A Message from SITAR President – Wright
Dear SITAR Members,
This past summer, we met for our 20th annual meeting. This served as a nice reminder that we have been in business longer than some much larger but related societies, like the Association for Research in Personality or the Society for Personality and Social Psychology. Our meeting took place here in Pittsburgh, PA, and I believe had the largest attendance yet (N > 60). As usual, the presentations covered a broad range of topics, including social, personality, and clinical psychology, as well as quantitative methods, and for the first time (I believe), computer vision (Indeed, don’t miss the summary of this year’s winning presentation Jerry Wiggins’ Student Award for Outstanding Student Research by Jeff Girard). I think I speak for all in attendance when I say the science presented was top-notch, with the student presentations especially notable exceptional quality. It was great to see and catch up with old friends and colleagues. Many first-time attendees sought me out to tell me how impressed they were with the quality of the science and collegial atmosphere. In sum, it was what we have come to expect out of a SITAR annual meeting—a special intellectual and social experience.
Despite this resoundingly positive experience, I think it is important for us as a society to consider whether our current model of annual meetings is ideal and sustainable. Our membership is diverse in their research foci, and most have other conferences they are expected or want to attend. Additionally, many of us (myself included) face the challenge of working with limited funds for professional travel and conference attendance. There were notable absences this year from many of our senior members, most of whom cited these issues as reasons for not attending. These considerations, as well as other trends I noticed as conference organizer, made me wonder whether shifting to a bi-annual meeting schedule would be better for the sustainability of the society. I raised this possibility with the Executive Committee prior to the meeting, and it was briefly discussed during the general Business Meeting and the post-conference Executive Committee Meeting. Various opinions were expressed, with some members favoring a shift to an every-other-year model, and others raising concerns about the implications for attendance and momentum. Therefore, we decided that there was sufficient interest to warrant investigating a shift to a bi-annual meeting schedule, but not enough information to make a decision either way at the time.
As many will recall, we followed up on this discussion by sending out a poll to the membership in the fall of this year, asking several questions about a potential shift and soliciting open-ended feedback. To summarize the results of the poll (47 members participated), it suggests that the Society neither strongly favors nor strongly opposes the shift (27% voted in favor a shift, 50% neutral, 23% voted against), although the data also suggest a change may have some favorable implications for attendance (6% said they would be less likely to attend a bi-annual meeting, 69% said it would make no difference, 25% said they would be more likely to attend). The open-ended responses mirrored those expressed in the Business Meeting, and are summarized here thanks to Thane Erickson’s dutiful reporting:
- Might reduce attendance, “centrifugal force,” and engagement.
- Intensive communication is better at shorter intervals
- Keeping it annual may be better for research collaboration/inspiration/staying connected (x2).
- Missing a meeting if they occur every other year could mean not attending for 4 years. It could also reduce CV-building opportunities for grad students and junior faculty.
- Maybe change in future but keep it annual for now.
- Would help for me accommodate/attend other biennial conferences e.g., ARP, given so many conferences (x4).
- Would help with conference attendance costs, given limited funds (x3)
- Might increase the likelihood of everyone showing up if we miss the chance to see other SITAR folks on off-years (x2).
- Doing 2 full days annually may put a strain on some attendees and labs (x2)
- Finding members-at-large willing to commit to annual attendance for 4-6 years straight is a bit of a tall order and may be challenging at times.
- Scientific progress is slow, so we don’t lose anything by meeting every other year. / may lead to people submitting more influential papers (as opposed to just finding something to present) / would increase potential for “study advancement of talks.”
- Would increase my attendance / I may need to move to every-other-year anyway.
- Will attend regardless.
- Annual may be best for regular attenders, but biennial would be helpful for others and might increase motivation not to miss the conference.
Of course, this informal poll may or may not generalize to the full membership. My goal in sharing these results here is to provide everyone with some background to consider in anticipation of next year’s meeting, where I hope to raise this as a topic of more formal discussion in the annual Business Meeting. This past year it was difficult to discuss in depth because the membership was unprepared and hadn’t given the proposal any consideration. Hopefully this letter will provide everyone with the needed background to come with an informed opinion. I and the rest of the Executive Committee also welcome and value additional input, so please email me if you have thoughts about shifting to a bi-annual schedule, either for or against. I would be eager to hear them.
I believe the Society is doing well, and we have a vibrant and committed membership. At the same time, I believe we should be proactive in planning for what will make us sustainable in the long run. Given that our primary raison d’etre is our conference, a major issue is how often we meet. As our president, I believe we should seriously consider adopting a bi-annual schedule. My concern is that an annual meeting is burdensome for many members to attend given other demands, and therefore risks leading to weaker meetings each year. However, this would be a major shift in our operation, and therefore I invite you all to contribute to this discussion. I look forward to hearing from you, and seeing you all again in Montreal this coming June.