Morgan Laner: Reflections on the 2018 Eastern Sociological Society conference

Morgan Laner participating in panel at the 2018 Eastern Sociological Society Conference in Baltimore, Maryland.

While sociology is not the most well-known of fields, I was surprised at the level of informality at the conference this weekend. Of course, I knew it wouldn’t be as casual as a sustainability conference or one that highlights zero waste, but the ease of conversation throughout the weekend between presenters and audience members created an atmosphere of collaboration and support. The final session I attended exemplifies this; it ended up being myself and the three panelists. Rather than go through with their paper presentations, they asked my interests and we ended up having a casual conversation about zero waste, undergraduate teaching procedures and more.

The conference was not all rainbows and butterflies, though. Sociology often discusses the presence of inequalities and institutional challenges in society, so when I found myself contemplating the demographic breakdown of attendees I couldn’t help but see the irony. Many, if not most, of the academics presented themselves as white, highly educated individuals and I saw myself thinking of the white savior complex we learn about so often in class. Perhaps these intellectuals are excused because of the greater good that they bring to society through research and teaching.

The complex web of thought I developed during this experience is a greater representation of how I feel towards research in general. I think academic conferences like ESS are an amazing opportunity to network and learn but I also feel like it is only for the lifelong sociologists. At this point, I’m not sure if I’m one of those yet.

Morgan Laner Presents Thesis at the Eastern Sociological Society Conference

Morgan Laner Presenting Poster of her Honors Thesis at Eastern Sociological Society conference in Baltimore, Maryland.

Today, Saturday, February 24, 2018, was the second of my two full days at the Eastern Sociological Society conference in Baltimore, which was my first academic conference experience and has challenged my views of academia, sociological studies, and the concept of research as a profession. For now, however, I will mention the kinds of sessions I have attended so far. While ESS sessions cover a variety of topics, I wanted my experiences to have some sort of environmental commonality, considering that is my major and the career path I plan to pursue. Therefore, many of the sessions I attended looked at food systems and urban development research that I extrapolated to my interest in urban planning and city design. I won’t lie, some of the paper presentations I attended were dull, monotonous, and unengaging. Fortunately most were followed by a crazy passionate researcher; some of the most engaging presentations I heard were on random topics like the internationalization of the furniture market in a small town or the impact of a potbellied pig on public sociology and local government. I was surprised at the different degrees of seriousness each presenter had, as some took the conference as an opportunity to brag about their studies while others focused on engaging undergraduates in their research.

I spent an hour and a half as part of an undergraduate poster session presenting my thesis on the predictors of positive environmental behavior for undergraduate students. This is where I had the most fun so far; I discussed and received feedback on my first major research project with other scholars as well as mingle with other undergraduates going through similar experiences. I am excited to see how the rest of the conference goes and what I will learn!