Home / General / Why I Am Not at APSA This Labor Day

Why I Am Not at APSA This Labor Day


changethedateEvery year at this time I receive several queries a day from colleagues, would-be colleagues and students asking me if I’ll be “at APSA” – the Annual Conference of the American Political Science Association – and when we could meet up for a coffee. Every year I reply several times a day: “Sadly, I won’t be at APSA this year because it conflicts with the start of school for my children.”

This is more or less the truth but I confess it’s not the complete truth. First, I’ve realized this canned response implies I might be there next year, whereas I’ve actually been AWOL from Labor-Day-Weekend APSAs pretty much since my second child hit grade school and it’s time I admit that’s not changing. Second, the “conflict” I described is less of a conflict every year as my kids get older, yet I’m still not coming back to APSA, so that’s less and less the real reason for my absence.

The truer response to the question is that I skip APSA every year not because my son needs me desperately on the first day of school, but because I’m boycotting. I’m boycotting my professional organization for scheduling a conference so as to inhibit work-life-balance and pose an undue burden on parents in the profession, especially mothers. I’m boycotting APSA because they have done this year by year over the protest of their members. What began as an irreconcilable personal conflict for a parent of grade schoolers and partner to a dual-career spouse – what began, that is, as a simple work-life balance choice – has turned over the years into a political statement that I’ll continue to make until APSA’s policy changes.

I’m not saying APSA is an inherently family-unfriendly organization. When my babies were little, I used to sing APSA’s praises as a conference. That’s because of KiddieCorp, the conference-subsidized, super-cheap childcare option they offer parents. For a few bucks you can bring your little kids along and leave them for the entire day if you like with skilled caregivers in massive ballrooms cordoned off with age-appropriate toys, games, movies, and climbing equipment. And the best part: it’s the same staff and kids year by year.  My four-year-old and her little brother made friends and came to think of these caregivers they encountered once a year as extra aunts. My Americanist husband and I treated APSA each year as a family vacation, a chance to support one another professionally in nice hotels at the department’s expense, with the kids happily enjoying themselves with our colleagues’ children until it was time to hit the pool. It was great.

But that all changed when they started grade school. Suddenly, the kids didn’t want to go to APSA so much anymore because of the opportunity cost. And after dragging them there anyway a couple of years, we realized there was a good reason not to make them miss the first two days of school. That’s the day when you meet your teachers, bond with your classmates, reorient yourself to the school year and if you’ve recently moved (as academic families often do), adjust to an entirely new school system. It’s one of the biggest days in a kid’s year. Not only do they need to be present, we decided, but they need parents present for emotional support.

So starting when my daughter was 8, my husband and I decided to try a new system: alternating APSAs. Each year, one or the other of us would go from now on, and one would stay.  This idea made sense in theory, but in practice it put strain on our family’s carefully cultivated and gender-conscious balance between work and family life, as we each navigated life on the two-body tenure track striving for equity both in child-rearing and career opportunities. On any given year, each of us was being less than we could be as professionals. So one year we left the kids with a sitter and attempted to spend our daughter’s first weekend of 8th grade focusing jointly on our careers. Let’s just say that was not our brightest parenting moment.

Something had to give. Pretty soon we decided APSA was simply more important to my husband, as an Americanist, than it was to me as an IR scholar. APSA, which had once been a yearly pilgrimmage together that reaffirmed our joint commitment to our family and our profession, became my husband’s conference. International Studies Association (ISA) became mine. And Labor Day weekend became for me a yearly practice of putting my kids ahead of my profession, something I increasingly came to prefer to the guilt and pressure of spreading myself too thin trying to have it all.

Lots of families – fathers and mothers – do the same thing and write APSA off. But those who do are in a bind. I was lucky that I could afford to skip APSA with relatively few professional consequences, being well along in my career by then and having a strong connection to a second professional association. For me, the worst penalty for my serial absenteeism is having to miss out on editorial board meetings and awkwardly and repeatedly turn down colleagues who expect me to be there. For early career professionals and Americanists, it’s a tougher choice to have to make.

I also suspect that it’s a choice that weighs heaviest on mothers in the profession, who still do a disproportionate amount of parenting and are socialized to feel disproportionately responsible for their children’s emotional well-being. I was lucky to have a co-parent with the skill and desire to be a second primary caregiver, so I at least had a credible option to leave them with someone competent without worrying constantly. But for single fathers and mothers, or for women in the profession without a partner they can easily delegate to for an entire weekend at an important emotional transition in their kids’ year, leaving the kids itself is a tough barrier to entry to full professional life in our discipline. Since conferences are the key opportunities to network and present, and since networking has a strong impact on citations, and since citations drive promotion and tenure decisions, this small barrier to entry has a multiplying and adverse effect on career trajectories. I’m not looking at the data right now, but I’d guess mothers in the profession are more likely than fathers to skip the conference or leave early, and if they do they risk adding another disadvantage to the many forms of structural gender bias they already face in the discipline.

