Getting back from the SSS meetings in Charlotte reminded me of some of the finer points about how to build a career in academic sociology. Many people pooh-pah regional meetings–they are too good to present papers in sessions filled with junior scholars from minor institutions, or people from HBCU’s, or graduate students. Indeed, junior faculty and even graduate students from upper tier universities are increasingly avoiding affiliating with regional associations. They are fucking themselves.
I want to start with the wanna be top. If you think you are a hotshit assistant or associate professor, then you should be producing several publishable and presentable papers every year. So, you should want to give yourself the opportunity to hash through your paper before you submit it for publication. Don’t you think? Beyond that, anyone with a tenured or tenure tracked job in a top tier PHD granting institution has a duty to support sociological associations that support research and interaction. If for no other reason than pedagogy.
Which brings us to the issue of students. I’ve heard a few prominent sociologists diss regional associations, and they are wrong. They are clueless. They don’t exist in the real world. If you aren’t one of the anointed ones, you need ties to people who might get you jobs, that’s even true if you are a tenured professor. Far more for people looking for jobs. Opposition to regional associations seems most solid among people who believe that they have it made, that they are going to get jobs at top tier universities (or keep the ones they managed to get). But what if you aren’t the top person in your top tier PhD program? How many top tier jobs are there? If you are the fifth best student at Michigan, what can y0u expect….and what if you’re the 12th best? Many really strong students at top programs—people with very solid publication records from the gun—are stuck in the middle. Top places aren’t going to hire them because they are beaten by their peers on whatever, and lower tier places are scared that they won’t accept a job or won’t be happy.
It’s a myth that regional associations are only helpful for the bottom tier of PhD students. In fact, regional associations are often a key broker of employable status for many PhD students no matter the status of their PhD program. Insofar as programs avoid regional associations, their PhD products may wind up unemployable in the academic market. If you have any hope for targeting your employment to a region, joining a regional association and participating as a graduate student will enhance your chances of getting a job in the geographic area you want.
More directly, regional associations put you in contact with people in your field and geographic area. The meetings tend to promote connections across areas of study much more than do the larger national meetings or any national specialty meetings. Hence, your ties are crosscutting fields of study, in a way that they often are not. And your job prospects are not going to be in your own pet area…..
Regionalism helps if you are starting out, and if you’re established. You’re a lazy selfish loser if you avoid regional associations.
Just a thought…