Author Archives: Amir Hussain

Tips for Conference Presentations

Presenting at a conference as a graduate student can be intimidating and stressful, but a crucial part of your graduate school experience! As conference season rolls around, members of the CSGSH committee offer a compilation of presentation tips for graduate students preparing to present in humanities conferences. Whether this is your first time presenting or you are a seasoned presenter, these tips can help improve your presentation. We have divided the list into tips for before, during, and after presenting.

 

Before the Presentation

Allot yourself enough time to begin preparing well in advance of the conference, as there are a lot of things that need to come together by the presentation day.

 

When presenting from a seminar paper, you should plan on revising it to make it effective as an oral presentation. An unedited seminar paper rarely has the level of signposting required for an oral presentation.

 

Similarly, it is not recommended to present from an outline containing just key words or to speak impromptu. Withstanding extensive public speaking experience and nerves of steel, it is recommended that you create a carefully edited script.

 

When editing a written work for an oral presentation, it can help if most sentences are two lines long or shorter. Good punctuation can ensure that a five-line sentence remains coherent in writing, but in speech it can be hard to follow. Leaving really long sentences in a script before can mean losing your place while reading, or giving words the wrong intonation as read, which makes the ideas harder to follow.

 

If you are using a PowerPoint or a Prezi, avoid overloading with too much text, which can distract your audience. You want the audience focusing on you, not your slides. Here are some helpful tips for slides. (Also, mark the slide transitions in your script, if you are using slides.) Too much text also relates to accessibility.

 

Consider guidelines for accessible conference presentations. The Society for Disability Studies presents accessibility guidelines here. A disability accessibility specialist offers tips here. And the Web Accessibility Initiative offers many accessibility tips here.

 

Practice reading your presentation aloud. It is a truism that one double-spaced page takes about two minutes to read at an unhurried pace, so ten pages would make up a twenty-minute talk. But really, sometimes ten pages ends up taking eighteen minutes or sometimes twenty-two minutes, to read aloud. So, once your script says what you want it to say, read it aloud as many times as you can, making quick notes as you go (and editing afterward), until it sounds right. Some sentences that look fine on the page do not sound quite right when spoken.

 

Once the script sounds right, practice it with any A/V you will be using. That practice may bring forward technical issues you might not otherwise anticipate, giving you an opportunity to smooth these issues out. Then practice leaving extra space to say hello to the audience, to thank the panel organizer, and to offer any background that the audience might need (i.e. remarks that prepare and engage them). It is more than okay to write these extemporaneous-sounding remarks into the presentation script, if it will keep you on track. Ideally, try to practice in front of colleagues/department-mates. Practicing in front of a partner or friend can also work. Have someone time you as you read.

 

When it comes to A/V, prepare for the unexpected. What will you do if your laptop battery fails? What if your phone dies, and you lose your presentation notes? We live in a high-tech world, but sometimes technology can fail. Make a checklist of your materials and check it both before you leave home to travel to the conference, and before you enter the room to give your presentation. Have a video adapter for your machine (and expect that one of your co-presenters may need to use yours).

 

If you can, try to meet up with your co-presenters before the presentation, even if just for a 15-minute coffee to say hello. Meeting beforehand can really help organize the panel, and getting to know everyone’s work can make connections between the panel’s ideas during the presentation.

 

Bring business cards with you. You never know who might ask a great question or offer an idea post-session. Having your contact information handy allows you to take advantage of the connections you might make.

 

Plan what you will wear with your presentation in mind. For example, if you know you will be standing for your presentation, consider what shoes you will wear to be comfortable.

 

If you are nervous and have someone you know at your presentation, ask them to sit where you can see them. Sometimes, it is nice to be able to locate a familiar face as you look around the room at your audience.

 

Consider bringing a snack to eat an hour or so before your presentation, so you have something in your stomach.

 

Most of the time, you will have been asked beforehand for a bio, but if not, bring a short, succinct bio that a moderator can read during the speaker introductions.

 

During the Presentation

Get to the room where your presentation is as soon as you are able, and double-check your tech. Give yourself time to get organized and take some deep breaths.

 

Bring a bottle of water and take some sips during your presentation, even if you are not thirsty. This helps avoid a dry throat while talking.