Parents who bite the bullet and attend APSA while missing the start of their children’s school year are unhappy too. My Facebook page and Twitter feed are full of the grumbling from fathers and mothers about the “joys” of starting every semester exhausted, scrambling, and hopelessly behind on class prep due to frantically trying to cram conference prep and travel lag into the first week of school. Public apologies to rightfully resentful spouses have become part of our discipline’s end-of-summer culture. In addition to missing the first days of school, families are asked to miss Labor Day Weekend – an important yearly reprieve where people are supposed to take time off from their professional lives to be with their families. Breaking parents away from their kids and spouses away from one another during what ought to be a time of solidarity and connection before the academic cycle starts up – and doing this every single year of their children’s childhoods as an entry fee to full professional citizenship – is cruel and unusual. Political scientists’ frustration with this has become a grim joke in the profession: Dan Drezner even lists “Talk About Your Labor Day Plans” as one of 10 Best Ways to Mess With Political Scientists in his humorous post about how DC residents might interact with conference-goers:

For political scientists with families, or those at schools that start classes right before Labor Day, it’s a ridiculously inconvenient time… So today or tomorrow, if you’re sitting next to some political scientists, talk about all the fun things you’re planning on doing for this three-day weekend.  Watch them weep silently into their overpriced white wine.

The simple solution would be for APSA to hold its conference at a different week of the year. Maybe they will now: so widespread is the disaffection that a Change.org petition has gone viral, encouraging the Association to change the meeting time. APSA will take up the issue this week at the conference.  If the policy is changed, it will help correct for the ways in which this simple policy choice structurally disadvantages families in political science and their grade-school children. The petition lists other good reasons to change the date – notably that it’s also the start of the school year for professors and university students might rightly expect them to show up to class.

For me, though (it being Labor Day and all) it’s primarily about work-life balance and the needs of families. Let’s face it: academic families already face a lot of pressures. There is job insecurity. Dual-career academic spouses swim against the tide to secure employment and balance marriage with work. Lots of these marriage end like mine eventually did, making that balance even trickier for families in tradition. Even where they last, children growing up in academic families move around constantly, and just like in military families this is tough. The least professional associations can do is ensure working parents can make it to the discipline’s most important yearly event, by not making it harder than it has to be.

Change the damn meeting time. Don’t keep making parents choose between you and their children and partners on Labor Day Weekend.

Until that happens, I’ve made my choice. No, I will not be at APSA. I have been skipping APSA for years out of necessity, and I’ll continue to skip in solidarity with academic families until that policy changes. It doesn’t matter that my daughter is out of the house now. It doesn’t matter that my two-household 50/50 co-parenting arrangement with my now former husband means I only see my son every other start-of-school-year anyway and could delegate that week to his father for the rest of his childhood if I asked nicely. I’m not skipping APSA now because I have to. This is no longer about what’s best for my own children. It is about the needs of families in the profession generally.

Plus I’ll be honest: I care about my students, and my personal health. My self-imposed hiatus from APSA has taught me something I wouldn’t have learned otherwise: that I don’t actually have to start every academic year overextended on behalf of my profession, or disappoint my classes at the start of every term. I have a choice. From now on, I will be with my son when I can on those last days of summer, and if he’s with his Dad then I’ll be getting to know my new undergraduates and spending “family time” with my new partner and his children. And reclaiming my Labor Day.

And since I also love my profession, if the meeting eventually gets moved to a more sensible time, maybe I’ll come back. So if you are there this year, and eventually want to have a coffee with me at APSA again, then whether or not you have children of your own I hope you attend and weigh in in favor of moving the conference date. And if the policy doesn’t change, I hope next year you’ll join me in boycotting until they do.

Meanwhile, I’ll not be weeping silently into my white wine. I’ll be smiling into it. And I’ll be off sailing.

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  • Matt

    I’m pretty sure the meetings of every learned society conflicts with some significant obligations of some significant portion of its members. Certainly reading the relevant discussions every year seem to indicate that.

    • DonN

      I hear this silliness all the time. No. Not true. There are lots of times available. In this case move it in six weeks. So, yeah, there will always be complainers – but they don’t all sound the same.

    • Barry_D

      Matt, your logic is poor. There are better times and worse times.

      • Matt

        Barry- that would be “poor logic” only if I’d said something like “no time is better than any other” or the like. (And, if i wasn’t at least slightly joking- a common enough thing, of course.) But surely the conferences are at the times they are because some significant people favor that time (for various reasons- sometimes the prices are lower. Sometimes it is less likely to conflict with teaching obligations, or with other family vacations, or religious holidays, or whatever.) I’m mostly familiar with the scheduling of the American Philosophical Association annual meetings. The Central Division meeting was recently changed, at the request of the members, leading to a large amount of complaining by the members about the new time. The Pacific division meeting annoys a lot of people for (often) falling on (part of) the Easter holidays. But when moving it was suggested, a very large number of people thought the other plausible times were also bad. The Eastern division meeting will change soon (from late Dec. to early Jan.) but the vote to do so was pretty close, and good reasons exist for the old dates. I’m sure many people will complain about the new ones, too.

        Take this particular meeting time. I don’t have kids, but my several siblings all do. But their school started a week ago. If this meeting was moved a week earlier, so as to make it more convenient for people in Charli’s situation, it would cause the same problem for those people. If it was moved a week later, it would be in a very bad time for people teaching classes.

        So of course, the leaders of the organization should think about the times, but it’s foolish to think there will be a time that won’t cause significant problems for some group of members.

