nothing quite like your 1st SCMS: the thrill when you receive the acceptance
notice, the excitement of being in the presence of academic superstars, the
anxiety around your presentation. My first SCMS was in Vancouver in 2006. I remember
that outbound flight like it was yesterday. I saw academics on the plane, furiously scribbling on yellow pads,
clicking away on laptops – all working on finishing (or starting) their
conference papers. I remember feeling perplexed at their lack of preparation.
After all, I, a graduate student with no real teaching or service
responsibilities, had been done for DAYS. My clips were burned onto a DVD
(after a half day tutorial session with tech services), I had read my paper 7
times and knew that it took exactly19:37(with clips), and I had
finally settled on a presentation outfit after spending a full day at the mall
trying to find the perfect shirt that said "scholarly chic."
fast-forward 7 years and here I am, writing this blog on my iPhone during my
flight to Chicago. What I have realized in the years since that first conference
is that everything is a matter of perspective, and perspective is key to
getting the most out of the conference intellectually, professionally, and
socially. So, to kick off my first blog post, I want to share a few memories
and lessons from my own SCMS experiences.
excited about everything: the conference, Vancouver, the hotel, EVERYTHING. I
was so happy to learn that the hotel had a pool that I made the ridiculous
decision to bring my swimsuit and utilize the facilities. One morning I didn't
time things so well, and finished my swimjust before the first panel of
the day. I found myself in full post-swim glory – flip flops, eyes red from the
chlorine, hair wet and frizzy and huge -
in a packed elevator with Lynn Spigel. Not a good look. What I realized was
that in my excitement, I had forgotten that, above all else, SCMS is a
professional gathering. Do you remember SCMS 2010 in L.A. and the Westin's
weird mezzanine level see-through gym? Do you have any idea how many times I overheard
some version of "oh my god, I saw [insert name here] on the
treadmill/lifting weights/wearing short shorts"? Above all, SCMS is an
opportunity to interact with colleagues. Keep it professional. That goes for
gyms, bars, the official reception, and departmental parties.
Chicago, so this one had special meaning for me. My parents and my partner came
to my panel. I wanted them to see me "in action." Afterwards, I asked
my parents what they thought about my presentation. My dad only wanted to talk
about Aniko Bodroghkozy's brilliant paper (I mean, I can't say that I blame him, but damn). My mom admitted that
she stopped paying attention a few minutes in and focused on people's outfits. Apparently,
we need to step it up, people (see note at the end of this blog). Oh well. You
can't please everyone, which is a good lesson to keep in mind during the
Q&A segment after your presentation. Take the constructive criticism, and
don't get too worked up over any less than helpful comments (or the dreaded
"no questions" scenario).
that the conference was great, but I wouldn't know, BECAUSE I DIDN'T GET IN
(not that I'm still bitter or anything). Ok, truth be told, I submitted a
crappy proposal. I was in the middle of moving, didn't allot enough time to
work on my abstract, and honestly, I had gotten a little complacent and assumed
that I would get in just because I had been accepted the previous 2 years. Big
mistake. The great thing about SCMS is that it really does demand excellence.
From the proposal process to the Q&A section, you have to bring your A
game. As a result, SCMS provides participants with the occasion to present new
ideas and work through existing projects with a wide array of both emerging and
senior scholars. Take advantage of this unique opportunity.
as "the conference that dare not speak its name." What a mess: last
minute cancellation, airlines didn't want to refund plane tickets, ugh. In New
York, Elena Gorfinkel coordinated a New York dinner as a kind of SCMS memorial.
I went and had the most fantastic time hanging out with people like Elena and Paula
Massood. I met Michael Gillespie at that dinner, who later put in a good word
for me with the Media Studies department at the New School, resulting in an
adjunct position right when I needed it the most. Sometimes the whole "lemonade
out of lemons" thing is actually true, but you've got to be able to roll with
the unexpected. The SCMS 2009 debacle was unprecedented, but SCMS often throws
wrenches into even the best-laid plans. Wi-Fi goes out, the clip won't play,
and blizzards shut down airports.
I was on
the market, so this was a particularly difficult conference for me. Let me tell
you something: there is nothing worse than being at SCMS when you're trying to
get a job. It's awful. If you're fortunate enough to have a conference
interview with a department, you're going to spend half of the conference
agonizing over it and the other half trying to figure out who else is competing
for the position. You will drive yourself crazy worrying about running into
someone from the department in the lobby or in the elevator. You will feel like
you have to be "on" every single minute of the day. I worked myself
into a frenzied paranoia and became fixated on the possibility of a search
committee member attending my presentation. I had visions of a shadowy figure
dressed in black who would quietly enter the room just as I started my talk and
stand in the back with arms folded, silently judging me unsuitable for the job.
This didn't happen, of course, probably because the search committee members
were human beings rather than characters out of a James Bond Movie. If you're
on the market this year, I sympathize with you. Best of luck, and make sure
that you've got at least one song on your iPod that gets you pumped up before
your interview. Mine was "Go Getta" by Young Jeezy. Feel free to use
it if you want.
going to lie - I ditched most of this one. I spent a good portion of the
conference eating beignets and strolling down Bourbon Street. The conference is
great, but the cities that we get to visit on our departments' dimes are
fantastic. In spite of the less than hospitable weather this weekend, I do hope
that you find some time to get out and explore the great things that Chicago
has to offer. For instance, on Saturday evening, scholar Michael Gillespie will
be giving a talk on Wendell B. Harris Jr.’s 1989 film Chameleon
Street at the Black Cinema House. http://www.blackcinemahouse.org/the-black-cinema-is-chameleon-street-march-9/
There is a
great Kara Walker exhibit at the Art Institute that is definitely worth taking the time to see. Brave the cold and take a walk along the Chicago lakefront. Or, take a break and treat your palette to a few
Chicago classics like Harold's Fried Chicken (get the mild sauce) and Garrett's
popcorn (the half caramel/half cheese mix). Others have already said it, but
let me reiterate: get out of the hotel.
THE BEST SCMS
EVER. Admittedly, I'm a bit biased because this was my first conference after
landing a tenure-track job. Did you see Beyoncé's Superbowl
performance? That pretty much captures how I felt during last year's conference. For me, 2012 was the polar opposite of
2010's SCMS. I realized that confidence and esteem have a lot to do with what
kind of conference experience you have. In a lot of ways, what you bring into
it is exactly what you'll get in return.
certainly got things off to a rocky start, but I'm excited about the next few
days. I'm participating in a workshop on Marlon Riggs' Tongues Untied with some scholars that I truly admire, including my
current colleague David Gerstner and my former committee member E. Patrick
Johnson. I'm looking forward to connecting with friends and hearing all of the
fabulous new scholarship that everyone is producing. I'll be documenting
everything on this blog, and I look forward to sharing our experiences online (@racquelgates)
and in person.
way, my mom suggested that media scholars form a partnership with the
contestants on Project Runway. I actually think that this idea is far more
interesting than anything that I said in my presentation that year.