A Different Perspective on CSAA – The Hidden Curriculum
Last week I was lucky enough to attend the CSAA conference in Adelaide, particularly so as there were so many senior academics there. I know that time spent at conferences such as CSAA is a big commitment for them, with relatively little payoff, but for those of us who are just starting out they have much to teach. I’m not talking about the content of their keynotes and papers, but about things that are perhaps more important – we can read their work in journals.
I’m not going to pretend that all keynote papers are worth listening to by any means and many of them are not good examples for how to deliver a conference paper. However there were a couple of senior people who gave papers and they were a delight to listen to. They were relaxed and interesting and knew precisely how much they could effectively get across in twenty minutes. Watching others deliver good papers is a way of picking up tips on how to do it and I felt sorry for the fellow whose supervisor had sent him to present a paper when he hadn’t previously had the chance to watch others do so at a conference.
What happened around the sessions was more valuable than the content presented in them. Whether sitting at the back of the room waiting for the parallels to begin or standing at the edge of the room observing people at the breaks, there was opportunity to watch mentoring going on by people who were really good at it. They are subtle and generous and don’t restrict themselves to their ‘official’ students.
During the less formal chats I really appreciated the people who are willing to talk about home and family as well. For those of us struggling to hold it all together with work, research, and family, it is encouraging and inspiring to hear how others manage it, particularly where those people have done so with considerable academic success.
Prior to the conference the organisers ran a professional development day for PGs and ECRs. There was a lot of advice on how to handle the media, the nuts and bolts of which we could probably all have provided. (It was kind of interesting having a PR person telling a room full of media teachers about the media.) Far more useful were the attitudes that the really senior people conveyed about coping with media when it goes wrong as well as right. Similarly, some of them are involved in very high-level disciplinary organisations with political clout. Again, it was the attitudes and approaches that they conveyed rather than the direct information in their talks (which was for the most part rather dull) that was really valuable.
One of my favourite lecturers (now retired) was Joan Mulholland. Her classes were full of anecdotes about run-ins with various DVCs and frequent chats in the administration office. Some students didn’t get this, but it was a demonstration of the communicative practices which she taught. Yes, she taught the ‘rules’ of communication analysis, but in the process she taught how to communicate in order to survive successfully in a workplace.
This is the hidden curriculum that I am talking about. It is what gets taught alongside the ‘content’ and it is all about how to get along in the situations that you’re likely to face in institutional life. And it is their ability to teach this that makes senior academics so valuable at association conferences.