Written by Karen Soldatic, Thematic Group Portfolio Leader: The creative and supportive environment offered by TASA’s thematic groups has led to a proliferation of groups in recent years. There are now 26 active thematic groups, with the great majority of TASA’s membership involved in at least two groups. The impetus for new groups has been driven by the membership. In the last three years alone, TASA members have mobilised to submit at least six successful proposals to expand the breadth and depth of thematic group coverage. Themes encompass well-established areas such as health and migration through to emerging fields including ageing, disability and sport.
For many members, TASA thematic groups are where the action really happens – members organise, collaborate, and garner support for their shared research interests. For example, since 2014, there have been over 21 thematic group member events (symposia, public events and lectures, mini-conferences, workshops, etc.) organized, all receiving funding support from TASA’s thematic group biannual grant scheme. This rich plethora of events has generated a growing public interested in sociology and the sociological account of the world, expanding media attention, publication outputs and policy engagement with many within the TASA membership. The motivation for participating in a thematic group is often twofold: first, to connect with sociologists working in the area, and second, to build research profiles institutionally and nationally.
For most TASA members, the thematic group structure has allowed the formation of collegial yet rigorous relationships. The strongest attraction is often the opportunity to work alongside other sociologists, exploring and examining our ideas in a collaborative environment. For early career researchers, thematic groups are often the place where they receive informal mentoring and support, build collaborative research partnerships with their peers, and frequently establish long term affective relationships of trust and care. For postgraduate students, thematic groups are the place to come and explore your sociological imagination, examine and reflect upon your emerging ideas, and share with others the day-to-day nuances of ‘becoming a sociologist.’ In my role as Thematic Groups Portfolio Leader, I often receive emails from TASA members thanking the membership for actively supporting this core organisational structure and praising the incredible support they have received from fellow thematic group members. This coming together of shared disciplinary interests has been thus both ‘productive’ and ‘a/effective’
There is one question I am often asked: Is the role of Thematic Groups Portfolio Leader
as much work as it looks on paper? I think initially the role was quite cumbersome, however, in recent years, thanks to the incredible support and initiative provided by Sally Daly, TASA Executive Officer, the role has become much more manageable. There are now ‘systems’ in place to enable the Thematic Groups Portfolio Leader to balance the needs of the role with his or her other workload demands. For example, the Thematic Groups E-Manual gives thematic group conveners access to most of the information they need to do their role. There is now an active database of past funding rounds and proposal successes to help inform decision making around applications and distribution of funds across the membership, and the quarterly reporting structure is easily managed in the new framework.
The best part of the role is that the Portfolio Leader gets to work with the TASA members in developing their disciplinary areas and strategies on how to promote their activities to give the field of sociology broader recognition. It has been wonderful to have had the opportunity to be exposed to the richness of Australian sociology, its ‘stalwarts’ and emerging scholars. There is a lot going behind the scenes and it has been exciting to have spent two years supporting research collaborations, partnerships and friendships. Thanks to you all for your continual support for the role of Thematic Groups Portfolio Leader. I have really enjoyed the opportunity to work with you. I wish the new Thematic Groups Portfolio Leader the very best in the role for 2017–2018. You will find a wonderful support in Sally Daly, who kept me ordered and organised when I became a little disordered in the role.