guest post: why you should attend asa (yes, you)

The following was written by my colleague Ryan Calder to our JHU graduate students; I offered to post it as a guest post because I think the ideas are helpful to students elsewhere too, though some remain specific to JHU or Baltimore.

Dear JHU Sociology Grad Students,

ASA submissions are due soon:

American Sociological Association(ASA)

Submissions due: February 22, 2023 (extended abstract of 3–5 pages required; may submit full paper of 15–35 pages if you like)

Conference: August 17–21, 2023 in Philadelphia

Whether you are in your first year or nth year of grad school, I strongly encourage you to attend. Looking back, I wish I had attended every year of grad school.


  1. DEADLINES HELP. Real deadlines mean productivity. If your proposal is accepted, you’ll churn out a paper draft.
  2. SAVE TIME. It’s often easier and more memorable to attend panels presenting scholars/topics that interest you than to locate the relevant reading yourself and find time to do it. You’ll get a quick sense of the latest scholarship on a topic and how experts discuss it.
  3. LOWER STAKES THAN YOU THINK. There’s a very good chance you’ll be placed in a roundtable. This is a good outcome: a low-anxiety chance to share your research and, depending on the roundtable’s format, maybe to get feedback. If you’re placed on a panel, lovely. Either way, you should prepare and be professional, but you shouldn’t think of it as a massively high-stakes event. Most ASA panels don’t get too many people in the audience: three or four is pretty common.
  4. MEET PEOPLE. ASA is the best time to set up meetings with scholars at other schools whose work interests you. Nobody thinks it’s weird to hear from an unknown person who wants to meet at ASA; that’s what ASA is for. In early July, write to at least three or four people who will attend ASA and ask to meet.
  5. Don’t wait until you’re on the job market to do this. I wish I’d done it every year. The reason: Network effects and the strength of weak ties. If you meet Scholar A, who has many connections, that person will remember you as “that grad student at Johns Hopkins who studies X”—the racialization of lupus, for example. Then, anytime Scholar A hears someone mention something connected to your topic—lupus, the racialization of diseases and diagnosis, etc.—Scholar A will mention you in passing to Scholars B, C, and D. Who in turn may each mention you to another scholar or two, or who may look you up. Multiply this by every year of grad school and you have a network of people who associate particular topics with you. You’ve become a subject-matter expert.
  6. LEARN ABOUT SECTIONS. Attend business meetings for the sections that interest you. Too few grad students do this. (For most of grad school, I didn’t know what section business meetings were.) Because few grad students attend, many sections are constantly hunting for more grad students to volunteer for section committees. Being on committees is a great way to meet people in your subfields of interest and learn about the latest research there. It will also give you a sense of ownership in the section, at relatively little cost of time and energy. Within a couple of years, you will be a familiar name and face in the section. As a post-doc or prof, you can continue to build your commitments to the section.
  7. SINGLE… AND READY TO MINGLE. I know of more than one couple that first locked eyes at ASA. Just sayin’.
  8. SUPPORT YOUR JHU COLLEAGUES. Attend their talks! Show up at business meetings when they win awards!


  1. “ASA ISN’T MY KIND OF SOCIOLOGY.” You’d be surprised. Pretty much every faculty member in US sociology departments goes to ASA at least sometimes. Moreover, one of the most popular activities at ASA is to find kindred spirits and kvetch with them about the rest of ASA.
  2. IT’S EXPENSIVE AND TIME-CONSUMING. Uh… it’s in Philly this year. And our department provides some conference funding. Share a hotel room or an AirBnb. You can even make it a day trip from Baltimore and not stay overnight. You don’t have to attend every day of the conference.
  3. I’M SCARED TO PRESENT MY WORK. Again, the stakes are lower than you think. If you’re trembling with trepidation, remember that no one really cares what you have to say—unless you get placed on a rock-star panel, in which case you’ve hit the lottery, so be happy. Most importantly, it’s only by presenting that you’ll learn to present.
  4. “I’LL GO NEXT YEAR” / “I’LL GO WHEN I’M ON THE JOB MARKET.” See Reason to Attend #3(a) above.
  5. MY RESEARCH ISN’T READY YET. See Reasons to Attend #1 and #4 above.
  6. “I’D RATHER DRINK LIGHTER FLUID THAN ‘NETWORK.’” Yeah, I understand. This is what kept me away from ASA for too many years in grad school. But it’s only “networking” if you think of it as the shallow and instrumental task of unctuously making faux friends. The image of “networking” I had in my head as an early-stage grad student was of walking up to someone illustrious at a reception and giving a sales pitch for my own relevance on this planet, only to be elbowed aside by some eager beaver and forgotten. What, I wondered, was the point of debasing myself like that? But the truth of making connections at conferences is sitting down, often by appointment, to explore your genuine interest in the work of others, talk about your current projects, ruminate about future ones, and work through ideas together. Isn’t that’s the whole point of academia? You’re not in it for the money, after all. You’ll discover that most sociologists are generous, curious listeners and caring humans: more so, on average, than academics in nearly any other discipline I can think of.

