden on the seminar system that it can't be well implemented any more, and if it is not practical to simply increase the number of seminars (though I don't see why this would not be on the table), then why not develop a new system that enables seminars along with, say, an increase in the number of roundtable and paper sessions?

Last, as to the pressures of professionalization: I've written on the topic in the past. But, although I do think the magic of professionalization does get oversold (in the formula "If you do X, X, and X, you will get a job"), I also believe that conferences are essential to putting one's research in conversation with the field. They refine one's work, they get work out there, they give deadlines. I've yet to encounter them as a block to getting a thesis done (but my experience is limited).

Karen Bruce said...

There seem to be two major problems about grad student participation that are being raised in this thread:

1) Extremely variable quality: I will be the first to admit that some graduate students present terrible papers and make silly mistakes, but they're hardly the only ones who do so. Experience does not guarantee quality, as I'm sure that anyone who has ever been to K'zoo knows. We should be judged on our own merits, and vetted in the same way as anyone else through the system of abstracts etc. To me, a better solution would be to require more detailed and rigorous abstracts from grad students. I would be happy with that.

2) Presenting at the conference gets in the way of thesis work:
I personally have found presenting at conferences helpful for refining and sharpening my (future) doctoral research. I have received ideas and inspiration for my work which I know that I would not have gotten from sitting in the library and poring over traditional research. I found K'zoo a genuinely inspiring, energizing, mind-opening experience.

P.S. This comment has been approved by Karen's advisor. She has my express permission to post on In the Middle, so please allow her to participate. Any questions can be directed to

Daniel said...

Look, although graduate students and professors are 'colleagues' in some sense, the relationship between them is one of apprentice to master, in most cases, rather than one of equals. Sure, the grad student is an adult, no one is doubting that, but he or she is an adult who is being trained in methods of research and scholarship for which the dissertation (not yet completed) is the final measure of their success in learning the methods and skills they have been taught.

Moreover, given the numbers problem at SAA that Sarah Werner of the Folger just pointed out, along with the fact (also pointed out by Sarah), that no 'work' to speak of is submitted in advance which one might judge by, it is entirely appropriate to exercise some sort of quality control and moreover to find some sort of means by which the ranks might be thinned to avoid overcrowding. And the SAA need not be apologetic about that.

How is this any different, e.g., from the NEH summer seminars requiring that one be at least an instructor at a University where one is not a doctoral student? And surely there must be some means of verifying this?

And if being a *late-stage doctoral candidate* (not merely ABD) is to be the minimum, how is one going to confirm this? Should the SAA just accept this claim from the grad student? Or should the burden be on the SAA to contact chairs or deans of all applicants to confirm this? Who better to testify to this *late-stage* status than the 'Doktorvater' (bzw. -mutter)?

Really people - calm down.

Jeffrey Cohen said...

Summer seminars sponsored by the NEH now admit graduate students. It is great idea, and that kind of inclusiveness makes a big difference.

As to quality control and the SAA: we all want quality, don't we? But it seems to me that the best way to ensure high quality is to have *everyone* participate in a submission and evaluation process, rather than reduce the number of eligible participants by excluding the youngest in the field.

To be honest, I don't get the "first come first served" principle that these seminars seem to be organized around. That doesn't seem like the best recipe for a cohesive, focused constituency.

Jemren said...

Actually it is an unwirtten rule that you have to be a late-stage doctoral candidate before giving papers at conferences in Germany, especially in the Humanities. And this infantilizing and patronizing behaviour from professors is common practice. I am - sort of - an Art Historian and I won't even get a 'proper' job in Germany without a PhD.
All this is why I got stuck with the Middle Ages as my MA thesis advisor is not advocating this mindset most of the time. She always does seminars on topics she is doing research on to get input from undergraduates and pre-doctorates. [I didn't know how to better depict this as we only got the BA-MA-PhD system since about 2 years.] But usually in Germany you're not publishing or giving papers until at least you are writing your dissertation. Which is why it is dragging me towards anglophone countries as I perceive the scholarly environment more encouraging and challenging.

