Countdown to ISA: heal the world, make the ISA a better place

by on 2014-03-13 in Duck- 10 Comments

It’s that time of year again. IR freaks, geeks, superstars, and fans flock to the International Studies Association Annual Conference (except those wimps that avoid the cold Canadian destinations).
Over the next week I’m going to write a few short, fun posts as we countdown to the jet lag, red-eyed check in (red carpet arrival show), the boot camp style pre-ISA workshops (pre-show analysis), and our blogging reception on Thursday (the main event). The topic for today? 5 steps that would change your ISA world for the better…feel free to share your own healing steps!

1. Coffee. I’m serious, there are approximately 3000 academics and the coffee options are one jammed Starbucks, the stale tea-bag coffees in your room, or a snake line from 3 mysteriously placed coffee carafes throughout the hotel. Please ISA exec, I will pay $10 more in my fees if you provide coffee at all 8am panels. Doing so will also mean that people will actually attend the first panels ON TIME and stay awake. Everyone wins (except Starbucks). Oh, and please bring your reusable coffee cups people.
2. This one is going to be more controversial, but I’m going to just throw it out there: we need less panels. I don’t think the ISA needs to be exclusive or anything, but I think there is a conference ‘tail’ of about 20% of panels that are beyond non-cohesive, and/or end up with 3 presenters- or less- or no discussant at the last minute (we’ve all been on one). Cut the tail off. Are we really doing academics or grad students a favor by reassigning their paper to a panel that has nothing to do with their topic after the original panel dissolves (which happens all the time!)? Or by assigning a discussant a the last minute who has absolutely no expertise or knowledge of the majority of the topics on the panel?
3. We definitely need less roundtables. There is a time and a place for roundtables- discussing major concepts, developments in the field, a recent important publication; however, some roundtables I’ve been to end up being ‘what my friends and I have to say about topic x’. Is doesn’t always work.
4. One hotel. Points 2 and 3 would contribute to this. The conference is so huge and- let’s be honest- the second hotel is a real drag. No one wants to present at the second hotel, some people change their minds about going to a panel if they have to cross the street (seriously- you know it is true!!), and there are twice as many chances of confusing Ballroom 3 with Colonial Room 3.
5. More opportunities to buy cheap books. The final day half price/$5 book sale kills me. I’m forced with the choice of attending panels and meetings or buying a stack of books that will not fit into my suitcase and that I will not read before the next ISA- but that I WANT!!! Save me from this agony and open the book zone at 7am or have an evening shopping session….and can trolleys be provided?

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  • Grammar Nazi

    Counting nouns versus mass nouns.

  • Charli Carpenter


  • Dan Nexon

    Yeah. Jumped out at me too.

  • Sara Koopman

    coffee at am panels is brilliant

  • Raul Pacheco-Vega

    I second the suggestion of coffee in the AM panels, more/better choices of panels. Toronto in March is NOT warm, so dress appropriately. We don’t do Starbucks as much, learn to love Tim Hortons. And for the love of God, ISA attendees, DO NOT BRING UP ROB FORD, okay?

  • Anonymous

    Please consider the fact that not everyone who attends ISA is either a big name academic or someone who teaches at an R1. For those of us who teach at institutions where there is not a strong and active research culture, those roundtables are fantastic! It’s where I get to hear those conversations that the rest of you guys apparently have on a regular basis, where I get to catch up on what the academics at R1’s are talking about and where I get to hear about where the field is going. They might seem like a waste of time to you guys who teach at Michigan and places like that, but for those of us who teach at small LAC’s in the middle of the country they are invaluable!

  • MAS

    Along the same lines as what Anonymous said, while I can certainly sympathize with the problem of busted panels (I was on one at APSA in which we never got assigned a discussant…), making the conference smaller isn’t a great solution. Most of those papers that would be cut would be from graduate students or profs at small, teaching heavy institutions (I am assuming that these groups turn in less developed and attractive abstracts…). This would mean an ISA that has less of these types of scholars around. Missing grad students would certainly make ISA weaker, missing teaching heaving profs would mean that ISA is not fulfilling one of its core functions as a place for these professors to engage the wider research community. It appears here that the cure is worse than the disease.

  • MAS

    As an amendment to what I said, maybe if we are to cut down on the number of papers presented, there should be a tightening of how often someone can particiapte so that we get a wider variety of participants. That said, this would make it harder for someone to come and find out what the ‘stars’ in the field are talking about, a core function of the conference.

  • ATandon

    Every single suggestion was excellent. Especially the first two. Having attended a fair number of ISAs as a grad student and junior faculty, I have always felt the overkill. ISA can improve its reputation and make conference discourse more meaningful by not scheduling 75-99 panels at a single time slot. This way we will also have many more audience visiting the fewer panels there are and participating to make the discussion livelier. Usually people sitting in on a panel are thumbing through the book to figure out which other panels they could be going to …. the choice is endless… leading to non-decision!

  • Annie

    me too!