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#ASA2010, Multi-tasking the Academic Conference
August 22, 2010 - 7:45pm

Atlanta in August – hot, humid, and sticky.

It had been seven years since I had attended the American Sociological Association’s annual meeting. I had been finishing up my PhD and planned to join the ranks of the tenure-track – the annual conference was mysterious and terrifying. Since then, my life has taken a very different path. I finished my PhD in 2004 and was pregnant within the month. The following year I was offered a high-powered academic dean position and turned my back on tenure-track.

In the last few weeks, I had been surprised to find myself filled with excitement and dread…

Inspired by the connections I had made through blogging and by what I had read about unconferences and underconferences, I was determined to make ASA 2010 enjoyable.

Here’s my story:

  • thursday, august 12. spent the afternoon e-mailing people I planned to see at ASA and SWS, and started following #ASA2010 on Twitter.. encouraged by clever tweets from @emiledurkheim and @talcottparsons… worried after reading more than one comment on the social awkwardness of sociologists…
  • friday, august 13. checked into the marriott marquis – a working parent’s oasis:- a clean, quiet, climate-controlled hotel room with cable tv – in stark contrast to my noisy, hot, messy old Greek Revival in Boston – a twinge of guilt passed quickly – headed to Aurora Coffee – me, Dorothy Parker, and a steaming cup of mocha- P.J. Harvey playing in the background- bliss.
  • saturday, august 14. began the day with a trip to the hotel’s starbucks and then back to my room to work on my two presentations. after a few hours, a couple of additional trips to starbucks, and a lunch break with my IHE editor, I had finished prepping for the presentations. treated myself with Street Fighter II: The Legend of Chun-Li followed by a guilt-ridden call to the family. that night at the sociology of education dinner- conversations on college access and the problem with boys and schools. graduate students concerned with the recent buzz – 30 positions for 400 recent PhDs …
  • sunday, august 15. presented on the disconnect between curriculum and mission statements as part of a roundtable-- fantastic group of higher ed scholars whose work ranged from financing models to online instruction and curriculum reform. called home - 5 year-old son refused to talk to me! later, at the SWS reception, met many fabulous women and ended up at a table with Judith Lorber!– icon of feminist sociology –she recommended I move to NYC for my career, take my son with me, leave my husband behind in Boston, and start a commuter marriage – we playfully agreed to disagree as I devoured a delicious piece of chocolate torte…
  • monday, august 16. met with Jessie Daniels. I was nervous - she is a rockstar! – an inspiration in so many ways –first-generation working-class feminist from Texas, cyber-racism scholar, and social media diva. She sent me a message at the start of ASA and I was thrilled to meet her! that afternoon I presented on the process of reading comic books and as I was leaving the ballroom, manga scholar, Casey Brienza came hurrying in. we had already “met” on Twitter and hit it off immediately. had an intense and very long conversation on comics, manga publishing, sociology, mentoring, race, and life. By the time I looked at my watch, it was 8pm - quick call home – too late – in bed for the night. back in the hotel room; fell asleep while watching true blood
  • tuesday, august 17. up early for southern scramble and a Dali exhibit. leaving the museum, I noticed that I had 2 missed calls – one from my son’s teacher – “he is sick and I can’t reach your husband” - feeling of dread...called the school – talked to my son – told him I would be home for dinner and a few hours later, he ran to greet me when I arrived at the airport. Home!

When confronted with a 326-page program offering over 600 sessions, moderation becomes a necessity. In the past, I have tried to cram in as many sessions and workshops as possible, leaving little time for meaningful conversations. This time, I did it differently. With the help of social media and some strategic planning, I was able to multi-task my way through #ASA2010. The conference became a collage – equal parts professional development, networking, and vacation.

#ASA2010 had been a success! I left with new friends and ideas, and a lengthy to-do list.

Mary Churchill is the Executive Director of University of Venus..



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