Eileen Joy said...

Sarah makes *great* comments here, and from an insider's view, so that's helpful to me in thinking about all of this. However, if the SAA wants to better control flow/content/participation of & in their conference, there might be better ways to do it than having advanced grad. students be "verified" through their thesis/diss. advisers. I think it's the approval/confirmation from the diss. adviser that mainly gets me, more than whatever the SAA might be doing to better handle bulkiness and quality of conference--seriously: the PhD students should be allowed to assert/confirm their own advanced status without having their claims "validated" by a diss. adviser--it's just insulting is all.

Secondly, on Sarah's point re: worrying about over-professionalization of graduate students and wanting to protect them from being too harried at a certain point in their student careers, I get and appreciate that, but there is still an element of the "patronizing" in that [however well-intentioned] and I think we have to let PhD students decide for themselves whether or not presenting at conferences is good/bad for their careers, helpful or not in relation to finishing their dissertations, etc. Again: try to respect the students' judgment on this matter and do whatever you can to help them, whichever direction they decide to go in. Also, no matter how much I also loathe the pressure students feel today to finish a diss. and also be published *before* going on the job market [it's awful, frankly, because all of us these days, even established professors, feel like we're always in a hurry these days and sometimes I think I could be a bonds trader ad wouldn't feel the difference], nevertheless, it's the state of the market right now and we shouldn't stop students from professionalizing themselves as soon as they can [while also, I hope, encouraging them to find and cultivate their own inner scholarly voices and spirits, and to be open, generous, and kind to their peers].

Finally, as to the comment about students and professors being in apprentice-master relationships, I just loathe loathe loathe loathe this idea. I'm sorry, but I do. Yuck. Double-yuck. Somebody pour me another martini and help me democratize our profession. Seriously.

Sarah Werner said...

Eileen, I agree that the validation is the ickiest part of this. I really don't know the history behind it--my perspective is not so much of an insider and more of someone who has been going for *16* years, so help me, starting from when I was a grad student just starting to write my dissertation. I do find it hard to imagine that there was a pervasive misrepresentation going on, in which 1st year students were somehow pretending that they were wizened 7th years.

Maybe the SAA should set up a system where we can vote people off the island. Any crackpots, hostage-takers, oblivious farts just get banned. I vote for keeping the bed-hoppers, though, so we can have something to be scandalized about. Martini-drinkers, of course, get a lifetime citizenship, provided we also get an exemption from the treadmill craziness of the profession.

Karen Bruce said...

In response to Daniel's comment . . .

I am aware of the master-apprentice system that still prevails at many colleges, but I dislike it. While I respect my professors and know that they have a great deal to teach me, I also think that, at this point in my academic career, I have acquired most of the necessary skills, and am capable of producing valuable work in my own right. If I weren't able to do so, I wouldn't deserve to put M.A. after my name. Grad school would have failed me, or I would have failed it.

Perhaps it's a cultural difference. I'm originally South African, and did my BA and first MA at a local university. We were required to write a (100-150+ page) MA thesis, which contained a high proportion of original work. We were expected to have mastered the basics by that point. Because of that requirement, I felt that I did my so-called "apprenticeship" in my BA degree, and was ready to produce worthwhile work by my MA. I published a couple of chapters of my thesis in peer-reviewed journals too. It never occurred to me that I wasn't ready, and I'm glad it didn't!

It's been odd switching to the American system where I've had to cover a spectrum of historic periods and review research basics in order to get my OSU. Despite that somewhat retrograde step (at least from my perspective), I'm lucky to have professors who are very supportive and very egalitarian, and who seem to feel that their graduate students are competent adults who should be sharing their work with their public. Mine have encouraged me to present and publish, rather than thinking that the doctoral process will effect my magical transformation into a worthy scholar.

Lastly, why isn't a grad student's word good enough, when it comes to informing the SAA about their status? As academics, we're taught about scholarly honesty and integrity from our freshmen year. We know the professional penalties of misrepresenting ourselves or of claiming accomplishments that aren't our own. Why assume that we are going to be dishonest, and that we need "adult" supervision?

