Once again, Shane has proved himself as more than capable of stirring up trouble! Here are some of my thoughts provoked by his earlier post
At the last TAG I had the opportunity to have lunch with a couple distinguished members of the discipline who were talking about the structure of the annual SAA conference. One had recently sat on a board meeting in which everyone lamented two things – 1) the quality of conference papers has sunk to a new low, and 2) there were way too many papers. They were racking their brains trying to come up with a way to solve these two problems – which is probably one of the reasons that SAA abstracts are now 200 rather than 100 words long. I think that this is a problem across the board from regional meetings like SEAC, to the national SAAs and AAAs. SEAC reducing co-authorship, as Shane points out, will do almost nothing to either reduce the number of papers OR increase their quality. Instead, it will put a chill on shared work and dramatically reduce the chance your input into a larger project will be acknowledged. Likewise, doubling the size of an abstract might give conference organizers a chance to weed out a couple of junk papers – but more likely it will just mean twice as much bullshit for them to read.
So here is my suggestion – abolish general sessions. I know this makes many people uncomfortable. They will cry – will this make it more difficult for grad and undergrad students to present? Will this improperly award those few who are well-connected and cut out the many which are off the broader disciplinary radar? Will this make it even harder for people who work outside of the area of study (particularly at regional conferences) to offer their work?
As someone who is a grad student, residing and studying outside of my research area, and only marginally more well-known then the average PhD, I can answer yes to all of the above questions – and still say it is worth it.
Abolishing general sessions will do three very positive things – 1) the number of papers will decline dramatically, and most likely, their quality will increase, 2) it will force more of us to organize symposiums, and 3) it will actually increase broader discussions across the discipline.
Shane made many great points in his post (or should I say Manifesto!), but one that I disagree with is his belief that presentations are still viewed as useful padding for CVs. The hard fact is presentations, particularly within general sessions, might be a line on the resume, but once you have a couple under your belt – THEY REALLY DON’T MATTER. And why don’t they matter? Because ANYONE can do them – there is no quality control, there are no ramifications for giving a bad paper, and if you are in a general session, most likely the only people who saw it are your friends, the poor bastard forced to be the chair, and the person presenting after you.
We need to reinstate a level of importance to presentations – which is not going to be achieved through longer abstracts or reduced co-authorships. The best option I see is making us all step up to the plate, offer a symposium idea, and regulate each other. That is our job as serious members of the field.