        • Barry_D

          Still poor logic, just with more words. The author’s point (note – whether true or not) is that Labor Day weekend is a particularly bad time. Of course no time will be convenient for all, but there is more and less inconvenient.

          • Matt

            Uh, okay. I mean, she says it’s an especially bad time, and provides evidence that applies to some people, but not everyone, and suggests moving to times that would be bad for others. I suppose they should put it to a vote for the members, but I now wonder if you know what “logic” means.

            • Barry_D

              Yes. Note that I wasn’t defending her *judgement*; it might be that Labor Day weekend was the one which caused the fewest problems for the fewest people (although I’d bet against it).

              • Barry_D


                I apologize for being pissy.

                I felt that you were using the argument ‘all things are bad, so all things are equally bad’.

  • I used to complain about AHA being right after New Year’s. Then I found out that MLA was between Christmas and New Year’s, which is completely insane and anti-family and basically anti-human. I heard it might be moving back a week.

    APSA is pretty bad too, although I had never thought about it before.

    • Incontinentia Buttocks

      We slightly older historians remember when the AHA was also in between Christmas and New Year’s…and we tend therefore not to complain about the AHA’s timing. A few years ago, the MLA finally joined the AHA in moving away from the single worst week in which to schedule a conference; it now meets at the the same time as the AHA.

      (That being said, it’s been years that I’ve attended an AHA unless I had to be there for some professional obligation. That is because the AHA is totally soul-sucking. If I’m going to attend a conference simply for the sake of my allegiance to the profession, I go to the OAH.)

      • Manny Kant

        I feel like no one really goes to AHA unless a) they’re on the job market; b) they’re interviewing job candidates; or c) they’re on a panel.

        • My wife actually likes the AHA. This I find incomprehensible as it is a horrible conference. But I usually tag along to drink in an unfamiliar city with my non-US history friends from grad school I don’t see otherwise.

          • ctb

            That’s because for Latin Americanists, it isn’t The AHA that we like, but CLAH doing its thing on the backs of the AHA’s infrastructure. CLAH makes it feel like a good conference, and not just the soul killing experience that it is for many of the rest.

            • Right–panel wise, there’s very little for an Americanist at AHA.

      • Linnaeus

        The only time I ever attended AHA was when it was in my city and I happened to be on a faculty search panel for my department. I didn’t care much for the meeting and being on the search panel revealed a lot to me about what goes on during job searches.

    • The Eastern APA was then…and it’s the big philosophy hiring one.

      • matt w

        Yes. You’ve read How the APA Stole Christmas, haven’t you? I had to give up going to extended-family Christmas gatherings (from a bireligious part of my family) because I couldn’t deal with doing anything other than trying to focus on my job interviews. And I think the APA Eastern is moving now mostly because it’s been killed off as the central hub for interviews; I successfully lobbied my department to do video interviews this year partly because I didn’t want to participate in a pernicious institution anymore (also this mean that our search was the first in whatever that came in within its allotted budget), and from what I hear candidates are not expecting to have to interview at the APA anymore.

        I think the reason that it was originally scheduled between Christmas and New Year’s is that no one would have to miss school then, but the reason no one has to miss school then is it’s an appalling time to make people work.

        And much credit to Charli for pointing out the specifically gendered aspects of the injustice. Academia seems like it should be well suited to be family friendly, with its flexible schedules and the amount of work you can do at home (at least in philosophy), but in practice it too often isn’t.

    • wjts

      Some of friends were/are regular attendees of the MLA. I was always faintly baffled as to how such an obviously awful date was ever chosen in the first place. The only conference I attend with any sort of regularity is always some time between late March and mid-April, which isn’t too bad but sometimes ends up falling inconveniently close to the end of the spring semester.

      • I have 3 conferences I try to attend with some regularity. The Western is in October, Environmental is in March or April and LAWCHA is in June. These are good times to have conferences.

        • Linnaeus

          The meeting for my main specialty (HSS) is usually the first week of November. Not a bad choice, in terms of potential conflicts.

      • BubbaDave

        It’s probably a ridiculously cheap date for hotel/convention centers. The big corporate meeting season is Jan-April and then October. December is a dead zone, so anyone willing to subject their membership to a conference in the last week of December can probably get the meeting space and audio/visual for pennies on the dollar.

        (Not saying it’s worth the tradeoff, just trying to come up with a rational reason besides “The MLA hates all humanity.”)

        • wjts

          That’s a fair point. I wouldn’t be too surprised if there was an element of “this is the one time of year that every attendee is pretty much guaranteed not to have any other immediate professional obligations” to the original decision as well.

        • Richard Hershberger

          I assumed that this is the underlying reason for obviously terrible dates that leave the membership complaining. I suspect that attendance for many is close enough to mandatory that the organizers don’t feel they need to take the complaints seriously. I am not an academic, but I attend one quasi-academic conference a year. It isn’t mandatory for anyone, so they wouldn’t dream of putting it on an insane date.

    • Thers

      MLA is at this time completely because of “Berube” — there was some noise about moving the dates, but then there were a number of mysterious disappearances…

      I hope I have not said too mu

      • Linnaeus

        I knew he was one of America’s Most Dangerous Professors, but wow…

    • ChrisTS

      APA (philosophy) has its biggest meeting between Xmas and New Years. People have been complaining about it forever.

