Take Your Seat at the Professor’s Party

By Elaine Lewinnek

Once, my colleague’s parents were visiting from their rural hometown on a day when my department was holding an event. I don’t remember now if it was someone’s book party or retirement party or research colloquium, but I do remember that my colleague invited her parents to come along. “Oh, I don’t know, dear,” said her mother, nervously, “I don’t know how to attend a professor’s party.”

“Don’t worry,” my colleague answered cheerfully. “Neither do I.” She is one of the most graciously polished and socially adept scholars that I know. When she told me this story, I marveled that even she sometimes feels like an academic imposter.


I suspect that many of us do not really know how to attend a professor’s party. This may be one of the spurs to the recent conversation, on this blog, about what a conference is for.

It was not until I began organizing conferences myself that I learned that some scholars reach out to conference organizers to say that they are available, if necessary, to chair or comment on a panel. This can be a great help to the conference organizers while they work to complete panels. It may also help that scholar to be of service to the organization, to meet new scholars in their field, and sometimes to receive travel funds from their institution.

So, in the interest of transparency, and because few of us really knows how to attend a professor’s party, please do reach out to the conference organizers, LaDale Winling and me, at Columbia2018UHA@gmail.com , if you would like to be added to our list of potential panel chairs and commenters. We may not be able to match everyone to a panel, but we appreciate having a list of potential volunteers.

See you in October in Columbia.

Elaine Lewinnek is Professor of American Studies at Cal State Fullerton and the author of The Workingman’s Reward: Chicago’s Early Suburbs and the Roots of American Sprawl. She is currently at work on the collaborative project, A People’s Guide to Orange County.

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