Monthly Archives: July 2019

Discuss This

I enjoy lots of things about conferences (see this post on conference fun and another post on conference inspiration), but I actually only sometimes actually enjoy presenting. Early mornings, small audiences, and lack of engagement can lead to a major let down after time spent drafting an article and preparing for the presentation. However, I’ve realized one thing distinguishes memorable and productive(!) experiences of presenting at sociology’s major conference, ASAs, from the less positive experiences is the level of engagement of the “discussant”. 

I have had the role of discussant only three times, but find myself enjoying it more and more each time.* Yet, inevitably, each time before I find myself in a panic about what am I supposed to do. I think most academics have little training or conversation about how this role works (though, be sure to check out this fantastic write up on a (queer) discussant role and this helpful informational). Since I have spent some time agonizing about it myself, I thought I would outline different tactics that can get the job done, and some that are sure to help elevate the panel overall. 


  • Skip reading the papers and furiously jot notes down during the presentation (while simultaneously missing new information shared) and then wing the discussion portion 
  • Ask a straight-forward question that has been addressed in the paper ( like the “how did you measure X variable” question I once received) or a question that can be answered simply (ie., yes or no questions). 


  • Read the paper and formulate a well-thought out discussion question for each panelist. 


  • Name something the author did well, give constructive feedback for something they might improve for publication, and ask a detailed, well-thought out discussion question for each panelist. 


  • Think of a thread, puzzle, or debate that ties each piece together, overview the thread/puzzle/debate, state how each paper contributes to it, and direct questions for each panelist within that conversation.
    • Doing so allows you to pose a larger question to the whole room (i.e., “let’s all think collectively about X problem”), and a contextualized question for each individual piece (i.e., “here is how you enter into debate, now, how would you address this additional question that arises?”). 


  • Think about a larger thread, puzzle, or debate, overview the thread/puzzle/debate, then state how each paper contributes to a smaller, related thread, puzzle or side of the debate.
    • This allows you to put the papers into direct conversation with each other – sharing how one author might consider another’s contribution, which jointly can offer more significant implications.
    • Doing so provides constructive and critical feedback about each paper, the larger theme pulling the session together, and encourages the audience to think about the panelists collectively, which I find ultimately shifts the levels of questions from the audience.*** 


A few additional considerations: 

  • Email the authors prior to the session so all can be acquainted, and let them know about the format, including your basic plan for engagement, speaking deadlines, etc. 
  • If you have written feedback, send it to authors after the session. 
  • DO NOT take up more time than the panelists. I suggest a max of 10 minutes. 


* Honestly, if you’re not presenting at all or only once, I suggest volunteering for this role. You’re name is still in the program and you get the opportunity to read only a handful of smart working papers on a related topic (as opposed to all submitted papers as the organizers do). 
** Please excuse use my corny use of this meme (or phrasal template), but I’m trying to stay young the labeling seemed fitting.  
***I’m still working on this. But I’ve witnessed my PhD Adviser, Tony Brown, do this masterfully a few times and it is such a provocative route. 



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Racialized Tracking: Research and Experience

As a sociologist, I am trained to focus on broad trends and large generalizations. As a mother, I am trained to focus on my children and their well-being. As a black sociologist and mother, I try to do both simultaneously in order to protect my children and the systems they are embedded within. This means I must also think about others’ children too. But after volunteering in my children schools for a few years now (how I attempt to do both), I’ve learned I am in a minority in this approach. Even those who know the research see to put themselves about it when it comes to their own. And it is absolutely infuriating to me.

Early this summer, I sort of subtweeted some of my anger– about how parents in my local district use unspoken privilege to navigate the gifted and talented program, and about how the NY specialized public school system totally failed black students, which is symbolic of larger trends. I didn’t think much of this until an editor at The Atlantic reached out and asked me to write about my tweets.

My first thought was “who me?” Despite the fact that I am a sociologist and a mother, my imposter syndrome told me that I didn’t have the expertise.

But then, some other training kicked in – most specifically the workshop I did with the OpEd Project where I learned about the underrepresentation of people of color and women in media, and where I was reminded of the importance of experimental knowledge. I talked myself up and I agreed – but on two conditions:

  1. I would cite as many women and scholars of color that I could that have done important work on the topic, and
  2. I would use my experiential knowledge to write about us and for us

So, with the help of my expert friends (Yasmiyn Irizarry and Ebony Duncan-Shippy) and Atlantic editors (Rebecca Rosen, Amal Ahmed, and Julie Beck):

 I wrote and published my piece: The Other Segregation.

Atlantic pic.png

It seems mixing the personal with the professional was a good bet. The reception I got was amazing. Messages of encouragement from students and advocates of racial justice in schools, emails of support and queries from superintendents and school principals, invitations to moderate national panels and call in for public radio. Even emails from academic press editors asking if I might write a book on the topic (well, maybe I should?)

It was a powerful lesson for me & I am sharing because maybe it could be a lesson for you:




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