resources for new assistant professors

A couple of months ago, I asked on Twitter if there were any resources for new assistant professors comparable to Jess Calarco’s A Field Guide to Grad School or Fabio Rojas’s Grad Skool Rulz. Folks there had a bunch of suggestions that I thought I would compile here for posterity. Note that I have not personally read all of the suggestions. And please feel free to suggest more resources in the comments!

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Condemning online harassment

I am writing today to make the online-facing sociology community in Canada and the US aware that a serial harasser is using multiple anonymous Twitter accounts to target, harass, and impersonate several Muslim women sociologists. Muslim women graduate students in particular are receiving the brunt of this harassment, including impersonation and the posting of disparaging remarks and outright lies about their personal lives. 

You may be aware of other online harassers that have plagued sociologists. Similar to other harassers who have targeted sociologists in the US, this anonymous person claims a victim status, purporting to be harassed, stalked, and marginalized within academic spaces. In doing so, they seek to develop a following and to garner sympathy from others.

These accounts pose as a Muslim woman and actively participate in topical online discourse to reinforce this image; however, the people I have spoken with suspect that this is not the case. Their anonymity, and their habit of switching accounts repeatedly, posting photos and false information, lends little credibility to their persona or their stories of victimhood. On the other side, real people whom I know and trust are being harassed by this person.

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frey lied, amir died: connecting community and police violence

Last week, police officers shot and killed another Black man, 22-year-old Amir Locke, in the city that just two years ago was torched by the trauma of George Floyd’s murder, and just months ago failed to replace the Minneapolis Police Department with a new Department of Public Safety. Locke had been sleeping on his cousin’s couch, shot to death within nine seconds of police entering the apartment during a no-knock SWAT raid. The killing happened in the midst of a tragic week of loss–with several teenagers shot and killed by other teenagers. The horrific layering of all this death has prompted a new wave of trauma, rage, and demands to transform policing in Minneapolis. But it’s also started to build a bridge between conversations and movements to end police killings and community violence. Rather than treating the two as separate issues, activists and some city leaders are drawing deeply sociological connections about how structural racism produces both kinds of violence and what it will take to address these staggering losses.

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guest post: black boxes and wishful intelligibility

Here’s the one-sentence version of this post: Black-boxing is good, actually. 

(The longer version is a summary of my recent paper, “Wishful Intelligibility, Black Boxes, and Epidemiological Explanation,” just out in Philosophy of Science.) 

Black box explanations get a bad rap: they are opaque, often the result of statistical (rather than canonically “experimental”) causal inference, and self-consciously, well, not the whole truth. Probably because of this, philosophers of science often take for granted the idea that it’s a good thing to “fill in” a black box explanation with more causal detail. In particular, lack of mechanistic evidence is sometimes considered a shortcoming of epidemiological explanations, which often rely on sophisticated observational causal inference methods.

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sex as a social construct

What do people, including bioscientists, mean when we say “sex is a social construct?” That’s weird, right? Sex is about biology, isn’t it? Sometimes people hear “social construct” and think “random thing totally unrelated to anything else that we can just change willy-nilly.” That’s the “Blank Slate” position, and it’s a strawman. It is not what people actually mean when we say “sex is socially constructed.” We mean something way cooler and more legitimate.

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sase mini-conference on economic racism & racial capitalism (deadline 1/25/22!)

I’m very excited to be co-organizing a mini-conference at the upcoming meetings of the Society for the Advancement of Socio-Economics (SASE) on the theme of “Economic Racism, Ethnic Chauvinism, Racial Capitalism: Foregrounding Race, Ethnicity and Immigration in a Fractious Economy.” The full call is below. Submissions are due January 25th and the mini-conference will take place as part of the larger SASE meetings in Amsterdam July 9-11. To submit, send an 500-or-less word abstract through the SASE system here (requires creating an account and logging in). If you have any questions, leave a comment or shoot me a message!