 

Start by catching the audience’s attention and make a connection. This can be accomplished by reading a quote from the primary material that sets the stage, conducting a quick poll that gets them involved, or by sharing what led you to study your topic. Make it personal and make it pithy!

 

Signpost your argument with easy-to-follow language so that your audience stays with you throughout the presentation. Your introduction should prime the audience for what is to come (i.e. “In this paper, I draw on X and Y to argue that Z…”) and the structure of your presentation should be verbalized. Words like “first,” “next,” “furthermore,” “however,” and “finally” are your friends!

 

While the script you have prepared will keep you organized and ensure that your language is precise, make sure to read slowly and make eye contact with the audience. Notes in your script to “pause,” “slow down,” and “look up” make this easier.

 

Bring a couple printed copies of your presentation slides for accessibility.

 

Speak to the audience in front of you, not to your college professor and not to your high school English teacher.

 

Be respectful of your colleagues’ and the audience members’ time. This is essential conference etiquette and ensures that there will be time for discussion. Having the script that you have practiced reading aloud and timed beforehand keeps you within your allotted time.

 

One useful gesture is when you are exploring a new idea in the presentation, to say so and tell the audience that you would welcome their suggestions during the Q&A. This gives them an opportunity to demonstrate their expertise, and to help you refine your idea.

 

It is okay to ad lib if you want to point out a connection between your presentation and someone who has presented before you.

 

Do not sweat the Q&A. More often than not, you will get genuinely helpful, encouraging, and generous feedback that will help you work toward the next stage of the project. It is okay to take a second to think about your response before answering an audience member’s question. If you do not know what someone is referring to, you can always ask them to clarify or to restate their question. There may be audience members who seem to be there with the sole purpose of tearing down you and your co-panelists’ work, but this does not reflect on your presentation. And, keep in mind, that even a seemingly “hostile” question can indicate a gap in or a useful addition to your research that you had not considered and could become something that you follow-up on after the conference.

 

Take notes during your fellow presenters’ presentations. This will help you to make connections between your presentations and come up with questions.

 

Here is an essential part: be confident that you have something important to offer. You were accepted to your panel, to the conference, to the convention. No small feat. You have already convinced the panelists and the organizers that you belong. So, you do.

 

Don’t forget to have fun! If you are having fun, your audience will be too.

 

After the Presentation

Get together with your co-panelists. You have enough in common with them to be on the same panel, so try to have a meal together during the conference. They may even become your most treasured collaborators.

 

Take time after the conference to reflect on what you have learned during the conference, as well as to reflect on how your presentation panel went. There are many connections, materials, and new resources that you have probably learned about from your panel and during the conference, so do not forget to follow-up on these notes.

 

Remember, we are all learning and refining our arguments. Conferences are a great place to get ideas for further avenues of research. Pursue these threads after the conference is over so that you can further your project ideas.

 

–List contributed by Ariadne Wolf, Didem Uca, Kristina Reardon, Amir Hussain, Gerard Holmes, and Kayla Forrest

EATS NEAR THE SEATTLE CONVENTION

There are plenty of budget-friendly places to grab an eat near the MLA 2020 convention in Seattle. We’ve compiled a list below of popular, local-to-Seattle options within a walking distance from the convention. Listed is the name of the place, its price range (variable from $ to $$), its address, and a website link to view hours or menus.


Coffee 

Caffe Ladro ($) (801 Pine Street) https://caffeladro.com/

Anchorhead Coffee ($) (CenturyLink Plaza, 1600 7th Ave #105) https://anchorheadcoffee.com/

Voxx Coffee ($) (1200 6th Ave #150, Parkplace Building) http://www.voxxseattle.com/

Moore Coffee Shop ($) (1930 2nd Ave) http://www.moorecoffeeshop.com/

Seattle Coffee Works ($$) (108 Pine Street) https://www.seattlecoffeeworks.com/

 

Food

Café

Fresh Table Café ($) (1501 4th Ave) http://freshtablecafecenturysquare.com/

Harbor Café ($) (1411 4th Ave #103) http://chefrut.com/

Pizza

MOD Pizza ($) (1302 6th Ave) https://modpizza.com/locations/downtown-seattle/

A Pizza Mart ($) (800 Seneca Street) https://www.apizzamartfirsthill.com/

Burger

Li’l Woody’s ($) (1211 Pine Street) http://lilwoodys.com/

International

Piroshky Piroshky ($) (Russian bakery at 1908 Pike Place) https://www.piroshkybakery.com/