(Ugh. I feel this is rambly and poorly-structured. I have summer brain at the moment.)

Daniel said...

Yes, summer brain! I don't know if my W.H. Audens (martini, 7:1, stirred rather than shaken, chilled in the 'ice box') are going to help this or hurt it.

But fair enough, Karen. I didn't mean to imply that graduate students should not be publishing or presenting. Obviously, whatever the risks, in the current environment, it is practically a necessity.

And, now that you mention it, it doesn't seem likely to happen that, as Sarah put it, there will be some large crowd of posers at SAA, saying they are late-stage dissertation when in fact they are not. But I guess I'm not all that bothered by the idea of having my director write a note. Temperamental difference, I guess or, as you said, cultural.

On the matter of quality control, however, I still don't see how, if what Sarah says is true about the gargantuan size of the thing, how it would at all be a workable solution to suddenly throw 1000+ proposals or abstracts into the mix as others have suggested. That won't work or, even if it could, the organizers are never going to go for it, I would guess.

Eileen: Yucky? Perhaps, but consider: isn't there a way in which discarding the master-apprentice relationship has handed one over to structures of capital which would, in many senses, be far more exploitative? I'm thinking of the sort of thing described by Marc Bousquet in his How the University Works. Put another way, it strikes me that any relationship can be exploitative, and that democratization (in the academy, in the context of capitalism) does not make exploitation any less likely.

hd said...

I'm an 8-year veteran of the SAA, which includes three years of attendance as a grad student. What I find most shocking is that I somehow missed this new criteria in the bulletin (and I bet others have too). I have touted the SAA to graduate students as one of the most inclusive conferences I've attended. I definitely think it's a strength of the SAA. But I have also warned graduate students that conferences, particularly the SAA, are *expensive.* You want to think of them as long-term investments, both financially and in terms of time...and in my mind, that does mean graduate students who are in the later stages of their doctoral work.

But somehow I doubt that this rationale is what the change reflects (I find the language about explaining the rationale of terminal degree "programs" particularly worrisome). I suspect that Sarah's right about the policy trying to manage the unwieldy size of the conference through some sort of policy other than first registered, first included.

Anyway, I'll write and inquire about the decision. It can't hurt to ask for more information about the rationale.

Eileen Joy said...

Look, Jeffrey, suddenly it's about martinis again! My current [breakfast] martini is Hendrick's, straight up in a pint glass.

But [more] seriously, @Daniel, thanks for your further comments here. I read Bousquet and get that argument [up] to a point, re: how the supposed "democratization" of the humanities does not necessarily eliminate the exploitation of grad. students, adjunct instructors, even tenure-track professors, and the like [thanks to certain "structures of capital," as you put it]. But here's my take on capitalism [for the moment]: it takes up everything, absolutely everything, even love and death, the arts, subversive cultural movements, whathaveyou, and turns them into "real estate" [as in everything is for sale, even one's "reality"]. But it's also a bit of a dead end to always use that argument as a kind of "no matter what you do, everything is always already exploitative, thanks to capitalism" or "everything is always already co-opted for someone's else's economic gain, thanks to capitalism" or "everything is always already commerce, thanks to capitalism." There can be no "original" ideas or real democracy, thanks to capitalism, etc. etc.

So, I think it behooves us to maybe recognize this state of affairs but at the same time not assume that it represents an impenetrable state of affairs that cannot be traversed in certain ways that work toward maximizing personal freedom, for oneself, and hopefully, for others.

Anonymous said...

I suppose I don't see the feudal master-apprentice model as substantially different from the capitalist customer-service model. Both put a financial value on knowledge; they just use different purchasing mechanisms (labor-time in the first, filthy lucre in the second).

Where they differ is the indenture. The apprentice was traditionally bound to the master, with great penalties for flight. You could make an argument that graduate school too has stern punishment for flight (the phrase "drop out" is perhaps its own punishment...), but in any case, the bad-daddy paternalism is there in full force.

