After last year's AJS Conference, I blogged about my experience and the benefits of participating in a Graduate Student Lightening Round Session. This year, I coordinated and presented on a panel, which I found even more beneficial than presenting in a Lightening Round Session. Unlike a lightening session, which was more of a grab-bag of grad students from different disciplines researching very different topics, a panel session is only three people presenting papers on one topic. This singular focus was valuable for a few reasons. First, I learned what my colleagues' have discovered through their research on Jewish communal surveys. Now I can apply their findings to my own scholarship. Second, the senior scholar who responded to our papers could offer more than just a few comments on each of our individual papers. She also commented on how our papers fit together and how, as a group, we are contributing to a larger historical debate about how Jews understood themselves and their communities. Finally, several scholars with interest and experience in surveying Jewish communities attended our session. They asked very insightful and pointed questions about our research. In addition to identifying some aspects of my paper that could have used more elaboration or emphasis, the questions also helped me realize the value of my project to the broader field of Jewish Studies.
The benefits have continued after the conference. After reflecting on the respondent's comments and some of the points that came up in the Q&A portion of the session, I have refined some elements of my dissertation's argument. I have also extended, through email correspondence, several of the short conversations I had with scholars at the conference. Extending these discussions has given me even more great ideas for how to revise and strengthen my project. Most tangibly, one of the attendees at my session told me that he had an extra copy of the JWB Survey that I could have, and he sent it all the way from California to Pittsburgh. I now have my very own copy of the JWB Survey!
Before this, I've always had to use a library or archival copy of the text. Apparently, the JWB Survey originally featured a dust jacket!
I'm thrilled to have my own copy that can travel with me across the country and through the years. Never again will I have to return to the library and beg for just one more renewal because this one book is the basis of my entire dissertation!
Thank you to Dr. Bruce Phillips, for generously providing this book in addition to decades of wisdom about Jewish communal work, and thank you to everyone else at AJS 2015 who provided helpful feedback and made suggestions to improve my work. I'm already looking forward to AJS 2016 in San Diego!