    • The MLA changed its meeting time a couple of years ago: it now meets in early January.

      (I might know this because I may have been working on and off at the MLA for years to supplement my adjunct pay. I might even know, and like, the convention staff—all four of them.)

    • Hogan

      For the twenty or so years my father worked for NCTE, he had to go to their national convention for Thanksgiving week, and most years my mother did too. NOT THAT I’M BITTER.

    • mch

      The MLA and the APA/AIA (the American Philological Association now SCS, and the American Archaeological Institute of America) — used to meet between Christmas and New Years, insane, you’d think. Only when women in sufficient numbers — yes, we women, responsible for all those presents under the tree, in the midst of grading finals and staying in touch with far-off family and preparing for second semester and baking Christmas cookies with our children and then at midnight starting the grading), or arranging for the Jewish get-away-from-it-all vacations then — began to complain, this is insane! — only then (late 1990’s, early 2000’s) did the meetings get moved to early January. Not great (for obvious reasons), but better.

      As an agitator for the change in the APA (now, dreadfully, SCS), I can attest to a few things: men who liked the excuse to get away from family over the holidays, women who had no children who never thought (like yeah, that would be hard! leave your children the day after Christmas to go give a paper or interview or something), there is no good time. But there are impossibly bad times. Labor Day weekend would be an impossibly bad time, by any measure.

      Meanwhile, the national meetings fade….

  • Vance Maverick

    Now this is a hinged rant.

    • Lee Rudolph

      Since those two threads came up yesterday, I have spent a lot of fruitless effort trying to decide precisely (or even vaguely) what it is that a rant gets unhinged from. Only now has it occurred to me that perhaps the participle is reflexive: a hinged rant is one that is well-articulated, making a rant unhinged if its joints are frozen.

      • Vance Maverick

        Oh good, at least one other regular responds to purely verbal tangents.

        I’m not an academic, but it seems startlingly unreasonable that such organizations don’t bend to the realities of people’s schedules. At my large tech company, we adapt to the fact that more people are on vacation near the end of the year by changing everything — in order to stay on line and reliable, we simply don’t schedule new launches or complex reconfigurations during that period. If you’re around then, great, but you’re working on longer-term projects.

  • skate

    Back when I was fresh out of grad school and still an active planetary scientist, there was a lot of grumbling because DPS was right on top of Halloween. For much the same reasons as Charli gives about wanting to be home for a day important to the kids. I see that some time since then the conference has moved to Columbus Day, which makes a lot more sense.

  • MAJeff

    ASA was week or so ago, and there were similar issues with regard to scheduling…and with regard to always scheduling it the most expensive cities possible (One night in the hotel this year would have eaten my entire annual travel budget).

    As someone who has a job and teaches at a community college level, I’ve actually found that national conference to be less than useful. I don’t need to spend thousands of dollars to have someone look at my name-tag to determine whether or not I’m worth talking to.

  • Richard Hershberger

    “Since conferences are the key opportunities to network and present, and since networking has a strong impact on citations, and since citations drive promotion and tenure decisions, this small barrier to entry has a multiplying and adverse effect on career trajectories.”

    Huh? By “citations” we mean footnotes in papers, right? Not plaques to put on the office wall? In my naivete, I always thought that papers got cited because they included important, or at least interesting, research that impacted the research of others. Are they really good-old-boy shout outs? Like crappy pulp action novelists giving each other cover blurbs?

    • djw

      Well, sometimes yes. But there’s an in-between option, where one cites a paper or author because they became aware of the work at a conference, whereas they otherwise never would have read it. (It’s a big discipline, no one keeps up on all the books and journals.)

    • Lee Rudolph

      By “citations” we mean footnotes in papers, right?

      And/or in-line markers variously typeset. Sometime after the middle of the last century, citation footnotes—which had been the norm—essentially vanished from mathematics papers, for instance.

      In my naivete, I always thought that papers got cited because they included important, or at least interesting, research that impacted the research of others.

      That differs (ignoring the possibility of corruption that you raise in your next two questions) from discipline to discipline. In mathematics, the most common use of citations is to point to a proof (not necessarily the original, the only, or even the best) of a theorem that you have stated (because you are using it in one of your own proofs) but not proved (because you have nothing to add); probably the next most common is to point to a source for more details (for instance, of a definition or group of related definitions, or of an application). In engineering (to the extent that I understand it from my experience as co-author of papers in robotics), where the format of a paper is much more rigidly defined than in mathematics, a large part of the introductory section (or sometimes an entire section by itself) is dedicated to a literature review—with copious citations—of results related to the topic of your paper. The same is true in (the parts I’m familiar with of) psychology.

      Much more so than the practice in mathematics, the practices in both engineering and psychology (and perhaps in sciences and social studies more generally) do seem susceptible to “good-old-boy shout out” corruption. But I’m sure that practitioners here can disabuse you and me of our suspicions…

      • elm

        There’s definitely some ‘good old buy shout out’ going on in political science citations, although it’s not always as nefarious as it sounds. Similar to what djw says above, you’re more likely to be aware of work by your friends and so know to cite it. Also, there are often huge numbers of relevant work that could be cited and it’s cumbersome to have a string citation with dozens of cites (and there are journals that limit you to the number of cites in any string citation), so how do you choose which? Obviously, the most important should be included, but if all else is equal, why not include your friend’s?

