asa ennui

Okay, I’ll just say it flat out: I am no longer certain what the point of submitting papers to the annual meeting is.

Well, that’s not completely true. I get the informal purpose: we like to see friends who have migrated to other departments, the book sale is cool, it’s a great chance to network,* and every now and then there are some interesting presentations. Specifically, every now and then other people give interesting presentations. All the “interesting” seems to get sucked out of mine before I actually go to the conference.

The thing is, does anyone actually know what the formal purpose is supposed to be?

Consider, if you will, the submission criteria provided by the ASA:

Original Contribution

Papers must reflect original work or major developments in previously reported work.

Papers are NOT eligible if they have been:
read previously at ASA or other professional meetings,
published prior to the meeting or accepted for publication before being submitted to organizers for consideration, or
modified in only secondary respects after similar readings or publication

Length and Style

Papers as submitted are limited to 20 double-spaced pages, including footnotes, tables, and bibliographies. Lengthier versions are more suitable for subsequent publication than for oral presentation at the Annual Meeting. Organizers have been instructed by the Program Committee not to consider abstracts, letters, email communications, or telephone calls in lieu of full papers. [bolding original, underlining added]

So, to sum up, our submissions have to be original, have to be full papers and cannot have been presented elsewhere. Fair enough. Thing is, they have to be- in their entirety- not longer than twenty pages double spaced. I’ll be honest with y’all: I have never, ever written a complete paper that was less than twenty pages once references, tables, and graphs were included. Seriously, not once. Moreover, I have never written a first draft of a paper that was that short. I have never published a paper that short. Research note? Sure. Full-on paper? No. I don’t start writing until I have enough- theory, methods, results, conclusions- to make a complete paper. And as the term suggests, a complete paper has all the parts, therefore making it longer than 20 pages.

Basically, in order to submit to the ASAs I have to write a special draft of a paper. It has to be complete but, nevertheless, so short that I essentially have to take a paper at some preliminary stage of development and lobotomize it. I will never do anything with this version of this paper ever again as it is too short to survive peer review. So, really, presenting at the ASAs demands an investment of effort that at best will yield the privilege of presenting in a panel rather than a round table. Is this a good use of my time?**

Am I missing something? Do I just write differently than everyone else or, in fact, is this process as screwy as I think it is?

* And, for some of us, hook up.

** Although in perfect honesty, complaining online about having my time wasted is an irony too rich to describe.

18 thoughts on “asa ennui”

  1. I agree, it seems like a weird process to me. Another thing that puzzles me are the “calls” or lack of calls on the website. I’m thinking of going this year, so I go to the website, it tells me to click on the appropriate “calls” and they are all empty. Is this normal? Am I missing something? Granted it’s been a long Christmas season so perhaps the confusion is mine, but I am confused.

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  2. I have long thought that the ASA rules for papers were stupid and agree exactly with your critique of them. Whoever wrote those rules fantasizes that you can combine the quality and polish of a publication with the brevity of a poster session and imagines that the most important function of the convention is to provide a quality check on what is presented. But the real value of a convention is the presentation of work in progress, where the presenter gets helpful feedback and the audience is kept at the cutting edge of new work. The more the ASA uses rigid systems to police its counter-productive rules, the more it makes the convention irrelevant to the most important scholarly purpose. What I personally do when I’m submitting is figure out what I need to do to circumvent the page restrictions (i.e. whether the system will accept a longer paper or will artificially shorten it and whether I can get around this with appendices or reformatting) and embed in the paper a note to the organizer about what the difference will be between the presentation and the submission. If I’m submitting a complete paper that is too long, I’ll put a note on the cover page that says which part I’ll present. Or if I’m submitting a draft I’m still working on, I’ll say in the cover note what I expect to change by summer.

    The only thing I’ll say in ASA’s defense is that conferences that accept abstracts or partial papers have high no-show rates from people who never got the paper done.

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  3. I go to two professional conferences regularly, the Population Association of America (a.k.a. demography) and ASA. Of the two, I think that PAA is the far superior, though much of this is the result of it being a subfield that is closer to my interests, so it is easier to find presentations that are interesting, informative, etc.

    Beyond it being closer to my interests, I think that there are two other organizational features that make it a better conference as well. First, rather than submitting a finished paper, you can submit either an extended abstract or a complete paper. This, I think, avoids the problems of no-shows that olderwoman mentions because you can show (and should be expected to show) initial results at the same time doesn’t impose the completely unreal expectation that you have a complete first draft done seven months ahead of presenting the work. Second, the session topics for PAA are very general and then specific panels can be put together by organizers that are thematically cohesive. At ASA, session topics are picked by the sections and tend to reflect (sometimes very narrow) research topics — this leads to everyone either a) trying to shoe-horn their ideas to fit that topic, or b) lots of interesting papers unrelated to that topic not being presented. Additionally, overflow sessions are abundant at PAA, generally giving every organizer the ability to develop two cohesive panels. Given the size of ASA and the organizational politics of sections, I’m not sure this would work at ASA, but I think that it might be worth a shot.

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  4. Aileen: Yeah, the ASA website definitely has problems today. Been there, done that, got the t-shirt. Probably be cleared up in a day or ten.

    Olderwoman: I hear what you’re saying about the no-show issue but one of my favorite conferences only requires abstracts and it’s always hopping. Granted, it’s in my area and I’ve never organized there but I think there has to be a way to deal with this problem outside of blackmail.