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what is a field?

The following is a guest post by Joe Karaganis.

Thanks to  Jeff Lockhart for inviting this post.  Over the past couple years, he and I have discussed, on and off, the technical and ethical issues surrounding the development of statistical accounts of gender balance in the curriculum of different fields — potentially using data from Open Syllabus, which I direct.

I don’t want to focus on that here, however.  I’ll defer to Jeff’s excellent discussion of the issue from last summer and simply note a couple of our hand-coded forays into the topic with respect to business school assignments and assigned movies.  (In both cases, the percentage of assigned titles attributable to women is around 10%.)  Instead, I’d like to explore a question that has motivated Open Syllabus since its early days: What is a field?  I’m aware of the sociological history surrounding this question but will stick, mostly, to our brutally simple version of it, which for me begins with a story.

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defending democracy: institutions and principles

In the leadup to the anniversary of last year’s January 6 insurrection, a couple of Tweets combine into some interesting questions about the relationship between support for democracy in theory; support for extant institutions of “democratic” governance; and frank policy failures. How should scholars support democracy and to what extent?

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comments on rodríguez-muñiz’s “figures of the future: latino civil rights and the politics of demographic change”

Michael Rodríguez-Muñiz recently published an excellent book on the population politics of Latino civil right advocates: Figures of the Future: Latino Civil Rights and the Politics of Demographic Change. I had the chance to comment on the book at the Social Science History Association meetings, alongside Emily Merchant and Debra Thompson. Below are my comments for those interested in learning more about the book.

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comments on krause’s “model cases: on canonical research objects and sites”

Monika Krause recently published a fascinating new book at the intersection of sociology and philosophy of social science: “Model Cases: On Canonical Research Objects and Sites.” I had the chance to comment on the book at the Social Science History Association meetings this week, alongside Fiona Greenland and Julian Go. Below are my comments for those interested in learning more about the book.

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fuck advice columns

The following is a guest post by Victoria Reyes.

I used to write columns for Inside Higher Ed, for example, that pinpointed practices that can help grad students, postdocs, and faculty not just survive, but thrive in the academy, even in the midst of crises. 

Why is it, then, that I’ve recently become so angry when I see similar, recent essays? Like the one describing the habits of successful faculty during the pandemic. Here the author stated: 

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who writes social science?

Both the academy generally and the social sciences specifically are rife with inequality. Black and Latine people are underrepresented among sociology PhDs and faculty; people who’s parents have PhDs are dramatically overrepresented; women are awarded less grant funding than men; and academia can be a hostile environment for LGB and especially trans scholars. Yet, despite considerable interest in these issues, it is remarkably difficult to study demographic inequality in critical parts of the academy like publishing for the simple reason that the necessary data either do not exist or cannot be linked. The NSF collects data on students and faculty. Professional associations collect data on members. But journals and publishers generally don’t collect and share data on authors. Christin Munsch and I are changing that.

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the “how many publications does it take to get an academic job?” redux

Every year as the academic job market gets going, someone posts online about what it “takes” now to get a job (or tenure). Think you needed a top-3 publication? Think again: now you need 20! People predictably flock to the post, sending waves of anxiety across graduate students, both those on the market and earlier cohorts watching the horizon. This week, twitter (as always) delivered the panic.

Underlying this roiling are real increases in productivity demands. As my colleague rob warren recently demonstrated, the volume of work produced by recently hired and tenured Assistant Professors at the top-20 Sociology programs has gone up significantly (and will probably inch upward again this year due to the pandemic-related hiring freezes). New Assistant Professors hired at these schools in 2015-17 had, on average, published 0-1 articles in the top-2 sociology journals (AJS and ASR) and 5 articles and/or book chapters. That is a lot of work to complete in the usual 6-8 years of graduate school (and, for some, a post-doc). But those averages mask a significant amount of heterogeneity that make it difficult (and even counter-productive) to give “one size fits all” advice to graduate students seeking academic jobs.

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the racial blinders of assimilation theory

The following is a guest post by José Itzigsohn.

I was recently reminded of the racial blinders of assimilation theory while reading an article by Richard Alba, Morris Levy, and Dowel Myers published in The Atlantic. The article is titled “The Myth of a Majority-Minority America”. The article argues that the “narrative that nonwhite people will soon outnumber white people is not only divisive, but also false.” I find the authors’ argument problematic and revealing of the racial unconscious (or not so unconscious) of assimilation theory.

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