        There’s also a strategic element to citing. A lot of people believe (though I’m skeptical) that editors, or the grad students working for them, partly choose reviewers for a paper by looking at the citations on the first couple of pages. There’s logic to this, as the stuff you cite early is likely to be the work you’re responding to or the literature you’re placing your own research within, and, thus, are likely to be good reviewers.

        But, I’ve heard many people give advice to grad students and junior faculty that they should take advantage of this and strategically cite scholars that they think will be sympathetic to their work, perhaps because they’re your friend, but more often because they do similar work to you or use similar approaches or are supportive of the type of research you use in general. All of this information can be discovered at conferences, so networking can have an influence not only on citations but ability to publish (assuming the strategic citation story is true, which, as I say, I’m skeptical of.)

        • Ronan

          “There’s also a strategic element to citing. A lot of people believe (though I’m skeptical) that editors, or the grad students working for them, partly choose reviewers for a paper by looking at the citations on the first couple of pages.”

          Yeah, id love to see someone adopt a clear eyed strategy for getting cited (develop a program and stick with it)

          Say, make friends with some big cheese in your field who gets their work cited a lot and put increasing pressure on them to cite you and tell all about your research(even bribe them if neccesary) Change your name to the same as some long dead big cheese in your field and start claiming their work as your own. That kind of thing (but better !!!!!)

          • Ronan

            ..make your cites contingent on the person your citing citing you. Let it be known that NO ONE gets a cite without reciprocity.

            • Ronan

              ‘dear prof slaughter, I am thinking of citing your work in a new paper I am writing. However, as required by my long term cite strategy this would require gaurantees of you citing me in your next work, perhaps even in the reprint of the work I am now(potentially) citing.
              Also if you could get the President to mention my work at the next state of the union address, it would also be much appreciated’

              kind regards

            • Lee Rudolph

              Back before the internet, when chain letters actually propagated on paper, there was a spoof chain letter for academics along just those lines. Even if it’s still in my files, I don’t think I could find it, and nor do I remember enough words from it to want to try Google. At the time I thought it was pretty funny, though.

        • matt w

          Philosophy also has the “citation dump” footnote, “Here’s six papers that argue for this position and six papers that argue against it” or something like that; it seems like networking might be important there, again because you’re more likely to be aware of papers by your friends or papers you’ve talked to someone about or something. And the gender gap in citations is a problem.

      • the practices in both engineering and psychology (and perhaps in sciences and social studies more generally) do seem susceptible to “good-old-boy shout out” corruption.

        In engineering, sometimes. I’m in a strange, peripheral niche from the viewpoint of most structural engineers, so they tend to ignore me*, but I have witnessed some truly amazing log-rolling in footnotes. There are a few people I know who encourage their grad students to publish everything ten times, so every journal and conference is swamped by repetitive and meaningless papers, but I suspect that’s not limited to engineering.

        *One of the few times I submitted a paper to an american engineering conference, a review read, in its entirety, “Cast iron is no longer used, so this paper is meaningless.” Since the intro to my paper pointed out that there are several hundred thousand extant buildings in the US with cast-iron structure, and the conference was on the topic of forensic analysis of failure, you would think… But maybe I needed to grease a palm.

        • Lee Rudolph

          But maybe I needed to grease a palm.

          Grease is no longer used, so this hypothetical is meaningless.

          • I tried graphiting a palm once. It was problematic.

            • KarenJo12

              Organic, sustainably-sourced, extra virgin olive oil is the preferred palm lubrication now.

              • For almost thirty years, my brain has automatically and instantaneously turned that phrase into “like an extra-virgin.” To put it another way, I’ve hated Madonna for a long, long time.

              • cpinva

                “Organic, sustainably-sourced, extra virgin olive oil is the preferred palm lubrication now.”

                I just know I’m going to regret being stupid enough to ask this, but i’ll take the plunge anyway:

                what the hell is “extra virgin” olive oil? is it from olives that were ignored twice, before being pressed? if so, I feel like that isn’t exactly a good thing, cause those olives were probably kinda skanky to begin with.

                • Ronan

                  the difference is one of quality control

                • As Ronan says:

                  The oil produced by only physical (mechanical) means as described above is called virgin oil. Extra virgin olive oil is virgin olive oil that satisfies specific high chemical and organoleptic criteria (low free acidity, no or very little organoleptic defects).

        • Eureka! I have found my niche! I will be the first theoretical structural engineer and spend my career studying the failure modes of gingerbread structures. What is better mortar for gingerbread bricks nougat or marshmallow? No one would dare reject my papers because of “we don’t use that in construction”. My answer will be “Of course we don’t, and here is 15 pages why”.

          • I believe the only failure mode of all gingerbread structures is “nom nom nom.”

            • cpinva

              always look for the tooth marks.

    • Barry_D

      Krugman has discussed that by 1980, economics research ran on pre-prints, copies of articles which hadn’t been put out in the journals yet. He said that if you weren’t on those lists, you ended up a long way behind the current research.

