The SW/TX PCA/ACA is the premier regional conference promoting the study of popular and American culture. Our reputation for presenting an outstanding conference venue includes the following:
More amenities could be added, but why not join us and discover for yourself these benefits and more while attending the 2011 Joint PCA/ACA Conference? We will be there, will you?
By Peter C. Rollins
Co-Founder, SW PCA/ACA
Someone I know was disappointed by the attendance at his session in a recent, professional meeting�there were only fifteen people present�and shared his feelings with me. Although he was a senior scholar, it seemed to me that he had forgotten the variety of reasons why we attend national meetings and has remembered only the personal performance aspect of the event�only one of the facets of a rich three or four day experience.
My response to him was not as complete as it might have been, so here I share my thoughts on this matter after thirty-five years of attending and organizing regional and national meetings. Please share these reflections with your friends when they come back from a meeting a bit depressed.....Although drawn from PCA/ACA/AHA/OAH experience, these generalizations apply to all academic meetings where scholars gather to deliver papers, hear celebrity presentations, and spend time with colleagues. The following are things you can accomplish at a national meeting:
1. Give a paper.
The sessions can be crowded on some occasions and empty at others. There is no guarantee. But the preparation is a discipline in thinking and writing and creates a solid deadline for a synthesis of one's research, clearing your head and creating a platform for a new round of research and writing. Give a good talk and distribute a paper. DO NOT read you paper. Use the preparation as a discipline to bring your ideas to a commitment; audience numbers are irrelevant in terms of the progress of your research.
2. Place a publication.
Have a �perfect� copy of your paper ready to hand to an editor of one of the many magazines represented at the meeting. Having a paper in proper format really is a �dress for success� approach to the opportunity to publish and will impress the editor with your unusual professionalism. Because editors often lose documents, send along a copy by attachment after the event. (Redundancy is sometimes a virtue.)
3. Make that connection.
People at the meeting are going to be interested in what you deem important for study. You can make invaluable connection with such soul mates at conferences in friendships that can last for decades. A senior scholar used to call this �making that connection.� We now tend to call it �networking.� Either way, it is heartening to know that others are interested in the same things you are, so take the time to meet new people and enlarge your circle of professional connections. With the Internet, it is now possible to share information and resources as never before and such exchanges can energize and inspire lonely scholars.
4. Learn about trends in the profession.
Every profession is a group of human beings. You need to see and hear what these fellow professionals think is important�even if you disagree. The cocktail parties and receptions are often the best places to pick up this informal information. Formal papers may not focus on the trendy aspects as much as hallway exchanges. You cannot pick up the hallway details unless you are at the meeting! How often have I wished that a young scholar had been present for the information exchanged informally between sessions by senior scholars, editors, and the �influencials� of the field. Don't miss this kind of information!
5. Learn about grants.
Every national meeting has one or two sessions devoted to grant writing. Attend these sessions and learn what might be fundable. This kind of grantsmanship is good for you and good for your school. It is almost impossible to get such information elsewhere, esp. because grants officers are constantly shifting from one endowment or funding agency to another. Remember that administrators often equate excellence with grants acquired; as a humanist, you should try to bring in at least one grant every three years.
6. Meet leaders in the field.
Shake Michael Schonecke's hand and thank the organizers, Ken Dvorak and Phil Heldrich. Meet the current and previous presidents of the organizations. These are people in a network of popular culture and American culture scholars, the people who set the tone and tenor of our field. Meet Norman Smith and share a laugh! There is no substitute for putting a face with a cluster of ideas. This exposure humanizes learning; it should make what you do a less lonely and cerebral task because you have met the people you are reading and you are writing for a truly identified audience rather than to a sea of anomie.
7. Have fun with friends.
Over the years, we can identify a constellation of friends and acquaintances who make up the popular culture and American culture movement. Some we admire, some we deplore, and some we wonder about, but all are part of our community of scholars and have interesting lives. All are good people who add to the legend and lore of our movement. For example, I always look for Cida Chase to congratulate her on bringing such interesting scholars from Latin America to the SWPCA meetings; she encourages them to deliver their presentations in Spanish, an option which makes our regional meeting unique.
8. Enjoy the region and place.
Meetings are held in different locations to help members tour the nation and develop ideas about the �progress� of our national life. Take time to gather impressions of the region and city of the conference, starting with a standard bus tour of the city. Talk with ordinary people on the street. Go to natural sites and visit local museums. Take advantage of the cuisine of the places we visit. This is a legitimate use of your travel time and funds and will influence your work as a popular culture scholar.
9. Learn how to publish.
Every national meeting has a �publish and flourish� session, and every young member should attend to hear about the priorities and policies of the magazines and journals that serve as fora for members of PCA/ACA. Editors often share �editorial calendars� of their journals, which inevitably include plans for issues focused on special topics; you may have a paper on such a subject or you may gain encouragement to write one with this special focus. (I have seen the latter option happen on more than one occasion.)
10. Discover what is available for teaching.
There are colleagues who are teaching films, books, or general topics which interest us. Here is a wonderful opportunity to meet such people and to learn from them. I �discovered� the film and history area of study and teaching in this way; nowadays, it is possible to go to the website of a professor to view the pertinent syllabus and course rationale, but such documents are not �alive� to us until after we have met the scholar who developed them.
11. Take advantage of the book display, which gives you an opportunity to do a variety of things:
12. Enjoy food and drink with friends at the receptions.
We all exist in individual departments. In the midst of life, we communicate over the internet with friends around the globe. The receptions give us a chance to let our hair down and to have some freeflowing conversation with our friends, people with whom we have been communicating all year long. Cherish these moments of conviviality and take a moment to make a new friend or two�ironically, often someone in another department at your own school! On the other hand, do not �hang out� at reception with your colleagues from home; this strategy robs you of the rewards from such an event.
13. Conduct organizational business.
Regional officers and members can get together at meetings, using the time to plan regional activities and publications. Take advantage of these moments and plan ahead by scheduling a room for such meetings and placing the announcement in the official program.
You will note that your personal paper presentation was only one out of thirteen activities at the meeting. You cannot be blamed for attracting very few auditors when in competition with a number of other exciting sessions. However, you can share your ideas with others�including university press representatives�and benefit from the other twelve activities of professional importance at such a meeting. If just ONE of the other events goes well, you have justified the trip and the university/personal support!
Finally, numbers do not count. At a regional PCA/ACA meeting on the Oklahoma State University campus some years ago, I received a complaint from a speaker that only three people attended his session. I asked him who was there...His answer: �Ray Browne, Russel Nye, and Marshall Fishwick� (three of the five co-founders of the popular culture movement). My response: �You had an host present!� So do not count heads; count the fun and exposure and stimulation of the meeting, which includes friendship and the enjoyment of place.
See you at the next PCA/ACA meeting!
Co-Founder, SW PCA/ACA