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  5. I have submitted papers longer than 20 pages to ASA several times and have never had an issue. As for whether to submit an abstract or paper…well it kinda depends on who you are. Let us be honest, since the review is not blind, I know several organizers that will take an abstract of a well-known person over lesser knows (all else equal). However, a good full paper is always hard to beat. So until you have clout, send in full papers.
    By the way, I once overheard a “very famous” sociologist once comment that the organizer should be grateful the famous person had submitted a paper because it (read: the famous person) would draw many more people than would normally come. Is it true? My guess is yes, and I think that is particularly true of ASA.

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  6. Just to be clear, I don’t believe you should send just an abstract because it puts the organizer in a bad position. I always send (and tell the people I advise to send) something that “looks like a paper” even if it is not exactly the paper I hope to present. If you don’t have the data yet, you send the front end of the paper and a summary of what data you hope to have.

    I agree that famous people draw audiences. In many ways, the big winners at ASA are junior people who get accepted to panels with some famous person on them to draw audience. If famous person bombs, so much the better for junior person who has a smashing paper.

    Which is not to deny that all the other junior people whose papers got rejected in favor of senior person who bombed have a legitimate gripe.

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  7. My favorite conference is the Urban Affairs Association (again, specific to my interests). They allow a much broader range of submission types. You can submit an entire panel of papers, an extended abstract or full paper for a regular session, or a shorter piece for a breakfast roundtable type session. Also, the sessions are defined very broadly so the papers can be organized as they fit best.

    There have been many times when I presentation at ASA started with “My topic is different from the other papers in this session…”

    I’d really like to see ASA cut the number of presentations in half. I know it would mean fewer presentation opportunities, but it is SOOOOO frustrating to spend hours working on a knock-out presentation only to deliver it to a room of five people, three of whom are your fellow presenters.

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  8. I’m glad drektheuninteresting posted this today. I was just debating whether it is worth working super hard over the next few days to write up some new work for a panel that is probably full already anyway. I too like the PAA guidelines much better. As several people have pointed out, the ASA guidelines requiring submissions to be full papers with new research 7-8 months before the conference is not conducive to getting feedback on work-in-progress and seems to invite flagrant disregard of the “not previously published or presented” rule.

    For some of the more established sociologists, how necessary is it to present at ASA? Is it ok for a more junior person to repeatedly go to the ASA conference just to network and save presenting for other venues?

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  9. What I can’t figure out is we are allowed to pursue publication AFTER submitting and getting accepted to ASA? Do we have to wait until after presenting? As someone on the market, that seems ridiculous to me. I want to get it in the pipeline, but don’t know if I’m allowed. But, I also need to go to ASA. Anyone know for sure?

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  10. @11. you can publish after presenting at ASA. You just can’t submit something to ASA that has already been accepted for publication. R&Rs are fine, as are papers submitted and for which no decision has been reached. And, of course, decisions can come down on papers between Jan and Aug, so many people present things that are about to be published.

    While ASA submission polices could be better, I want to plug two things. 1) the deadline helps to move work along. That is important in a formal sense. 2) occasionally (even if not frequently), people do present work to an audience that can help further their career. I was once on a panel with a grad student who presented this amazing paper and I think that mattered when my department was hiring. And, when it comes tenure time, folks need to know you and your work. public exposure is good for that.

    If you have a good paper, it will be longer that 20 pages, but trimming it down to something presentable is really not that much work. And, it just may pay off.

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  11. pitse1eh: the really organized people mail the paper to the journal on the same day they submit to ASA. Sometimes it is a close call, with the print version coming out a week after the meeting. In general, you can assume that a polished ASA paper is under review somewhere and could well be in press by the time it is being presented.

    perchesk: not necessary for your career at all, but many employers will only pay for your trip to the meeting if you are not on the program; this is probably the major reason there is pressure to expand presentation venues, even though it means that many papers are presented only to the other presenters.

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  12. @10.perchesk: Re junior people and networking: Yes, it is fine for students to go to conferences without presenting. One problem, though, is that when you are networking, the first question anyone will ask you is “so, what are you presenting?” Depending on where you are in your career and what kind of impression you want to make, this may pose a problem. For an early grad student, it is easy to deflect that question and talk instead about what fields interest you and where you think your research will go. A just-hired assistant professor can get away with proudly saying they are taking the year off. But for just about everyone else who is junior, this is your best chance to let people know about your work, so you will want to have a presentation to talk about while you are networking.

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  13. I am not presenting at ASA for the first time in several years because I have nothing near completion in the pipeline. The full-paper issue is unfortunate — I am collecting data for a new project this spring and will likely have an interesting work-in-progress ready by August. I’m considering presenting at SSSP instead.

    A senior colleague in another department persuaded her department to adopt new guidelines for conference funding. If an attendee is not presenting, their trip will still be paid for if they propose to attend a certain number of sessions on a given topic and present a brown bag upon their return.

    As for the length of papers…last year, I submitted a longer paper based, in part, on the advice of posters here who said they never adhered to the page length restriction. The organizer of my first session didn’t make decisions until the evening of the deadline, which meant that my second choice session was already full, which meant that I got bounced to a roundtable, whose organizer — can you see where this is going? — emailed to say he couldn’t review my paper because it was too long, but would give me a short period (48 hours, I think) to submit a revised version (which I did).

    Yes, the ASA submission process is a pain in the ass.

    On a different note, did you all see that we have the eighth-best job in the country?

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  14. Thanks all for responding to my post @10. tina’s advice that I need an answer to the question “what are you presenting?” and olderwoman’s point that presenting is often necessary for funding both seem like good reasons for presenting.

    @12 scorrell makes a good point about deadlines. Submitting something even if I think it won’t get serious consideration will require me to finish a distributable draft sooner than I would otherwise and that itself is a good outcome.

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  15. I must Ask The Scatterbrains: someone said I should present again at ASAs _now that I have a book contract_ to promote the forthcoming book.
    Against the rules, common, or both?
    Thanks.

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