We desperately need to get beyond this model. If we can devise one that values knowledge beyond a purchase model, that would be great, but it may be impossible. (I'm talking models that are widely accepted, not just agreed upon by Us.) If we can't devise that model, let's work on one that doesn't have a river of bondage running through it.

Anonymous said...

I think that there a problem with an idea that experience guarantees quality, but it certainly tends towards it or else anyone that practices their teaching or presentation is wasting their time. I learnt a lot about how to *think* in my Ph. D., moreover, and you don't necessarily get that any other way.

All that said, this is a stupid way to set gates, and a stupid place to set them, and its apparent belief that the presenters would lie about their age if they let them is just obnoxious. So I suppose my reaction is a paraphrase of Humphrey Appleby, the plotting civil servant in British TV series Yes Minister, when forced to offer a plain opinion: "if you must do this damn fool thing, don't do it in this damn fool way".

Lucia said...

In response to JJC's comment about conference presentations getting in the way of thesis work ... I have found that, in my experience, conference papers can be distracting. I spend way too long on them, and while it is true that any time spent contemplating my dissertation topic isn't really wasted time, it still means that when I am writing conference papers I am not writing my chapters. Very early in my grad-school career, I realized this might be the case, and so I made sure to get a few conferences under my belt *before* I started the dissertation. Since I've been ABD, I've only given one paper, and that was because I had to give a paper to get at least some funding to go to the conference, which was overseas.

So obviously, if the conferences I attended had some sort of "advanced grad students only" policy, I wouldn't have been able to go, and I would have had to worry more about going to conferences now. As it is, I can ignore the conference section of my CV, because it's fairly solid, and focus on getting another article out ... and on finishing the dissertation, of course. I may be taking way too long to finish, but I think that, at least when it comes to this issue, I have my priorities straight.

I never had any intention of going to the SAA conference, because I don't really work on early modern topics (I'm strictly a medievalist ... and a wanna-be classicist). But now I definitely don't want to go, even though they'd finally let me in.

Anonymous said...

Postscript to my previous post: This goes for all aspects of academia, not just graduate school. And society will be a better place when we stop using the family as a metaphor and model for perpetuating power structures.

moria said...

Thank you, JJC, for posting about this. As a still-in-coursework grad who had one of the most productive, collegial, and - yes - fun experiences of her short professional life at the most recent SAA, I was surprised and even a little hurt to read the bulletin's news about the new grad student policy. There's much to be said about it - and I agree with much of what has been said in comments here, especially about the fallacies inherent in the infantilization of grads - but my most strongly-felt opposition to the policy is as follows.

I love what you say, JJC, about 'mutual enterprise,' and think it's one of the most commonly overlooked realities of our profession. The SAA is such a great ground for it, too – or at least, it has been. The most frequent praise I hear of the conference regards its inclusivity, so I know I'm not alone in valuing it. And here's the thing: inclusivity is an objective professional good. I don't go to conferences for CV lines or to 'professionalize' (though I'll admit the CV lines are gravy). I go to contribute to and benefit from a wide professional and intellectual community. Graduate students need these conferences not only to advance themselves, but to get to know each other and each other's work. When I was asked on my return whether I had met 'anyone useful,' the answer was an enthusiastic yes – but the names were almost all those of fellow grads. Whether or not association governing bodies wish to acknowledge it, graduate students are in the process of building the future of the field – we need space in which to do this across institutional boundaries, and we need to do this with more senior scholars. This seems so obvious to me, yet so many of our profession's structures are designed to inhibit it.

In any case, I'm glad this blog is a space where inclusivity and mutual exchange are valued, and grateful that you're blogging about the SAA policy.

Jeffrey Cohen said...

Moria, thanks for that comment, which really made my day. I know I say this all the time and no doubt sound like a broken record, but the most important people in attendance at a conference are the graduate students, since they are the field's future. Any conference structure that is NOT built around such a recognition is faulty, elitist, and self-defeating.

Anonymous said...

How to gain wisdom without experience?

And what to do with wisdom once gained?

And does experience always trump wisdom?