  • The regularity of the schedule surprises me. I attend three conferences* regularly – one annual, one bi-annual, one tri-annual – and they move around both in location and month. I occasionally have a conflict and therefore occasionally skip one, but the problems are different each time so it never rises to the level of annoyance that Charli describes. As it happens, this year I’m in Mexico City in early October and Quebec in late October. Both are infinitely preferable to DC, so I’m happy.

    *I suspect no one here has heard of them, except the Zombie knows one of them. APTI, ICCH, SAHC.

    • rea

      You’re not going to Inukjuak in mid-February?

    • cpinva

      good thing you bring your own fur. do they provide a pool, with ice-cold water in it, in mexico?

      • One can dream.

  • djw

    While I’m very sympathetic to changing APSA’s date for the reasons you mention and other good ones, I won’t be signing that particular position, as it endorses a truly awful change in addition to changing the date.

    • matt w

      Hear hear — as I said above philosophy may have managed to kill off the interview-at-a-conference model.

      When I was in about my third year of grad school I went to the APA Eastern to go to papers and one of my friends who on the market said to me, in sepulchral tones, “I don’t see how you can possibly have come to this conference when you don’t have to.” Then when I had to go to it on the market several times I realized he was right — it was a soul-sucking vortex of misery and desperation. It’d be nice if it could be a conference again.

  • elm

    There’s irony in the anti-family and anti-female scheduling aspect of APSA (at least if the explanation I’ve always heard for its place on the calendar is actually true).

    Many years ago, APSA changed its location for an annual meeting at the last minute to protest Illinois not ratifying the Equal Rights Amendment. This violated APSA’s contract with the hotel chain (Hilton) and they sued. As part of the settlement, APSA agreed to hold its conference in a set of Hilton hotels for some long number of years, which is why APSA was pretty much in the same 4 or 5 cities for decades. Also, they agreed to hold the conference on labor day weekend, since hotels have trouble booking their conference facilities that weekend.

    Parts of this story I know to be true (ERA-related boycott; agreeing to use Hilton hotels to settle the lawsuit.) The scheduling on labor day weekend may be urban legend, though. Either way, the agreement is no longer operative and APSA can change the date if they want to (and they should want to.)

  • Ronan

    I’m not an academic so dont really have an opinion on when the conference should be scheduled(although it makes sense it should be scheduled to the convenience of those attending, what is their reason for not doing this btw?)
    But on the notion that attending conferences is central(or important, at least) to a young academics career, is this really true ? I asked that here once:


    So it seems it is somewhat (?) important at the start, but not so much so that skipping it as a general rule would negatively affect your career to a large degree ? Would someone advising a younger researcher who was adamant she didnt want to go( and instead Save the time and money and holiday in the Caribbean for example) be right to say not to bother if she didnt want to, or should the advise be that she should go at the start of her career for professional reasons? Are there direct, measurable professional positives from attending(in terms of promotion and wages rather than for social or research networking reasons) or studies done on the importance of conferences for academic careers?

    • There’s at least two factors:

      1) Personal education/awareness/stimulation.
      2) Raising one’s profile.

      If the conference is a good fit, then both can be substantial. I remember the first time I went to an APA (on my own grad school dime) I was buzzing for months.

      In computer science, conferences are a dominant publication venue, so you at least have to get your stuff into them. Being there does to raise awareness of you and your work (in my observation). There’s no quantification of these effects to my knowledge.

      • Ronan

        My expectation to have the effect quantified was a little over the top : ) Personal experience is obviously very important here ..
        I could see how the first time someone presented could give them a buzz for months; very easy for me to adopt a detached perspective on this from the outside. (As they say ‘ I adopt on extreme rationalist approach to everything that has no bearing whatsoever on my life !’)

        • There’s a buzz from first times just attending.

          Presenting is also useful in order to prepare for one’s viva. It’s hard to get enough variety of audience otherwise.

          My observation is that people who don’t attend the standard events tend to dridt form the field. (This might be quite different in some general areas.)

          • Lee Rudolph

            It’s hard to get enough variety of audience otherwise.

            I attended my first Summer Meeting of the American Mathematical Society in 1976, between the second and last years of my first non-tenure-track job. Though there was a Special Session (possibly—I no longer remember—comprising two or more consecutive time blocks) on Knot Theory, which I was then drifting into, I had not (not knowing the ropes at that time) submitted my abstract for it or any other Special Session, and so I was (predictably, and indeed in a rule-governed way) included in one of the many General Sessions with half a dozen other abstracts, none related to each other or to my paper. Not predictably, my particular time block was the last one on the last day (Summer and, I think, Annual Meetings of the AMS are three or four days long), and my own abstract was the last one in that block. As speakers finished, one by one they (and co-authors, if present) left the room. When the penultimate speaker (and his present co-author; or was it co-authors?) finished, only thanks to the very steely eye of the local faculty member charged with chairing our session did that speaker and his co-author(s) remain to hear me out. I thanked them all at the end (perhaps not entirely sincerely).

            A “buzz” was not how I’d describe what I got from that experience.

