Impact of Academic Conferences for First Gen Scholars

27 August 2022

By Shania Montúfar

Attending My First Academic Conference as a First Generation, Latina Scholar 

Two summers ago, I packed my bags and flew to Ann Arbor, Michigan to participate in the Summer Research Opportunities program. That summer, I met emerging scholars from across the country, taught myself to code, kayaked, and ate plenty of ice cream. I spent countless hours in my advisor’s office, Dr. Silvia Pedraza, pouring over our dataset - the National Survey of Latinos from the Pew Research Center. By August, we had produced hundreds of tables examining the attitudes and statuses of Latinos under the Trump years by their gender, immigrant generation, and family heritage. The project challenged me, but left me hungry to share my research and continue studying population research. 

Group photo of the 2021 Summer Research Opportunities Cohort

2021 Summer Research Opportunities Cohort - University of Michigan Rackham Graduate School 

The following April, our work was accepted for a regular paper presentation in the Latino/a/x session of the American Sociological Association. All at once, I processed dozens of emotions about my research identity: imposter syndrome, joy, nervousness, and excitement. How could I, a first-generation student and American from the rural Midwest, present to foremost scholars in the field? I wasn’t quite sure, but I was determined to find out. 

There was one enormous obstacle, though… funding. Academic conferences can be life-changing networking and presentation experiences, but they can also be largely inaccessible. This particular conference was located in Los Angeles, and most scholars ultimately spent anywhere from $1,000-3,000 to attend the conference (per personal reports on Twitter). As an undergraduate student, that price compared to my living expenses for 3-4 months. 

Unsure what to do, I turned to my network to see if funding was available elsewhere. It was at this point that I learned about the Academic Data Science Alliance and its mission to empower data science researchers by connecting them with resources. Through their support, I attended the 2022 American Sociological Association annual meeting. 

My time at the ASA annual meeting was marked by kindness and curiosity. When I stood to speak in my paper session and shared that I was a first-time presenter, the audience welcomed me with a round of applause. Outside of my session, later-stage students invited me to grab lunch, chat about research, and even attend a Dodgers game. Later in the weekend, I attended the 30th anniversary of the Latino/a/x section and was surrounded by professionals who shared my identity. Coming from the rural Midwest, this experience was absolutely new to me. 

Group photo of session leads for Regular Paper Session of the Latino/a/x Session - ASA 2022

Regular Paper Session of the Latino/a/x Session - ASA 2022

Attending the conference provided me with comfort in my decision to begin my doctoral studies. There is a certain level of trust that is required to move across the country to begin a doctoral education- trust in one’s community, trust in one’s self, and trust in the process. While my feelings of being an imposter haven’t resided, I feel more confident in my path each day.

Shania Montúfar

Doctoral Student in Sociology, The University of Texas at Austin 
Shaniamontufar.com ; https://liberalarts.utexas.edu/sociology/gradstudents/sm78452

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