Thursday, March 29, 2018

ISA Tips: SF, Some Not

Given how often we have been to San Francisco lately for APSAs and ISAs, we probably should know by now all the places to eat and drink and such.  But my memory is lousy, so I will focus on mostly on some things to keep in mind as one gets on a plane or train or car or boat to get to the International Studies Association meeting.*
* When I was trying to get to Seattle last summer for a vacation, the planes did not go where they were supposed to, so we had to drive the last leg. As a result, I am open to all forms of travel as being possibilities these days.
I was inspired to write this as I saw a bunch of tweets fly by about presentations and discussanting and such, so:

Paper and Presentation Stuff:
  • Aim for ten minutes if your chair says you have twelve, and aim for twelve if you have fifteen. It almost always takes longer to present than you think.
  • If you have many words on your slides, have only a few. 
  • If you have numbers on your slides, make them legible (bigger fonts always better than smaller ones), and use color to illustrate stuff, like blue for positive results and red for negative.  If it works here at the Semi-Spew, it might not be a bad idea.... ok, never mind.
  • If questions are collected from the audience before you respond, you don't have to answer everyone nor should you.  Pick the ones that are least picky and most interesting. 
  • If your panel answers one question at a time, don't filibuster.  Other folks will want to talk--either to ask questions or to answer them.
  • If you don't know the answer, then you can say so--the ISA is a low risk environment.  It is not a job talk.
  • Don't write an 80 page paper and expect the discussant to read it.  No more than 45 pages or 15k words or so.  Don't just hand over a dissertation chapter if you can avoid it.  
  • But don't worry about the paper being perfect--the idea is to get feedback. Sometimes you get, sometimes you don't.
  • If you can possibly avoid it, don't put "Don't Cite/Don't Circulate" on your paper.  Doing so is a great way to avoid citations.  Better to be cited wrongly or cited for something that you change your mind about than not to be cited at all.  One of my favorite moments in an audience was to see my different works in two different boxes of a 2x2 as I had produced over time conflicting results about federalism's impact on ethnic conflict.  
  • If you haven't gotten your paper to your discussant by now, do so immediately.  Don't expect a discussant to read your paper at the conference--they have stuff to do.
Discussant (I have said some of this before):
  • Don't be cruel.  It should go without saying, but, well, sometimes it needs saying
  • If the papers are entirely unrelated, don't spend too much time drawing false connections
  • But if you see connections, tell the authors how they talk to each other--they may not have realized it.
  • Don't just list the negative stuff--find a positive thing or two to say.  
  • Treat the papers fairly--don't focus on just one and don't exclude just one.
  • Oh and about fairness, try not to engage in the one habit we all have--think about how you would have done the project.  Instead, try to figure out how the person can do a better job of executing their vision.
  • There really is only one job requirement here: stopping the long winded.
What else is there to an ISA?
  • The Hilton lobby can get super-crowded, so if you arrange to meet someone, especially someone you have never met before, mention a specific spot.  The pre-dinner mess of people can make it hard to find the person you are looking for.
  • If you are a grad student or junior faculty person who does not know many people, go to a business meeting for a section close to your interests.  Volunteer to help out.  These usually are modest service requirements, but help you get to know people and be known.  These meetings are usually easier for meeting new people than receptions, which are often very loud, very crowded and more than a bit intimidating.
  • Speaking of receptions, go to the Online Media Caucus's (Friday night, 7:30), as the Duckies (the awards presented to best work in online media) are fun, and the folks are pretty welcoming.  If you follow people's blogs or twitter accounts, then I think it is easier to approach them as you already know something about them.  I don't think there will be an organized tweet up for twitter folks to meet each other, so let the OMC reception serve that role. 
  • I always advocate networking sideways and down partly because I am shy (really) and don't feel comfy approaching the big names but also because the old stars are not going to be around that much in 10 or 20 year.  On the other hand, the younger folks you hang out with now will be your pals 20 years down the road.  I used to roam conferences looking for people that I might now.  Now, I just have to stand still.  I like it much better that way.  
  • While you may want to go to all of the panels, do get out of the hotel and its immediate area.  It is, alas, on the edge of some of the less nice parts of SF (the city reeks of awesomeness but our area also reeks of pot and poo and pee).  The city is not large so it is not super expensive to uber or taxi to the waterfront, to the Presidio, to Chinatown, or wherever.  I hear the town has a pretty bridge or two. Yes, cable cars are really cool, but it is easiest to get on it a bit up the hill than at the base station.  

I am sure there is other stuff to think about, so remind me what I have forgotten.  If you have good SF tips, share them. 

1 comment:

Martin Heisler said...


Well said and necessary on every count. While San Francisco is convenient for me and I have family there, ISA and APSA have been there too often in the past few decades. (My first ISA meeting, 50 or so years ago was in San Francisco; I like the city, but enough already.)

All of the points for presenters, discussants and chair are important and, again, necessary to mention and repeat, repeat, repeat. I would make explicit something you note in the comment for discussants, but for all panelists, really: use any opportunity that arises to mentor younger scholars. It is almost a moral obligation for those of us who benefitted from helpful comments and suggestions from senior scholars when we were beginning to do the same. It may not be appreciated on the spot but may make a difference later.

Martin Heisler