Thursday, April 24, 2014

On Community

Part of the Division J Post-Conference Download series

by Margaret W. Sallee, Assistant Professor of Higher Education at the University at Buffalo

“I’m so excited to be presenting in the same session as you,” the graduate student said, “I really admire your work.”

I turned around to make sure that she wasn’t talking to someone standing behind me.  No, as it turned out, she was talking to me.  Surely she must have me confused with another Margaret Sallee.  How did I become someone whose work is admired?  Aren’t I still new to the field?  As it turns out, I’m not so new anymore.  I no longer belong to the new generation of scholars in higher education, but I’m part of a generation that at least one new scholar admires.  That is a lot of pressure.

This notion of generations is one that I pondered throughout my time in Philadelphia.  This Annual Meeting was both similar and different from years past for me.  For one, it was a bit less chaotic than the meeting in San Francisco where I ran the show for the Inaugural Film Festival and schlepped films and promotional materials to and from the hotel on a daily basis.  (On a side note, here’s hoping that it was indeed the inaugural film festival and not the first and final festival…)  So, this year I was able to spend more time attending sessions.  I managed to attend the session with Francisco Marmolejo from The World Bank.  I also went to a session on MOOCs, which was surprisingly underattended for a topic that many are so passionate about.  What I love most about AERA is the opportunity to branch out beyond the disciplinary confines of higher education to attend sessions and make connections across divisions and SIGs.  It helps me think about my own scholarship in new ways.  But I digress.  Back to generations.

This year was particularly special for me because I had the opportunity to present a paper with my father, a retired math professor.  I (perhaps naively) imagined that we were the only father-child pair to write together until I saw father and son Hal Lawson and Michael Lawson win the Review of Research Award at the Awards Luncheon.  So, we were not the first.  Plus, now, a high bar had been set for interfamilial collaborations.  In any case, as a scholar who advocates bridging divides between work and family, being able to actually bridge work and family in my scholarship was an incredible experience.  While I value the paper that we produced, I value the memory of how happy my father and I were to share a stage together even more.

At this Annual Meeting, I had the opportunity to collaborate across generations within my own family. However, I also reflected on my place within the multiple generations of the higher education community.  It is through annual gatherings that I have had the opportunity to interact with senior scholars.  I have shared drinks with my contemporaries and those who have been around a bit longer.  I also have grabbed a cup of coffee with graduate students.  Through all of these meetings, I have both benefitted from and given advice; each interaction has helped to remind me that I am part of a larger community.  Many of my most fruitful collaborations have resulted from meeting someone at AERA or at ASHE.  Over a meal or even just a quick chat between sessions, I have gotten to know more than one person who has turned into a trusted collaborator and friend.

And so this is what the Annual Meeting means to me: a way to re-connect with colleagues from around the country and world who come from the many generations of the higher education community.  To share ideas and be inspired to think about new projects in new ways.  To be reminded of why we do what we do.  In a few more years, no doubt, another generation will enter the academy and that graduate student who approached me will have an admiring student of her own.

Margaret W. Sallee is Assistant Professor of Higher Education at the University at Buffalo.  Her research focuses on the intersections of individual identity and organizational culture, particularly related to issues of work and family.  Her latest book Faculty Fathers: Toward A New Ideal in the Research University is set to be published by SUNY Press later this year.  She can be reached by e-mail at

This post is part of our Post-Conference Download series. Over the weeks following the 2014 Annual Meeting, we will feature several reflections on the conference.

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