Two Conferences Offer Networking Opportunities that Renew a Scholar’s Interest in Research

Aug 28, 2013, 12:00 PM, Posted by Courtney Sinclair Thomas

Courtney Sinclair Thomas, BS, is a health policy fellow at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Center for Health Policy at Meharry Medical College and a doctoral student in the Department of Sociology at Vanderbilt University. Her research interests are maternal and child health, specifically social factors that contribute to the high rate of infant mortality in the African American community.

I recently presented at two conferences in New York: the American Sociological Association (ASA) and the Society for the Study of Social Problems (SSSP). Overall, they were great experiences. It was my first year attending such large conferences within the field of sociology, so I found myself nervous, yet excited about meeting new people and hearing about new research.

Although the two annual meetings were quite different, I gained a wealth of knowledge from them both. The SSSP meeting was held August 9th to 11th and this year’s theme was “Moving Beyond Social Constructionism,” challenging the way we, as scholars, think about society’s problems.  I presented a paper titled, “The Black Middle Class: New Insights for the Study of Racial and Ethnic Inequality,” during a thematic session with other scholars who study race and identity. There were four other panelists and we each had time to share our work with the audience and engage in conversation about the themes that emerged among the different projects.

Along with presenting on the panel, I was able to attend a few sessions at SSSP. Many of them were designed to facilitate conversation—more so than traditional presentations—so I found them to be particularly useful for thinking about topics in new ways. One session in particular, about racial disparities in mental health, was a great opportunity to think about how my own work will be fitting into the larger literature. I also got to meet with two great scholars in the field, Verna Keith, PhD, and Dawne Mouzon, PhD.

At ASA, which was held August 10th to 13th, I presented some preliminary work on my dissertation in a roundtable session hosted by the ASA section on Social Psychology. My work presents a new stress construct that will help researchers to better assess the ways in which African Americans are constantly aware of their racial minority status and its implications for health and well-being. Since this year’s theme was “Interrogating Inequality,” I thought it would be a good opportunity to think about how this particular construct can help us to understand persistent racial disparities in health, as well as a chance to get feedback from others in the field.

The format of the roundtable was quite different from the panel, much less formal and more conversational. I met with three other scholars who examined race and identity and we talked about our projects, providing comments and asking critical questions. I really enjoyed this experience because the group was very supportive and encouraging, and they helped me to feel more confident about the direction the project was going in.

After presenting at two different conferences on the same day, I was able to relax a bit and just enjoy the meetings. For the rest of the week, I was able to attend different receptions and meet one-on-one with faculty members from around the country, learning more about their work and telling them about my own. For me, these networking experiences were the most rewarding part of the trip. Although I was initially nervous about meeting with scholars whose work I had read and admired, I found most people at the conference to be very friendly and approachable. They all seemed genuinely interested in my work and promised to keep in touch. Overall, attending these conferences was a great experience that has sparked a renewed interest in research in me, reminding me why I chose to pursue my education in this field in the first place. I’m looking forward to next year already!

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