Los Agaves ($) (Mexican street food at 1514 Pike Place Market Ave, #7) https://losagaves.net/

DeLaurenti Food & Wine ($) (Italian small plates at 1435 1st Ave) https://delaurenti.com/

Veggie-Friendly

Café Yumm! ($) (717 Pine Street) https://www.cafeyumm.com/

Vegan

Veggie Grill ($$) (1427 4th Ave) https://www.veggiegrill.com/

Food Benefiting Non-Profit Organizations

DeliNoMore ($) (1118 5th Ave, located inside YWCA) https://sites.google.com/view/delinomore

FareStart ($$) (700 Virginia Street) https://www.farestart.org/

 

Tips for Applying to PhD Programs in the Humanities

As application season gets going, CSGSH members offer advice to prospective doctoral students on applying to PhD programs:


As someone who just completed my Ph.D. in Germanic Languages and Literatures, I can offer three pieces of advice for people considering applying for graduate programs in the humanities. The first is quite basic: dig deep and make sure that a Ph.D. in your discipline is really what you want to do. This might sound obvious, but feeling energized and excited by your field of study is incredibly important and, considering the immense workload and stress that you will face for the next 5–7 years, will sometimes be the one thing that holds you steady on the path towards graduation.


Second, seek out graduate programs where there are multiple faculty with whom you would like to work rather than just one faculty member. Having this deep bench will make getting through coursework much more meaningful and enjoyable; in later stages, you will have to select additional members for your exam and dissertation committees, so having a team composed of other supportive mentors in your department and affiliated programs will be crucial for your success. Furthermore, so much can change in the long course of a doctoral program, so giving yourself the option of working with multiple people in your department can provide a safety net if, for example, your intended advisor retires before you are finished.

Third, research what recent alumni of each program have done since graduating. If you are thinking of pursuing an alt-ac path, but all the former graduate students in a particular program are leading more traditional careers, it might not be the best fit for you. Usually a department’s website will feature alumni or news sections where you can learn about their post-doctoral lives. You might even be able to reach out to former students and ask about their experiences in the program.  — Didem Uca, Visiting Assistant Professor of German at Colgate University


On funding:

Look at the pay rate for TAs and GAs and determine if you’d be able to survive in that area on a certain salary. I was awarded a presidential fellowship from one university I really wanted to attend—but cost of living was so high in that city that the award didn’t even cover half of my living expenses. Meanwhile, another university offered me a regular TAship in a more rural area, and it turned out that the TAship paid twice what the presidential fellowship offered. So while the presidential fellowship sounded nicer and excited me at first, I made the pragmatic decision to take the TAship at the more rural university. Now that I’ve graduated, I’m really glad I did. Really dig into the numbers to see if it even makes sense to apply to a university before you decide where to send your applications.

On your academic experience:

I’ve always been of the belief that graduate school is what you make of it. Attending the most prestigious program does not guarantee you learn more or get a job. That’s on you. So choose a place where you can envision yourself doing your best work. For me, that meant attending a program closer to home. But I knew that about myself, and I was a well-supported, happy grad student with a sense of work-life balance as a result. I got to help my sister plan her wedding and attend my little brother’s track meets on the weekends. I’d have been so unhappy if I hadn’t been able to do all that. Maybe there’s a city you’ve always wanted to live in, or a place that seems just idyllic to you. Pursue universities that genuinely excite you in locations where you’d be happy to live. This is 5-7 years of your life, after all.

On job training:

Look for programs that offer you strong opportunities to teach and to get involved with a few aspects of university work while you are a graduate student, regardless of your field of study. I was grateful that, during my time at both universities where I pursued graduate work, I had the chance to work on a GAship at a writing center, in student affairs, with summer high school programs, and with a fellowships office in addition to getting the traditional time to teach. The truth is that the job market is very challenging no matter what your field of study is, and it’s probably not a good idea to try to choose a field, sub-speciality, or even university based on whether or not you think you can break through in the job market. Instead, look for the place where you can get the most diverse work experiences so that you build skills that extend beyond research and teaching to open a wide range of university-related careers to you. Professor is not the only university role that provides job satisfaction, personal fulfillment, or the ability to support students. You might be surprised at how much you might like certain jobs on campus! And it’s been my experience that, especially at offices that don’t typically have a lot of graduate student engagement, staff are eager to support graduate students who want to explore career opportunities across campus.  — Kristina Reardon, Associate Director of the Center for Writing at the College of the Holy Cross


First off, I’d like to echo some of the advice provided by my colleagues in this piece: make sure this is what you want to do with the next 5-7 years of your life, figure out if the financial situation of income/location of school works out for you, and pick the schools that have the most faculty in your field.

