TASA Conference Scholarship for Sociologists Outside Academe Awarded to Jennifer Cheng:
I am very grateful and honoured to have received a scholarship for Sociologists Outside Academe. I had enjoyed the TASA 2014 conference very much and hoped to attend again in 2015. However, working outside of academia meant receiving no institutional or financial support for attending conferences, so it would have been very difficult for me to attend without the scholarship. Being able to attend the TASA conference also meant I was motivated to keep working on my research after hours and on weekends. Although I learned a lot working outside the academy, nothing beats the freedom and autonomy of working in academia – being able to pursue my own research interests and engage in intellectual debates in my academic field. Preparing my conference paper thus enabled me to continue my engagement with academic research despite not working in academia.
I was really happy to attend TASA 2015 and meet up with people I had got to know in 2014. What I particularly like about TASA conferences are the thematic groups and thematic group dinners, where it’s possible to get to know people in a small social circle. This enables early career academics and PhD students to mix easily with the veterans in the field in a relaxed environment. I haven’t come across thematic group activities at any other conferences I’ve been to, but it is something that should be introduced more widely!
As a sociologist in Australia, it’s really important to keep up networks and connections within Australia, not only because of our geographical isolation from the rest of the world but because Australia is also such a vast country itself. During my postdoctoral studies in Switzerland I became very envious of Swiss-based academics who are able to attend seminars at other universities and meet up with other academics around the country on simple day trips by train. I can’t just pop over from Sydney to another Australian city for the day to have a chat and coffee with someone. That’s why the TASA conferences are such valuable events in keeping Australian sociologists connected with each other.
I have since returned to academia so attending conferences will be easier in future. I am now a Career Development Fellow in the Religion and Society Research Cluster at Western Sydney University. I’m very excited to be able to pursue my own research agenda on racism, discrimination and Islamophobia in Australia and Europe. My newest project deals with the anti-Halal debate, the expressions of Islamophobia present in these debates and how food serves as a nationalist proxy to demarcate the Australian from the non-Australian. In this project, I am looking forward to engaging with all the issues I am passionate about: combating prejudices against minorities, particularly Muslims, questioning constructions of Australian identity, and how food may ‘foreignise’ or ‘localise’ immigrant cultures.