Postgraduate Network : Student Membership

Discussion on ways the ASA could work more closely with postgraduates

The following is an account of a meeting held on 6th March 2002 at University College London to discuss ways in which the ASA could work more closely with the Postgraduate community of students in Anthropology.

Any comments or suggestions on this meeting would be welcome. Please contact the ASA's Postgraduate Network Representative, on Postgrads(at)theasa.org

Attendees

The meeting was attended by students representatives from 11 departments in the UK. [All departments had been invited]. Dr. Mukulika Banerjee and Dr. David Mills were present on behalf of the ASA. Dr. Hilary Callan, the Director of the Royal Anthropological Institute was also present.

Knowledge of ASA & RAI

After a short introduction and brief history of ASA postgraduate initiatives, in order to ascertain awareness levels, students were asked about how much they knew of the ASA and RAI. Most knew relatively little about the two organisations . Kuldip had been taught about them in postgraduate courses (Goldsmiths), some had been exposed to the ASA ethical guidelines, and only one or two had read the JRAI. Most had not read Anthropology Today, seeing it as not an academic journal.

Seeking involvement

This raised the issue of how best to publicise the ASA and involve students in the two organisations - and to bridge the perceived distance between students and the organisations. Mattia Fumanti (Manchester) commented that free journals was not an incentive to join, and that the key priority for students was to publish and write papers - and hence if the RAI/ASA provided a platform for publication or help with organising conferences, this was most likely to appeal to students.

Alex Smith (Edinburgh) commented that these organisations were both perceived as having little relevance to students, but also being rather London-centric in their outlook. Hilary Callan (RAI) responded that the RAI was trying to correct that, most recently through hosting the Curl lecture at the BAAS conference.

Ideas on what is needed

Roberta McDonnell (Belfast) spoke of the difficulties students face in their first year, feeling out on a limb and with little guidance, and the value of some form of research-mentoring project to induct new students into the research process.

People asked about the difference between the two organisations - and a potted history of the associations was provided. It was acknowledged that the RAI has historically been more inclusive, whilst the ASA more 'exclusive', acting as a professional trades-union in many ways. However the ASA is seeking to leave behind its "closed-shop" past, and to involve students far more in its organisation.

Communication was also discussed, and it was agreed that postgraduate tutors provided an effective conduit in many departments. The group also agreed to set up their own email network

Nanda Pirie (Oxford) suggested that students at Oxford were exploring ideas of setting up contracts to clarify supervisory commitments by staff. Students felt in a weak position, and so felt the need to discuss/compare experiences at different universities.

There was some criticism of the ESRC's own expectations and impositions on departments, and tutor-training and transferable skills courses imposed on Manchester students were felt to be unhelpful and irrelevant. However it was pointed out that the ASA does negotiate with the ESRC over the content of these courses, and also that before the ESRC's involvement, there was very little formal research training whatsoever.

Andrew Irving (SOAS) suggested that information on accessing funding and support would be very appealing to students, and might be a useful way of attracting student membership.

Celayne Heaton (SOAS) discussed the work of the new journal www.anthropologymatters.com and its plans to build up a database and network of postgraduates. The initiative was warmly welcomed, and those present were urged to consider joining the journal's steering group. The steering group is currently considering how the ASA could in future be linked to the journal, especially when the current steering group move on. However Christine Barry (Brunel) sounded a note of caution, asking why students should get involved with an association (the ASA) that had long been unsupportive of its students.

Alex Smith (Edinburgh) explained that he was hoping to host a postgraduate conference at the Crichton campus of the University of Glasgow, possibly focusing on the issues and needs of anthropologists not working in anthropology departments - and thinking about border issues and their relation to academic identities.

A postgraduate conference was discussed, possibly linked to the ASA2003 decennial in Manchester. The question was raised of whether a separate day event would be seen as ghetto-ising, excluding students from the main event. It was agreed that as there was no restriction on students presenting papers in the main conference, it made sense to encourage both student papers, student-led panels and a postgraduate forum. It was also suggested that the conference organisers could highlight to panel organisers the need to seek out student applications.

Jamie (Sussex) suggested that it was less helpful to think about creating an ambitious 5 year network/community, but rather to aim at making students aware of events and resources and providing support when necessary. An email network was also seen as a good way of achieving this.

Action

  • To set up an email network of those present
  • To explore the possibility of student-proposed panels at ASA2003, and also a postgraduate forum, possibly with a publisher doing a presentation on how to get published.