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.

Author: andrewperrin

Johns Hopkins University - Sociology and SNF Agora Institute

One thought on “guest post: why you should attend asa (yes, you)”

  1. What I’d add about networks is that it is fine to network with other grad students. Five years from now, they will be your colleagues. It isn’t just about meeting the senior people. It is important that you are always an outsider the first time you approach any new group. The only way to become less of an outsider is to spend time with a group. I endorse going to section meetings as a really good way to meet people, although, again, it is ok to let it take time. I think the first year attending ASA is going to be alienating no matter what you do. Why not get that over with early?

    However, I will say that I think there is an under estimation of the cost of attending a meeting. Maybe Philly is easy to get to from Maryland, but it isn’t a cheap trip from farther away. And some people are on really tight budgets.


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