Thursday, December 13, 2007

Cross Cultural Research Conference

Working day: We presented our paper at the conference, attended various other sessions. I found the presentations mixed: some were quite good, others kind of weenie. One I found kind of annoying analyzed articles on acculturation, but limited the study to three journals each in business and psychology, concluding that the majority of studies were quantitative rather than qualitative. There didn’t appear to be any rationale for the selection of the sample journals, and others in the room objected that even within business, how different journals approached acculturation could be radically different. I pointed out that sociology and anthropology might have something to say on the topic, and that those journals were more likely to have qualitative than quantitative methodologies. There just didn’t seem to be a point to such a limited analysis, which was too obviously a course assignment recycled for resume credit. I could even see the grad student doing it as a first experience at presenting at a conference, a legitimate use of conference time, in my view; but I found it pretty hard to take that the prof had added her name to this class assignment. If you’re a tenured prof and this is the best you can do, it’s a sad day.

In contrast, another grad student did a conceptual presentation, which she clearly identified as preliminary and informal, a kind of surrogate candidacy experience in which she was looking for feedback from outside the small circle of her own profs to see if she was headed in a fruitful direction. I thought her ideas insightful and likely to have very far-reaching implications, and we provided what suggestions and encouragement we could. In this case, the combination of her very current lit review and the introduction of her own ideas meant we were hearing from the very cutting edge in the field, and our time amply rewarded, in spite of the preliminary nature of the research.

The problem, then, is trying to distinguish between the time wasters and the relevant. Of course the peer review process is supposed to do that, but somebody signed off on that first paper, and I’ve been at other conferences without a grad student to be seen, as if no one below a PhD candidate had anything to offer.

And speaking of idiot reviewers, I was kind of offended at the reviewers’ comments on our paper questioning whether our comparison of English and French Canada was truly a cross-culture paper because it wasn’t “international”. So here we are at the Cross-Cultural Research Conference, and the American ethnocentrism is so dense that they assume every nation on earth is a cultural melting pot in the American tradition. Paper after paper provided “bicultural” comparisons between two countries: US and Japan, Spain and Germany or etc. Well, I’m okay with any comparison between say “Japan” and “Korea” because those are pretty homogeneous populations. But between Canada and anybody else, I’m going to want to know about your sampling technique, because a 100 francophone respondents from Quebec are going to be saying something quite different from a 100 Anglophones from Southern Alberta! And what was laughable about many of these bicultural studies is the samples were entirely accidental convenience samples: the 60 students in the grad class the research taught on their home campus in the US and on their exchange semester in Germany. Yeah, the 50 students in an MBA class are pretty typical of all Germans, eh? I accept that the MBA sample is a reasonable proxy for managers for research on business, though I strongly suspect that the textbook learning of the MBA gets modified as they gain actual experience which is likely to result in different responses, but if the study focuses on some strictly managerial issue, I could go with it. But I constantly saw people suggesting results far beyond what the sample size or its representativeness could justify.

Unusually good conference lunch (well, it is at the Hilton) and engaging conversation with a Russian graduate student studying in US on a basketball scholarship. They did come close to poisoning Mary, but I was able to recognize the shellfish in the sauce before Mary took a bite, and they very efficiently substituted a chicken dish from the neighboring conference for her. Of course, as these things always go for Mary, the chicken was in a wonderful mushroom sauce, mushrooms being her other food sensitivity, but hey, they tried.

For supper, we went to Roy's (with the Basils -- we split a baby-sitter and dumped the kids for the evening). I tried raw Ahi (tuna) for the first time. I couldn't believe that this intensely delicious food was any relation to the white stuff that comes out of cans. And I can't believe that I was willingly (read 'greedily') eating up raw fish. That is so not part of my self-image. I've told people for years that I hate fish (except for salmon), but I now see that this prejudice was formed growing up on the prairies in the 1950s, before air freight allowed for anything even approximating the phrase "fresh fish". Eating week-old fish or frozen fish sticks does not come close to eating Ahi caught the same morning and marinated in Roy's special spices. I could get very used to eating at Roy's.

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