Thursday, June 17, 2010

CSA Symposium 2010 Criticisms - Do You Agree?

I've been non-stop traveling since getting back from the the Costume Society of America's National Symposium, so pardon my erratic posting schedule. Future posts will include inspirations from these trips, but I wanted to address some things I hope will help those interested in attending next year's symposium. I've been in talks with many of the CSA big-wigs so improvements are definitely in the works. And despite these little criticisms, I am actually very much looking forward to next year's conference.

Things I learned:

-I found it very hard to locate and socialize with fellow students. There is so much we can learn from each other - ways to improve existing programs, exchanging current research interests, even discovering the specialties of their university collections. I also know that student attendance was lower than normal, not only for the symposium but for CSA membership as a whole. This was a concern addressed to me by several CSA members, so it is good to know that they recognize the problem and are working on a solution.
  • How to fix this: there needs to be a student committee of some sort. One of the CSA's main goals is to garner new student membership. This can only be done if there is a proactive group dedicated to recruitment and student-related events. Most other organizations have student liasons, and CSA should be no exception. It would be great for next year's conference to have some more student meet-and-greets and excursions. It would also be a great place to mediate student's concerns and needs.
-The cost of this conference was inappropriate for these economic times, and definitely not student friendly. This was a major deterrent for many people, who wanted to come to the conference but could not justify the price tag.
  • How to fix this: the cost of the conference basically pays for the use of the venue, along with breakfasts, two lunches, your chance to hear wonderful research and some additional activities. It did NOT include transportation to/from the venue, additional meals, and accommodations, or cultural activities. So it is easy to see why people would decline attending, especially if they are struggling to make ends meet as it is. This can be remedied with a few changes in comfort - find a cheaper venue, with cheaper catering, in a location that is accessible and close to a cultural center. The perfect combination of all these things? A college campus. Housing could be offered in the dorms (most make their students vacate by the time the conference is scheduled) or at a nearby hotel with a shuttle service (for those who seek comfort over quality). Not to mention, it would be a great way to see the campuses and collections of sponsoring cities, because many of the presenters are professors and local museum curators.
-In my opinion, it is only worth investing in this conference if you are presenting a paper. Although the research exhibition component is important, participants get hardly any face time because they are placed at the end of the conference, when most people are either leaving or attending concurrent sessions. Also, the annual meeting ran late, giving us only about an hour to discuss our work with those few who were interested in checking out the research exhibitions. I'm glad I got the opportunity to "present" but the amount of time and effort spent on putting it all together didn't feel worth it without criticism from attendees.
  • How to fix this: have the posters up for the entire conference, with special discussion times throughout the schedule. Most events ended at 6pm, there is definitely a lot of time for short chats. The few people who came to the research exhibitions seemed to enjoy the content, and I'm sure that the ones who left would have liked an opportunity to see and discuss them as well.
-I could do without Kansas City. The city's layout was very disjointed and there is virtually no public transportation, making outside excursions costly and time-consuming to plan.
  • How to fix this: although regional fairness must be considered, it would have been helpful to have had a tour of the city as an activity, or even a packet of notable sites, places to eat, go dancing, etc. The next two conferences will be in Boston and Atlanta, so attaining these goals will be a little easier. This is not merely a youthful response, either; I ran into many older attendees who wanted to go out, but had no idea as to where to go.
For those of you who attended the conference, do you agree/disagree with any of my statements? What do you think were the highs/lows of this year's conference? The members I have been talking to are very concerned with how to improve future symposiums, and all questions and comments are welcome!


  1. Kat, thank you so much for providing this prospective. As someone who has been to almost every conference since 2003, it was a hard choice for me to not attend. Many of the problems you've brought up have been ongoing - but your solutions offer a breath of fresh air! I'm heartened to hear that you've been talking to CSA 'big-wigs' about your ideas. I'll definitely look forward to seeing you in Boston. By the way - did they announce a theme for Boston?

  2. No problem! My friend Ariele and I really enjoyed the conference and I know that if these improvements were made, that more people might be apt to attend. I can't remember if they announced the theme - I was setting up my RE - but I was discussing themes with other members and they had said that the theme is becoming more of a broad idea than a specific point, to encourage more participation. So I'm sure if you wanted to attend and present something, any research would be welcome.

  3. Wonderful insights. For this symposium, I was kind of on the fence. Having just graduated, I felt like I was half student and half emerging professional.

    I definitely feel that CSA would benefit from a student branch. It would encourage more student participation. I know New England holds regional events specifically geared to students, but it would be great to have something at a national level.

    Also, the price is a major issue for me. I feel that students, people who are unemployed, hobbiests, and those that are retired have to pay for the conference out of their own pocket, and most of those that are active professionals have their way paid by their organization. The discount offered to students is so minimal, it is hardly worth it. I realize that the costs go directly to the costs of symposium, but they should find other ways to help students. Perhaps there should be a fund professionals could donate to to help offset the total cost for all student attendants (not just a scholarship for individual presenters). Also, I like your suggestion of staying in a dorm. I've been to two national symposiums, and, from experience, they do not pick cheap or even moderately priced hotels.