            • Ronan

              The rudeness !
              reminds me a bit of this story(dont know why i remembered it) about when albert hirschman walked in on some young upstart snarkily attacking his work


              Now that takes a bit of class.

            • Linnaeus

              Wow. I would never walk out of a session that I was a speaker in.

            • Though there was a Special Session … on Knot Theory, which I was then drifting into…not knowing the ropes at that time


  • Lee Rudolph

    Are there direct, measurable professional positives from attending(in terms of promotion and wages rather than for social or research networking reasons) […]?

    This is the only one of your questions that I can answer on the basis even of anecdotes (not direct measures!) rather than mere impressions.

    (1) Both “social and research networking” can indirectly (but undeniably) affect promotion (and therefore wages), because both can (and research networking, at least, should) directly affect variables that do (whether they all should, or not) directly affect promotion, such as research topics, research publications, and citations of one’s research (all affected by research networking) and opportunities/invitations to serve one’s scholarly community as a referee, editor, professional-association committee member, or plenary speaker at professional meetings (all affected by both kinds of networking). Impressing people who may be called on to write letters of evaluation for a promotion case surely also fits in here.

    (2) At least some colleges and universities use information about the meetings attended by a candidate for promotion when making promotion decisions. The information used can be as coarse as the mere number, or as fine as documented measures (of questionable validity) of the “impact factors” of various conferences.

    (3) Finally, in some fields most or all papers are published (first, and perhaps only) in “conference proceedings”: if you don’t go to conferences, you don’t get published (much), and that is (generally) fatal to your career. IEEE is notorious for running this racket in a borderline legitimate manner. In the past few years, several shadowy organizations have become notorious for running the racket in a transparently illegitimate manner; I get several invitations a month to submit papers to, and of course register ($$$) for, conferences on subjects that I know little or nothing about. What promotion committees do when confronted with such publications, I don’t know.

    • Ronan

      “This is the only one of your questions that I can answer on the basis even of anecdotes (not direct measures!) rather than mere impressions. ”

      I live by a very high evidentary standard in blog comment sections : )
      Interesting though, thanks.
      On number (1)though, are there not equally efffective(perhaps even more so) ways to ‘network’ nowadays ? Primarily online(through social media,making contact with people who’s research interests you etc) outside of the conference scene, and that might in fact negate the usefulness of conference networking ?

      • Ronan

        ..although that question is a little irrelevant considering your 2 or 3 which show it prob is important (or a least in some? fields)

      • Lee Rudolph

        On number (1)though, are there not equally efffective(perhaps even more so) ways to ‘network’ nowadays ? Primarily online(through social media,making contact with people who’s research interests you etc) outside of the conference scene

        One day 25 years ago, while preparing a tenure-track colleague’s first pre-tenure review case, I was thumbing for my first time through the then-paper Science Citation Index (now on-line as “Thompson’s Web of Science”) at the university science library. It occurred to me to look up my own citations. I found a current article by a Fields Medalist citing one of my papers, which I had not been aware of (though perhaps I should have been; but he was citing me under a heading I didn’t mention above, namely, as the source for a counterexample—actually, the only counterexample then extant—for one possible generalization of the theorem he was proving). Thereafter I checked every issue of SCI, and over the years I found several citations of my work there first rather than in more usual ways (most commonly, of course, by receiving [paper!] preprints or reprints; next most commonly, by literally hearing about them at meetings or in tête-à-têtes with colleagues and friends; least commonly, but still more commonly than through SCI, by reading a paper in a journal).

        The internet and web have changed things immensely. Paper (p)reprints are pretty much dead in mathematics: almost all new work (certainly in my subfields) is posted at arXiv.org, and it’s easy to search for one’s name there; over the years I’ve found hundreds of citations of my papers that way, in dozens of cases by authors I had never heard of at the time (only a very few of them have sunk without trace, though some have had only minor or no continued overlap with my work). The “Web of Science” is correspondingly less useful. Google Books and Google Scholar have both been more useful than I would have thought—Google regularly (if not frequently) surprises me by finding odd and interesting (because off-track) citations.

        In the case of citations I’ve found in the arXiv, I almost always immediately e-mail the author(s) with congratulations on their good taste in citing me to let them know they have at least one reader, and (fairly often) to ask or answer a question, pose a conjecture, or (sometimes) make a correction. I can’t remember ever doing that for Google hits, but since Google Scholar has recently launched a pretty good citation-tracking service, the day may come soon.

        However, as to “and that might in fact negate the usefulness of conference networking”, I’d have to say NOT AT ALL (in my experience). For mathematicians, at least, “conference networking” often involves (and is redeemed by) collaborations, which (still) work best when they’re (at least partially) tête-à-tête. (Maybe Skype etc. will change this, but I have severe doubts.)

        The paper I’m avoiding finishing writing at this very moment wouldn’t have been written if it hadn’t been for conversations at a week-long workshop/conference a year+ ago in Bonn. The one or two papers that I’ve had to spin off from that paper (because it would certainly not get finished if it had to contain what will now be their contents) will be what I’ll probably talk about this December in Mérida, at a two-week-long conference celebrating a Mexican mathematician’s 60th birthday. Besides the guy with the birthday, I know nearly a dozen of the other guests, have written papers with two of them, and have had papers written by several others that have answered old questions of mine—so I think the odds are good that I’ll be engaged in some new collaboration there. And so it goes.

