TASA 2015 Postgraduate Conference Scholarship Awarded to Claire Baker, University of New England:
As one of the fortunate recipients of a TASA 2015 Postgraduate Conference Scholarship, I was able to attend the 2015 TASA Conference in Cairns last November. Without the assistance offered by this scholarship I would not have been able to attend and am very grateful to TASA for the opportunity to be involved.
This was the second TASA conference that I have attended and my first as a PhD candidate, and it was incredibly beneficial to reconnect with those colleagues that I met in 2014 and to continue to deepen my understanding of the discipline. A significant part of this was the comprehensive program offered for Postgraduate Day. Beginning with the technical aspects of thesis writing and referencing, the day also included an honest overview of the competitive academic job market and thanks must go to Professor Stewart Lockie for his very candid insights into the academic job selection process. We often hear about the need for multi-faceted experience to complement the PhD qualification and it was useful to hear this from the dual perspectives made possible through the provision of co-presenters, with Dr Rebecca Olson presenting her early-career experiences in complement to Professor Lockie’s more seasoned perspective. Dr Olson’s practical advice, interestingly framed through the sociological lens offered by the work of Goffman and Mead, was threefold: firstly, have the confidence to apply, even if the position seems a little out of reach; secondly, be ‘confidently self-conscious’ and aware that all activities in the selection process count as part of the ‘on-stage performance’; and lastly, she reinforced the message that we need to demonstrate aptitude in both teaching and research, a message reiterated throughout the day by other presenters.
This engaging dual-presenter method was continued with Dr Theresa Petray and Dr Nick Osbaldiston’s co-presentation later in the day about the realities of early career experiences as an academic, each presenting an honest, grounded account of their experiences. A further highlight of the day included an inspiring and very engaging presentation by Dr Kirsten McLean regarding her approach to teaching. I am fortunate enough to have the opportunity to teach at my home university and Dr McLean’s ‘Ten Tips for Teaching’ have served as useful guidelines and inspiring reminders to be an authentic and deeply engaged educator. Later in the afternoon a panel presentation from sociologists employed in the not-for-profit and government sectors, including TASA’s Sue Malta, made the reassuring point that there are diverse career pathways available to graduates. Central to this was the call to recognise, value and effectively communicate the very transferable skills learned throughout the postgraduate experience. Overall, the value of this wide-ranging program was found in the different perspectives and experiences communicated by the presenters, accounts that did not shy away from the challenging realities of a competitive but ultimately highly-rewarding field.
The conference proper encompassed an impressive array of papers and speakers. The paper for which I received the Scholarship and that I presented at the conference was an early theoretical and historical positioning paper from my PhD work entitled ‘From nation-building to neoliberalism: agriculture, change and the social imaginary in Australia’. I was fortunate enough to present in the same session as Emerita Professor Raewyn Connell, and her re-examination of the Keating legacy was fascinating. In keeping with the TASA conference’s reputation for attracting leading sociologists while remaining accessible and friendly, it was an incredible experience to present my paper with both Professor Connell and Professor Eva Cox in the audience, and their feedback and comments have proved very useful. A further significant highlight was when Emeritus Professor Geoffrey Lawrence, whom I had quoted several times in my paper, came up and introduced himself at the end of the session. Professor Lawrence was, and continues to be, generous in his feedback and advice. We have stayed in contact and crossed paths at related conferences and the chance to meet and build a relationship with one of the most distinguished researchers in my field was one of the most valuable aspects of my attendance at the TASA conference.
Although it is difficult to convey fully all that was gained through my attendance in the space allowed here, another important highlight includes Emerita Professor Raewyn Connell’s ‘Postgraduate Publishing Workshop’ that covered practical advice on the writing process. It was encouraging to be given an insight into the hard work and persistence that happens behind-the-scenes even for highly successful, established academic writers. Equally, the opportunity to hear from leading voices in the field of sociology, through the selection of important keynote speakers, remains as an enduring example of the type of work to aspire to. In particular, Associate Professor Itty Abraham’s thorough and articulate presentation displayed a command of his material that was incredibly impressive and Professor Cox’s call to arms for an imaginative reconstitution of society by sociologists in her keynote address was one of the best opening keynotes that I have heard. Professor Cox’s opening address laid the foundational call to all of us to pursue important work that asks essential questions about the type of society we are and want to be.
Congratulations to the organisers for putting together a very impressive conference program, in a very impressive location, and thank you to the TASA Organising Committee for the scholarship award and the opportunity to attend.