Being an international student (Canadian doing a PhD in the US), I will offer a few tips for international students considering a PhD in the US. First, makes sure to start the required immigration paperwork ahead of time. Bureaucracy can be slow and daunting and the last thing you want is to show up a few days late to your PhD in a foreign country. Second, research and consider the political climate in the area of your school. While most times college towns are welcoming to foreigners, it is always a good idea to know what to expect from the city off-campus. A good way to do this is to reach out to your potential advisor and current graduate students at your institution to find out how welcoming the town might be. Third, ensuring that your potential school has a good International Student support system can go a long way. These offices are of great assistance with several obstacles that are particular to the international student experience. One of the activities I enjoyed the most upon my arrival at the University of Kansas was the international student orientation, where we were able to interact with peers across the disciplines in the same situation. International Student services might also provide advice on immigration status to ensure that students remain in legal status throughout their academic program according to enrollment requirements of their visa. 
Andrés Rabinovich, Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Spanish and Portuguese at the University of Kansas


Expect (and prepare) to spend a lot of time writing and revising the Statement of Purpose, as this is a crucial part of the application for PhD programs and sets the tone for how you and your application comes across. This is time well-spent, as it’s your chance to share your academic interests, tell your story, explain in your own voice what you want or plan to do in graduate school, and share your project ideas. You are not setting your dissertation topic in stone by identifying your interests and questions in the Statement but you are showing the broader areas or questions that your interests—which are evolving, and will continue to evolve during graduate studies—fall into and how or why you came to them.

Try to see the Statement of Purpose as a way to define, integrate and focus your application. Be forthright in your interests and your project ideas—it is one of the few places in the application where you get to “speak” directly to your readers. And make sure to get feedback well before you submit it. Ask professors—who know your work, who you have taken classes from, or who have advised you. Professors will have the best insight into how to improve your Statement of Purpose, so implement their suggestions!

Finally, prepare for the possibility that it may take more than one round of applications to be admitted into the program of your choice, or into the one that suits your circumstances. This happened to me. The first time that I had applied to PhD programs, I secured one admittance—and while it was to a British university of my choice, the admittance came with no guaranteed funding and only the prospect of applying for funding in future years. I decided to apply again the following year to try once more into different funded programs, rather than to pursue a degree without knowing how/if the funding would pan out year after year. It was during the second application round that I found the program where I am completing my PhD degree. Shoring up your patience for the application process will help you get through these kinds of high’s and low’s.  — Amir Hussain, PhD candidate in Comparative Literature at Emory University


1. Start having a backup plan for your post-PhD life, including the possibility of not working in the academy, as you are applying. Start putting it in practice the first year. The job market might turn around – anything is possible – but the current slump is ten years along and still getting worse. Even well-intentioned faculty advisors may have little experience with, or interest in, professional sectors outside the academy. Your experience in graduate school can be enriched by getting to know people who do public-facing scholarship, serve on nonprofit boards, and otherwise have experience that can help you prepare for work beyond the academy.

2. If a program lacks a piece of infrastructure you think it needs, you can create that infrastructure. If no one is talking about how to prepare for non-academic jobs, and you want to know more about that, convene a working group on the topic. If a department’s guest speakers don’t represent the discourses taking place among graduate students, graduate students can start a speaker series that does. (This helps you stand out in the department, and signals to potential employers, down the road, that you are an active and engaged colleague.) Some departments have designated funding for such purposes.