        Of course both the Bonn and the Mérida conferences are fairly focused (with three and four official subject matters, respectively, in both cases having substantial overlap), quite small, and one-offs. Huge annual or biennial meetings of large professional organizations are entirely different animals. I haven’t been to one of those since 1982, and at that time, at least, the experience did not conduce to research collaboration.

        • Ronan

          Ok, youve definitely convinced me!
          This is a good example of experience and professional knowledge trumping idle speculation.(on my part)

        • Hogan

          Web of Science has one of the kludgiest search functions I’ve ever seen, and I’ve used old original OCLC and Westlaw Classic.

          • Warren Terra

            Pshaw. If you think WoS is kludgy, you’ve obviously never had the joy of using Silver Platter back in the day. Before the (html / graphically browseable) Web, a company made money selling the MEDLINE database on CD-ROMs. Because only a year or two of the database could fit on a CD-ROM, you had to switch from disc to disc to disc as you searched, manually loading each in turn. I was at a ludicrously well-funded research institute that used this method, and was regarded as some sort of an eldritch wizard because I could Telnet into my undergraduate institution’s servers and query the whole database at once.

  • KarenJo12

    The labor issue for the 21st century is going to be scheduling and life-balance. Beginning with mandatory overtime for hourly workers and extending through the punishment inflicted on professionals who actually take our vacations, to this kind of idiot scheduling for important conferences. And this is a completely non-ideological problem; it’s a gendered one and progressive men can be even more clueless than overt conservatives about such issues. (I have painful memories of arguing with the other officers of a local progressive organization that evening meetings in a location that didn’t have parking were a bad idea, because women don’t really like sitting in bus shelters alone after dark and most of our members had kids who would either need babysitters, in addition to the problem with requiring use of Austin’s terrible public transit. I lost.)

    • Not that I disagree with your point, but I was under the impression that the labor issue for the 21st century was going to be the fight against the reimposition of indentured servitude.

      • KarenJo12

        You’re probably correct. I think of work-life balance as a subset of the battle against involuntary servitude.

      • Linnaeus

        the reimposition of indentured servitude.

        Serfdom, actually.

    • Denverite

      I think the issue is more generational than gendered.* The late baby boomers and early gen xers (basically anyone in their mid 50s and older) simply don’t understand that younger generations live in a world where both parents work and have child obligations. They assume that their colleagues and subordinates have a spouse who covers all of those obligations, and in most cases now, that’s simply not true. So meetings get scheduled early in the morning or in the evening when the kids aren’t at school, retreats or conferences go on holiday weekends, etc.

      And the ironic thing is that most of these older workers are perfectly understanding when a family conflict comes up. They are totally fine with you missing the meeting because you have to get your kids to school and your spouse is out of town for work himself/herself. But the mindset that exists when scheduling everything just completely ignores this.

      * I know this is anecdotal and probably atypical, but I know far more men for whom this is a problem than women. I think a lot of that has to do with the (bad) phenomenon where disproportionately more women with family obligations drop out of the workforce or “downsize” their careers to accommodate the obligations, meaning that the women who stick around tend to be the ones without family obligations. Again, anecdotal and atypical.

      • KarenJo12

        I’m 51, and the most hideously hostile bosses I’ve had were Boomer single women. They didn’t marry or have kids and by God they weren’t going to make life easy for wimps like me who did. My best boss ever, whose funeral I’m attending in a couple of hours, was a Boomer single father. Second best were mothers themselves.

  • cpinva

    “Not that I disagree with your point, but I was under the impression that the labor issue for the 21st century was going to be the fight against the reimposition of indentured servitude.”

    indentured servitude isn’t illegal, it’s basically a contractual negotiation. perhaps you’re thinking of the move to eliminate the 13th amendment, and bring back legal slavery?

    • It’s not illegal but it was frowned upon. Not no more.

  • Marc

    The “when is better”? question is actually relevant here. During the summer you have to deal with vacation plans – which makes it extremely difficult to satisfy everyone. This is a big, big factor for conferences – if you’ve organized one you’d appreciate just how much of a nuisance it is. There are also summer camps..in short, scheduling a professional meeting during the summer will also be treated as being anti-family (remember also that some schools actually start in the middle of August, and others stay in session well into June). During the school year you have parenting conflicts. This leaves the holiday break – e.g. just after New Years – as perhaps the least worst time, or a three day weekend when people can at least get off work (but will need to make child care arrangements.)

    • Murc

      There is a difference between asking people to take time off during a random weekend in the middle of summer or the school year and asking them to take time off during a window when a non-trivial number of them are gonna have families starting school. I would submit that Charli would not be complaining one bit if one of her kids happened to have a birthday this often conflicted with, which would be a different situation.

      There’s also the fact that imposing professional obligations on people during Labor Day Weekend is wrong to begin with. Around here I’ve been listening to commercials on the TV and radio for the whole last week by businesses touting how they’re gonna be open on Labor Day, and all I can think is “you’re bad people, and I will not patronize you if at all possible.”

      Sidebar: Oh man, I missed Charli so much, you guys, you don’t even know. I am thrilled to see her byline again.

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