Aug 27 2013
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A Fellow’s Perspective on the Annual Meeting of the American Sociological Association

Helena Dagadu is a fellow at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) Center for Health Policy at Meharry Medical College and a PhD student in the Department of Sociology at Vanderbilt University. Dagadu’s research and professional interests include comparative health and health policy, health disparities, social determinants of health, and international medical migration.

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Presenting and attending academic conferences are important components of a scholar’s development. Not only are such meetings important venues to present one’s work and receive constructive feedback, they also provide a less formal environment to meet scholars outside one’s academic home, exchange ideas, and foster lifelong academic relationships.

From August 10th to 13th, I participated in the 108th annual meeting of the American Sociological Association (ASA) in New York City. The theme for this year’s meeting was “Interrogating Inequality.” Given its distinct character as a global city and its rich history of diversity, New York provided the prime backdrop to examine how, in the words of ASA President Cecilia Ridgeway, PhD, “inequality, in all its multi-dimensional complexity, is produced in contemporary societies.”

I was among four RWJF Fellows from the Center for Health Policy at Meharry Medical College who had the privilege of presenting at the conference. My paper, “Challenges in Addressing Mortality in Sub Saharan Africa,” was part of a panel session on mortality. Co-authored with Vanderbilt University professor Evelyn Joy Patterson, PhD, the paper employs demographic techniques to determine how the double burden of communicable and noncommunicable disease is impacting life expectancy in four Sub-Saharan African countries: Ghana, Cameroon, South Africa, and Kenya.

My presentation was very well received by the three other panelists and the audience. I found the constructive feedback provided by the session organizer, Quincy Thomas Stewart, PhD, especially helpful. The valuable comments received from presenting at ASA will strengthen the paper as it goes through the peer review process for publication.

In addition to presenting, I was able attend some fascinating sessions. One particularly informative session, “Operationalizing Race & Ethnicity: Proposed Changes in the 2020 Census,” featured two chief analysts from the U.S. Census Bureau. They presented results from the 2010 Alternative Questionnaire Experiment, which tested different design strategies in an effort to improve people’s response to the race and Hispanic origin questions in future censuses. Given my and other RWJF Fellows’ research interests in racial and ethnic disparities in health, improving the accuracy and reliability of race and ethnic data has important implications for the work we do.

For me, the most memorable part of the annual meeting was mingling with both seasoned and budding scholars during various networking opportunities. I attended two receptions, one jointly held by the ASA sections on Population and Family and the other on Race and Ethnic Minorities. At both receptions, section chairs and officers presented new and established scholars with awards and distinctions for exceptional articles, books, and/or service. Held off-site the ASA meeting hotels, these receptions felt more like academic family reunions where former students and their professors reconnected as colleagues and graduate students were welcomed into the “family.”

Ultimately, my participation and attendance at ASA was an invigorating experience. New York is such a lively place that it is difficult not to be moved and inspired by its energy. I look forward to opportunities to attend and participate in future conferences.

Helena Dagadu graduated summa cum laude from Loyola University Maryland in psychology and classical civilization and holds a master’s degree in public health from George Washington University. 

Tags: Center for Health Policy at Meharry Medical College, Conferences, Human Capital, Research, Voices from the Field