Making Our Meetings Work for Graduate Students

Our AAA Annual Meeting and section meetings should be spaces for graduate training. We must do more to include graduate students in our events and produce programming to prepare them for academic and alternative careers.

All anthropologists work with, in, and through language, but many students do not have the opportunity to receive robust training in linguistic anthropology through their graduate school institutions. Our Association and sections should create opportunities for graduate student training and fully include graduate students in our professional community.

In my PhD program, I witnessed many graduate students take the “Introduction to Linguistic Anthropology” seminar and discover the richness an attention to language can offer only to find themselves without opportunities for further training in linguistic anthropological theory and method. In conversations with graduate students from an array of programs big and small, I repeatedly heard students lament that they would have liked more methods training during their graduate careers.

Workshops focused on methods for ethnographic discourse analysis and were organized around topical themes that are significant to the field at this time: political rhetoric, and race, racism, and racial inequality.
With these issues in mind, one of my goals as the Graduate Student Representative (2017–2019) for the Society for Linguistic Anthropology (SLA) was to find ways for the SLA to provide supplemental training for graduate students during the American Anthropological Association’s (AAA) Annual Meeting.

In bringing together over 6,000 anthropologists from across the United States and beyond, the AAA Annual Meeting is an ideal place to offer supplemental pedagogy. In recent years, a number of AAA sections have implemented mentorship programs that pair students with faculty mentors. The Wenner-Gren Foundation and the National Science Foundation have offered grant-writing workshops, and there have been multiple opportunities for students to learn about alt-academic jobs. In 2019, the SLA offered the first two Methods Workshops in Linguistic Anthropology for graduate students.

Led by Hilary Parsons Dick (Arcadia University) and Jennifer Roth-Gordon (University of Arizona), the workshops focused on methods for ethnographic discourse analysis and were organized around topical themes that are significant to the field at this time: political rhetoric, and race, racism, and racial inequality.

While students make up a significant percentage of the AAA membership, there is still a dearth of programming dedicated to incorporating them into the professional community of anthropologists.
Parsons Dick’s workshop drew on methods from Angela Reyes and Stanton Wortham’s (2015) acclaimed book Discourse Analysis Beyond the Speech Event. She illustrated how an attention to narrating/narrated event, deictics, reported speech, and evaluative indexicals can be useful in the analysis of political rhetoric. Roth-Gordon operationalized concepts from Goffman and Bakhtin, including footing, voicing, stance, and intertexuality. She used these tools to show how an analyst can track the ways that speakers position themselves in relation to one another, and how this positioning can be useful for thinking about race and language. Each workshop provided an opportunity to work with real data from the professors’ own work as well as data provided by students.

Over 50 students attended, from PhD candidates with backgrounds in linguistics and communication to MA and early-program PhD students who were still thinking through their research questions and design. Students were able to ask the professors how they made methodological decisions in their analyses and were able to receive real-time feedback as they practiced implementing the skills they were learning. Overall, the workshops were very well received. In informal conversations following the workshops and an online discussion after the Annual Meeting, the main suggestion was that two hours was not enough time and in the future we should consider making them half-day events.

As we as a discipline and community of scholars consider the value and purpose of the Annual Meeting, it is useful to think about how the AAA and its sections can do more to create opportunities and community for graduate students.

I urge sections to think creatively about how to prepare their graduate students for academic and alternative careers. Graduate students are the future of the discipline
For established scholars, these meetings are a space for presenting new research, meeting book publishers, or catching up with colleagues. For younger scholars and graduate students, they are often an important but intimidating foothold into the professional life we aspire to. Yet while students make up a significant percentage of the AAA membership, there is still a dearth of programming dedicated to incorporating them into the professional community of anthropologists. The Annual Meeting should also be a space for graduate student training. This would be especially significant for students from small programs that may only have one general methods seminar or only one (or sometimes no) linguistic anthropologist on staff at their home institutions. It is my hope that the SLA and other sections will continue to expand their offerings for graduate students at the Annual Meeting whether through mentorship programs, formal workshops, networking events, featured panels, or other creative programming. Moreover, given the unpredictability of the academic labor market amid the current crisis, I urge sections to think creatively about how to prepare their graduate students for academic and alternative careers. Graduate students are the future of the discipline. The AAA and section leadership should commit to making them a central part of the Annual Meeting and the Association.

SLA is sponsoring related sessions at Raising Our Voices this November: “Going Virtual: Linguistic Anthropological Methods in Online Contexts,” Friday November 6, 5:00–6:00 p.m., chaired by Sarah Shulist; and “A Conversation with Linguistic Anthropologists Outside the Academy,” Friday November 6, 6:15–7:15 p.m., which I will be chairing.       

Lauren Deal is a PhD candidate in anthropology at Brown University. Her research focuses on whiteness, cultural appropriation, and practices and ideologies of decolonization in the Southern Cone of South America. She served as the Society of Linguistic Anthropology Graduate Student Representative from 2017 to 2019.

Steven P. Black is a contributing editor for the Society for Linguistic Anthropology’s section news column.

Cite as: Deal, Lauren. 2020. “Making Our Meetings Work for Graduate Students.” Anthropology News website, October 26, 2020. DOI: 10.14506/AN.1524

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Want to comment? Please be aware that only comments from current AAA members will be approve. AN is supported by member dues, so discussions on anthropology-news.org are moderated to ensure that current members are commenting. As with all AN content, comments reflect the views of the person who submitted the comment only. The approval of a comment to go live does not signify endorsement by AN or the AAA.