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  • Writer's pictureJuan M. Pedroza

PAA 2011-2024

The annual meeting of the Population Association of America (PAA) take place this coming week (April 17-20, 2024) in Columbus, Ohio.

I will be presenting (a) research in progress on child care in immigrant families plus (b) a paper (with Stephanie Potochnick at UNC Charlotte & Rob Santillano at UCLA) on donations to community-based organizations (CBOs) providing legal aid for immigrants.

🤓 This will be my 14th consecutive PAA meeting 🤓

I went to my first PAA conference in the spring of 2011. I was living in DC -- where I'd become a U.S. citizen in time for the 2008 general election -- and working at the Urban Institute. At PAA, I attended sessions dedicated to immigration policy and population change. At the time, my grad school plan were taking shape. Having spent nearly five years in DC following a master of public affairs program at IU-Bloomington, I was getting closer to my vision for a Ph.D. program. Some mix of immigration and demography was in my future.

Looking around PAA, I knew I'd found a research home for the foreseeable future. Why? The sessions were packed with (to my eyes) some of the most interesting research questions and commitment to using evidence to help settle open debates. The rooms were filled with a mix of sociologists, policy scholars, and economists -- all of us, it seemed, open to following the best available data and methods to answer questions of genuine interest to anyone paying close attention to what was unfolding across local immigrant communities.

In hindsight, I can see why I spent most of my time at Stanford as a doctoral student (and at PAA) studying immigration enforcement. The Obama Administration had just broken the single-year record for deportations from the United States and would do so again multiple times before the end of Obama's second term.

I vividly remember being interested in studying mass deportations, residential mobility, crimmigration (intersections of crime and immigration), and local immigrant communities.

Little wonder I've published about housing instability, immigration scams, and deportations.

So I had some concrete ideas about what I wanted to do in a Ph.D. program. After learning about PAA in 2011, I gravitated to academic programs where I could learn much more about demography and immigration. I can now see that I wanted to be in spaces willing to value my interest in quantitatively exploring areas that were early in the process of being mapped out. For me, that led me to sociology programs with clear and strong ties to PAA.

I returned to PAA in 2012 (again as an attendee) -- this time across the country (San Francisco) and close to where I'd soon relocate to begin what has now been an almost twelve-year journey as a California resident.

The next year, I presented my first paper at PAA in New Orleans and have continued attending the annual meeting ever since. We returned to NOLA last year for PAA, exactly 10 years later -- still featuring cutting edge approaches to research as well as emerging questions left ahead of us. I've been thinking more about the conference since then.

From the beginning, PAA has been a rewarding space and challenged me to stay curious and learn new skills. I've presented solo work and collaborative research with mentors (Beth Mattingly in 2014 and Tomás Jiménez and Julie Park in 2015).

2020, of course, brought a two-year interruption of our in-person meetings. By then, PAA had helped me bridge a path from graduate school to a position as assistant professor of sociology at the University of California, Santa Cruz.

Since 2020, I have been more involved organizing sessions for PAA and learned more about what happens "behind the scenes" of the proposal review process.

In the first in person meetings since COVID, I've presented work with Elena Losada, UCSC sociology Ph.D. student. We prepared proposals, drafted manuscripts, printed a poster, traveled to PAA, and submitted our work for peer review. I look forward to seeing what Elena and the next cohort of scholars bring to the table.

Among the key opportunities PAA has facilitated for me, presenting my work before publication has been invaluable. Many works in progress presented at PAA have turned into publications in the Policy Studies Journal, Race and Social Problems (with Beth Mattingly), International Migration Review (with Tomás Jiménez and Julie Park), Migration and Mortality (a book chapter with Paul Chung), Law and Policy, and Population Research and Policy Review.

And even in those cases where a paper did not find a home, I still carry lessons with me (about data management, theory-building, and putting ideas to the tests using demographic tools) that I learned from preparing the paper for a panel or poster session at the annual PAA meeting held each spring.

At this stage in my career, almost six years into a tenure track position, I've been thinking a lot about what I have learned at PAA. I've taken stock of how the space has served many purposes for me: as a researcher looking for a doctoral and research home; as a graduate student looking to find policy-salient spaces in academia; and now as a professor with a healthy mix of successes (sometimes big and often times less obvious) and constructive failures under my belt.

With that in mind, I put together a bit of a retrospective of my time as a PAA conference-goer. I approached this with a hobby (of attending live music events) in mind. So here is my touring poster as someone who has commanded PAA microphones and spent years as a fan of this community. At the top are my PAA conference badges over the years, followed by professional highlights from PAA starting in 2011:

Thinking of Juan back in 2011, as I was getting on the red line to head over to PAA, here is what I want to share with him:

  • You’re gonna hear a lot of suggestions and recommendations for works in progress. The point isn’t to try to accommodate all of it. When it’s your turn to address all of those comments, focus on a fundamentally sound recipe for your work.

  • Pay attention to cases where people give the kind of feedback you’d like to receive. You will one day be a discussant. Ask yourself “what is really convincing here?” And then think about what else you would want to see that would make the argument more convincing.

  • Carve out time for networking, formal and informal.

  • Go to sessions outside your main research interests.

  • Ask for help. Help looks different depending on what you will need. At some point, you will need more time or example code or an introduction. Speak up.

  • Find spaces to make your own. You know the drill. If you don’t see yourself represented, make it happen.

  • Volunteer to be a discussant when the time comes.

  • Take breaks and center yourself.

  • Less coffee and more water.

  • Save your badges.

Finally, the conference keeps us busy with sessions and networking. Once in a while, I remember to take/save a picture from the event with friends, colleagues, and PAA legends. Tasha joined me in 2023 in NOLA, just ahead of our 20th wedding anniversary. One of the snapshots below is my oldest son -- sporting a t-shirt I made during the pandemic when I attended PAA from home and wondered when we'd be back in person (the shirt reads: "PAA 202? putting the OMG in demography").

And more memories to come in a few days!

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