Stanlaw’s Ten Laws for Having the Best and Most Complete CSAS Experience
First, I wish to thank Jacklyn and Ethan for their handy first-time guide for going to a CSAS conference. I think there is lots of information and advice here that is really helpful for people attending any professional meeting, particularly Central States. I wish I had had something like this when I was first starting out (back when we were competing with Neanderthals for panel space, and Franz Boas and I still had all our hair). There are just a couple of things I would like to add, from a faculty-member perspective.
1. Be aware of how a CSAS meeting (and most any professional association meeting, for that matter) is organized. Generally CSAS meetings consist of four types of activates, which you choose when you register for the CSAS meetings on the CSAS/AAA website: 1. A volunteered individual paper abstract; 2. A proposed set of papers and abstract submitted together as an organized session; 3. An individually submitted poster; and 4. A proposed roundtable or workshop. Most likely you will be submitting an individual paper, unless, say, your faculty advisor or teacher has organized a special session of which you are a part. A person called the Program Chair is selected by the CSAS each year to organize and run the meeting. Besides arranging for the conference venue and hotel and such, the Program Chair also creates the conference: she or he reviews the papers, organizes the panels, schedules the times, arranges for the guest speakers, and makes sure everything fits together. One thing she does is take the individual proposed papers and place them together in sessions with similar subject matter, topic, location, theory, or technique. This is a long process, and there are literally hundreds of abstracts to read. But in the end—hopefully!—voila!—out comes an exciting and intellectually challenging and coherent meeting.
2. Please don’t back out if you have sent in an abstract and it has been accepted! I hope the reason for this is obvious now after reading the above. The Program Chair has spent much of her winter break reading submitted abstracts and organizing papers into thematic sessions, and finding appropriate discussants (often pleading with and cajoling colleagues and—former!—friends to participate). When a person backs out at the last minute, the balance and theme of the session is messed up. AND times are now different, as people come to various sessions at such-and-such a time expecting Paper X but now find the schedule is off. SO … this was my Number One pet peeve when I was organizing the conference. Be professional! Stand by your commitment! Yes, it is possible your final paper didn’t turn out as well as you thought it would when you submitted an abstract. Welcome to the club! We’ve all been there. But cowboy up (or cowperson up), and present your best stuff in your best way possible! We won’t condemn you for trying. In fact, CSAS is the perfect venue for even professionals to try out new or controversial ideas or materials. But don’t be an anthropological dropout!
3. Do NOT ignore sending your paper to your discussant ahead or time, if your panel or session has one. Yes, I know Jacklyn and Ethan at the beginning talked about waiting until the last minute to write your paper. They were being a little tongue in cheek. If you have a discussant assigned to your panel or session, you are not being professional if you do not send at least the outline of your paper to them ahead of time. This is not just a matter of courtesy. In order for them to comment on the panel in general—and your paper specifically—they have to have read it before, right? They cannot be expected to just wing it and make off the cuff remarks hearing it for the first time when you present. I’m sure you understand this. There is no better way to get the ire of a senior scholar you are trying to impress by not sending your paper to them at least a week or two before the conference begins. And there is no better way to get the benefit of their advice and expertise than to do so …
4. Don’t dismiss workshops and roundtables. At the CSAS meetings we are very fortunate to have numerous workshops and roundtables, offered generally for free. These are usually offered by professionals or faculty members who kindly give up their time and energy for a good cause—the CSAS attendees. These have included topics on publishing a first article, tips on getting into graduate school, ethnographic techniques, filmmaking, and using the newest digital technology in the field. At other conferences, you’d likely pay upwards of $50 or $100 (or more) extra to attend these things; at the CSAS they are usually part of the package. So even if you are only peripherally interested you can sample them at no cost, and I recommend you do so. And while roundtables are not paper presentations per se, their subjects are usually quite topical and the open discussion can be quite stimulating (and occasionally heated!).
5. Don’t ignore the plenary lecture! I know there is a tendency—or a pull?!?—to go out and party in a new town with your newly-minted friends after you have given your nerve-racking first paper. I understand that. Really! Congratulations! But do it after the distinguished lecture. Usually the person speaking is “distinguished” for a reason, even if you don’t know them yet. Many famous people have addressed the CSAS and most of the time they are great speakers. And many times they speak after a reception or meal (often provided as part of your registration). So don’t miss both these opportunities.
6. Go ahead, rub elbows with the big guns (and small guns)! I remember I took a young freshman with our group of students to a CSAS meeting several years ago, and we all went to lunch with some cohorts from some other universities. I noticed she and Dr. X really hit it off, and spent much of the meal entertaining us with their mutual stories and gags. It was clear she really had no idea who she was talking to (he was still “Dr. X” to me, but they were on a first name basis by 1:00pm). Anyway, four years later, she was in my senior-level anthropology theory course. She noticed a reading in the textbook by Dr. X. “Hey,” she said, “Is this Joe? That guy I had lunch with at CSAS?” “The very same,” I replied. “Wow, Sweet!” was her reaction. I mention this only because I want to remind you of one other important aspect of meetings: It is a chance to become “socialized” and enculturated into the discipline. Here you learn to walk the walk and talk the talk. It here you learn to become one of us (for better or for worse!).
7. Don’t forget about Anthro Bowl. We developed Anthro Bowl originally as an ice-breaker for new people to meet and greet each other over refreshments the first or second night of the conference. It is still that, but it is growing into something more. We now have actual prizes, besides just bragging rights. (Jacklyn and Ethan were on past winning teams, by the way). So stop on by and either join a team or just watch.
8. Think about joining the AAA and CSAS. The American Anthropological Association (AAA) and the Central States Anthropological Society (CSAS) are two of the discipline’s oldest professional organizations (the oldest, actually, I think, of those still extant). Besides access to news and publications, they have much to offer the fledging student and beginning professional, from career advice and teaching tips, to job listings and grant opportunities. I recommend you check them out. Also, for students—especially undergraduate students—membership is a real steal right now (almost free). The deals change from year to year, but they are always pretty good. The CSAS Secretary-Treasurer can give you the latest information and sign you up with the options just right for you.
The website for the AAA is http://www.americananthro.org
The website for the CSAS is http://csas.americananthro.org
9. Check out past CSAS programs and bulletins to see what a meeting looks like, what goes into an abstract and how they are written, and find out about the availability of student paper prizes. There are many previous programs still on the CSAS website. A complete one, for example, can be found at
And student paper prizes are rather substantial (between $300 and $500). Keep this in mind when submitting that abstract or writing that paper …
10. Don’t forget to have fun. Yes, the meetings can do all kinds of things for your professional development, and the careerist in you is probably salivating at all the connections you’ve made and backs you’ve slapped. That’s great. Professional advancement is an admirable goal for all of us, and it is a good habit to foster. But remember why you are in anthropology, too. Check out things outside your area of specialty or interest. Think outside the box. Check out the facilities at the local host university or city. Remember, at the end the day, if it wasn’t fun or interesting for you, you might want to think about doing something else …
See you at the Meetings!