Affirmation at the American Sociological Association’s Annual Meeting

Aug 28, 2013, 9:00 AM, Posted by

Taylor Hargrove is a PhD student in the sociology department at Vanderbilt University and a graduate fellow at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Center for Health Policy at Meharry Medical College. Her research interests focus on racial/ethnic stratification, health disparities, social determinants of health, and stress. Her M.A. thesis examines the adequacy and utility of the stress process model among African Americans.


As a rising third year in the sociology doctoral program at Vanderbilt University, I recently attended my first annual meeting of the American Sociological Association (ASA). I didn’t really know what to expect.  I suppose I thought it would be like any other conference I had been to, which, up to that point, had been pretty laid back.

The day I went to check-in, I realized I had been mistaken. I stepped inside the doors of the conference hotel and immediately became part of the swarm of sociologists from all around the world.  I became instantly overwhelmed. Not only were there a ton of people walking around, but I knew that there was so much knowledge and expertise surrounding me. I also knew that scholars I had, and continue to, read extensively were just inches away from me somewhere.

I then became very nervous at just the thought of running into one of these scholars, not knowing what I would say or do. I knew I couldn’t just stand in the lobby in awe, so I made my way to the check-in booth to collect all of my conference materials. The rest of the day and the next day were actually somewhat laid back, as I attended various meetings and sessions, trying to pair faces with names and names with institutions, as well as work up the courage to say “hi” to scholars I wanted to meet.

The third day of the conference was my day to present. I had gotten accepted into a roundtable, along with a fellow graduate student from Vanderbilt. Knowing she would be presenting in the same session put me at ease. I was also encouraged by all of the comments I had received from faculty about how roundtables were very informal, and a good way to just discuss your work and get some good feedback. So I went into the session thinking it was no big deal. My fellow graduate student and I arrived together, and were shortly joined by another graduate student who was a little further along in her program. We all chitchatted for a while, waiting for the rest of the participants to arrive.

Shortly before the session was to begin, everyone who was presenting had arrived, as well as another graduate student who was interested in the topic of the session. We then all introduced ourselves and decided the order of the presentations. My fellow graduate student was to go first, and as soon as she started to present, the advisor of my master’s thesis, as well as a big name in the field we all considered ourselves to be in, showed up and sat down. This did not worry me too much as I had discussed the work I was about to present with him many times before.

A few minutes later, another man sat down at our table. Of course, we all looked straight to his nametag and immediately realized exactly who he was: Leonard Pearlin, PhD. He is another prominent scholar in our field—a true advancer who had basically conceptualized (along with others) the theoretical framework all of us had used in our work: the stress process model.  Just about everyone interested in stress and health, particularly mental health, knows his name and his work. Now this freaked me out a bit. I had no idea that Dr. Pearlin would actually come to our roundtable. I was then thankful that I had not gone first, or even second, so I had time to collect my thoughts and calm down.

When it was my turn to present, I was still very nervous, but pushed through to the best of my abilities. Afterward, I was just glad to be done. When we all had finished with our presentations, Dr. Pearlin expressed how happy he was to see the work that was being done at the table, and was impressed with the thought we had all put into our work. His comments made me feel overjoyed, knowing that this big name had appreciated my work. This set the tone for the rest of my time at the conference, as I walked around with a bit more confidence than I had arrived with.

When all of the sessions had ended, I was so glad to be a part of a field producing so much knowledge (with other fields) about important issues in society. This conference reenergized me in a way, as I left with so many new ideas and renewed excitement about my work. I am so thankful I had the opportunity to attend this conference, and look forward to the next.

This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF Human Capital Blog. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the authors.