3. You can do it with a family. Yes, even with children. It’s extra work, and you will probably need to take any extra paid work that comes your way. But having obligatory commitments outside of your department can be a helpful reality check. Whether you have a family or not, having meaningful things to do outside of teaching and lit crit – and, as much as you will hopefully grow close with your cohort, with people who are not in graduate school – will keep you grounded.  — Gerard Holmes, PhD candidate in English at the University of Maryland

One Thing I Learned at MLA 2019

Committee members share a few takeaways from MLA 2019, Chicago:

“This was my third MLA. I presented in Austin in 2016, attended the New York conference in 2018, and presented twice–oddly enough, in back to back panels!–this year in Chicago. I’ve presented on panels and coordinated panels at MLA, and one of the presenters in one of my panels this year suggested we all meet for coffee or lunch the day before to coordinate. This was so helpful to me. I got to meet the folks I was presenting with, and I felt more comfortable the day of. We were also able to coordinate our talks in advance. That meant we minimized overlap and found authentic transitions between talks to make them seem linked. I think this made our panel feel more cohesive. Not all panels can do this, I know, but if you are placed on a panel, I’d highly recommend suggesting a quick coffee meet up beforehand. It could be 20 minutes in the hotel lobby; it’s amazing what a few minutes and a few friendly hellos can do for your confidence and organization.”    — Kristina Reardon

“MLA 2019 in Chicago was my second MLA, and it felt like it too. Last year’s MLA in New York was my first and it was certainly overwhelming, though I was neither interviewing nor presenting. The sheer amount of people in one place and the fast pace of the in-between panel walks can be disconcerting the first time around. I parked myself in the Graduate Student Lounge for the most part and limited myself to only attending 2 panels throughout the whole conference. This year in Chicago, however, I knew what to expect and planned accordingly. I picked out in advance the panels I wanted to attend, and I tried to schedule meetings with former colleagues in such a way that I was able to do everything I wanted. Having gone through my first MLA last year made this year’s so much better and easier to navigate. If at all possible, I highly recommend attending an MLA before you have to present or interview. Getting the major conference jitters out of the way ahead of time might just pay off in an unexpected way. ”    — Andrés N. Rabinovich

“One thing I learned at the MLA Conference this year is the importance (and pleasure!) of meeting other scholars at the conference. By attending different events, going to panels, and talking to people in the exhibit hall and in the grad lounge, I was able to meet a number of graduate students, professors, publishers, and other conference attendees with whom I had some fascinating and enlightening conversations. For example, I learned some great tips about applying to jobs from a first-year assistant professor, and I talked with another group of scholars about ways to incorporate our research interests into our classrooms. I appreciated the opportunity to learn from others, get advice about my research and career, and generally just make some new friends and connections! For future conferences, I plan to bring cards with my information on them to hand out to others, as several individuals had them, and they seem like a great way to share contact info without having to awkwardly take out my phone or search for a notebook and pen to write things down. I also noticed that some of the booths in the exhibit hall had contests where you could enter your card and win something, so it wouldn’t hurt to be able to enter those!”        — Kayla Forrest

“One of the things I noticed immediately when looking through the program of this year’s MLA Conference is the astonishing diversity and scope of the sessions. The sessions cover a huge range of topics, methods, issues and perspectives of the humanities. I think one of the rewarding challenges of being a young scholar in the contemporary humanities is exemplified in the conference: there is an astonishing breadth of work being done! One can be both overwhelmed and stimulated as one selects which panels, workshops and events to attend. I found helpful practical sessions on academic writing and navigating the difficult terrain of journal submissions, as well as sessions related to my research interests. One thing that was particularly helpful as I navigated the intensity and size of my first convention, was attending an evening event hosted by my university that made me feel a familiar sense of “home” in a new place.”   — Amir Hussain

“After going to about ten MLAs—enough that this was my third MLA Chicago!—I’m starting to learn that as the committee meetings and coffee chats and book parties pile up I absolutely have to save a little bit of time for myself. I love conferences and seeing friends, but I’m getting too old to work, network, and spend time with people I really want to meet or to catch up with from brunch through late-night drinks for days on end!  (I almost always come home from the MLA with a cold, and the reasons for it are obvious). So hopefully next time I’ll remember that I’ll have a much better time if I leave a little bit of time for myself. If I don’t do all the things I want to do, there’s always next year. And this level of conference over-intensity is just one more manifestation of the compulsion to try to do it all, which I think most of us are always fighting. Being selective is always better than saying yes to everything—at least in the long run.”     — Meredith Farmer