SEAA Mentoring Workshop and Graduate Student Dinner

In the past decade, SEAA has dedicated itself to the support of robust and rigorous research and the growth of anthropologists in East Asia and beyond. We have consistently worked on providing graduate students with opportunities to communicate with junior and senior scholars and better preparing them for professional development. Since its very beginning, SEAA has hosted mentoring workshops and informal graduate student dinners during the AAA Annual Meeting.

We aimed to not only provide practical knowledge and techniques, but also to offer more opportunities for mentees to cultivate a long-term relationship with potential mentors.
In the aftermath of the 2016 US Presidential election the previous year, we held a workshop titled “Anthropology with an Attitude” and discussed questions such as: What is the relationship between politics and anthropology? To what extent has the intellectual substance of anthropology—its methods and techniques, as well as its concepts and theories—been affected by the complex relations of power as we study in the world now? Lisa Rofel (University of California, Santa Cruz), Eleana Kim (University of California in Irvine), Akihiro Ogawa (The University of Melbourne) and Jessica Lockrem (St. Edwards University) joined the workshop as mentors. We had 25 participants from a diverse range of anthropology programs based in institutions both in the US and elsewhere. They included PhD students, post-doctoral fellows, and junior scholars.

In 2017, given the disturbing news on possible cuts in funding for the social sciences and humanities, graduate students and early career professionals are encountering significant difficulties in the areas of grant applications and career development. To address this issue, we proposed and organized a lunchtime mentoring workshop for graduate students and early career professionals centering on the issues of proposal writing and grant applications. We aimed to not only provide practical knowledge and techniques, but also to offer more opportunities for mentees to cultivate a long-term relationship with potential mentors.

Glenda Roberts speaks with students at the 2017 SEAA Mentoring Workshop. Tianyu Xie.

For this workshop, Matthew Kohrman (Stanford University), June Hee Kwon (New York University), John Osburg (University of Rochester), and Glenda Roberts (Waseda University) kindly accepted our invitation to serve as mentors and shared their insights and experience about the process of proposal writing and grant applications. Like last year, we distributed a call for workshop participation within the SEAA network. Twenty five PhD students and post-doctoral fellows from a range of institutions and degree program backgrounds took part.

With the support of both the SEAA and AAA, we were able to hold the workshop in a quiet Japanese restaurant close to the annual conference site. Mentors emphasized that it is crucial to understand the audience’s needs and to flesh out major research statements accordingly. The mentors all highlighted the importance of illustrating one’s scholarly contribution—how one’s research addresses a gap in current academic conversations. At the same time, they cautioned students against using buzzwords as a way of signaling; big words should be incorporated, but not used without contextualization. Mentors also shared their insights about the changing environment of academia.

John Osburg shares his insights with mentoring workshop participants. Tianyu Xie.

After the workshop, we received numerous positive feedback and constructive suggestions for holding similar events in the future. Quite a few student participants explicitly expressed their appreciation for such workshops and agreed it was an “invaluable learning and socializing experience for students” (quoted from a student participant). They liked the workshop’s format, which provided the opportunity for every participant to communicate with  the mentors. In such a convivial and comfortable setting, exchanges of intellectual opinions are found to be more engaging, effective and vibrant, and thus, “no awkwardness” (quoted from a student participant).

Participants also proposed possible improvements for future workshops. One major suggestion is to have more discussions and guidance for graduate students on career development, not only within academia but also beyond. What pace should a PhD student adopt in order to pursue an academic position? How might anthropologists engage more with the general public? Another suggestion pertains to involving scholars who conduct research in the Far East, such as Russia and its regional connections, as possible mentors for the workshop. We find this suggestion particularly exciting as it may expand our horizons and break out of the conventional China-Japan-Korea triad.

What pace should a PhD student adopt in order to pursue an academic position? How might anthropologists engage more with the general public?
Besides the lunchtime mentoring workshop, we also organized a graduate student informal dinner during the conference. It was not only a night of knowledge exchange, but also a time for building relationships and developing a community of future anthropologists.

For the benefits of students and the sustaining development of our community, SEAA will continue to hold both the mentoring workshop and informal graduate student dinner at future AAA Annual Meetings. We want to express our sincere gratitude to all the mentors who generously provided guidance to our students. Also, we appreciate the continuous effort of SEAA board members in supporting our student mentoring activities. Lastly, thank you to everyone who participated in the workshop and informal dinner! We will keep feedback and suggestions in mind and work hard to facilitate the growth and development of students and junior scholars.

Tianyu Xie is a PhD candidate in anthropology at Stanford University. Her research studies a group of Chinese women venture capitalists who have channeled transnational venture network between China and the United States. She asks how gender and kinship have shaped entrepreneurial relationships and the way transnational venture capitalism operates.

Jing Wang is a PhD candidate in anthropology at Rice University. Her research interests include anthropology of religion and state, nationalism and globalization, media, museum and cultural heritage, and documentary production. Her dissertation looks at the historical memory and contemporary connection between the Sinophone Muslims in Central Asia and China.

Yukun Zeng is a third-year PhD student in the Anthropology Department at University of Chicago. He studies how traditional Confucian literacy practices re-articulate Chinese parents’ concern for their children and how they are adopted as educational, religious, or other social space given China’s contemporary sociopolitical situation and value landscape.

Please send news items, contributions and comments to SEAA contributing editors Heidi K. Lam([email protected]) and Yi Zhou ([email protected]).

Cite as: Xie, Tianyu, Jing Wang, and Yukun Zeng. 2018. “SEAA Mentoring Workshop and Graduate Student Dinner.” Anthropology News website, February 7, 2018. DOI: 10.1111/AN.755

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