Category Archives: Convention

Applying to Present at an Academic Conference in the Humanities

By Didem Uca
Assistant Professor of German Studies, Emory University
CSGSH Co-chair

The calls for papers (CfPs) for next year’s MLA have been posted, which means that the sessions are currently seeking abstracts. If you have never applied to present at a conference before, this post covers the essentials, including why you should present at a conference, how to find and select a panel, how to write an abstract, and how to submit it.

Why Present?

If you are passionate about the topic you are studying and researching, chances are that you enjoy sharing your work. But you may feel intimidated by the formality of a conference session or feel that your work is not ready to be judged by others. From personal experience, I have felt that most conference audiences are friendlier and more constructive (not to mention much smaller) than your panic dreams may lead you to believe. The oft-feared question and answer session is an opportunity to receive valuable feedback from others working on similar topics, which ultimately helps push your project further.

Furthermore, speaking at a conference can motivate you to meet your project’s benchmarks in a timely manner and speaking about your research insights can help you gain confidence as a scholar. A presentation can often lead to other opportunities for professional development, such as publication or future collaborations. All in all, attending and presenting at conferences allows you to connect with colleagues and potential mentors around a set of shared interests, allowing you to exchange ideas with others in a meaningful dialogue while supporting your scholarly development.

Finding and Selecting a Panel

There are two main ways to find out about conference panels. The first is by signing up for various email listservs related to your discipline or subfields, such as through H-Net, or, similarly, by following the social media accounts of professional organizations. You can also check out UPenn’s CfP repository for a searchable list of humanities CfPs for a huge number of conference sessions. By being plugged into these networks year-round, you have the best chance of learning about opportunities out there to share your work. The second way is by checking out the conference’s calls for papers portal, which sometimes requires a membership login. On the portal, you can search for calls based on keywords or other specifications.

Once you have found a few panels that interest you, try to think about papers you have written for seminars or concepts that have been important for your research and decide which panel might be the best fit. This may not actually be a panel topic where you have already done the most relevant work, but rather the topic that best matches the direction you would like your work to take. A common misconception is that you should have already written a paper before applying to a conference, but that is definitely not the case! The conference will likely take place 6-10 months after proposals have been chosen, so you will have plenty of time to write your paper in the interim.

Note that while for some conferences, you may be allowed to apply to an unlimited number of sessions, at others, you may only be allowed to apply to one or two. Make sure to read through the submission guidelines or conference FAQ before submitting.

Writing an Abstract

Once you have selected a panel or panels to which you would like to apply, you should start crafting your short proposal, or abstract. An abstract is generally 200-400 words (NB: the length varies, so follow the conveners’ instructions) in which you briefly summarize the argument your presentation will make. This can be tricky if you are writing a proposal for a new project rather than one based on a paper you have already written. But it is actually okay if your paper’s final argument ends up being somewhat different from what you propose, as changes during the research process are to be expected.

When writing your abstract, it helps to decide on your paper’s scope. If presentations will only be 15 minutes long, you won’t be able to discuss 6 epic novels or summarize the findings of your entire dissertation or even one entire chapter. I think that the most successful conference presentations are when the presenter addresses a specific and narrow research question that serves as a microcosm of a larger issue. The presenter draws you into their argument through careful analysis of a case study and successfully articulates the project’s stakes by suggesting what broader implications such an approach could have. Another important factor for selection is how well your contribution would fit on the panel, so make sure to reread the panel description as you are crafting your abstract and consider including relevant keywords or concepts from the description to underscore your project’s suitability. If you are able to articulate all of these aspects in the abstract, you will have a good chance of being selected. And don’t forget to give your paper a strong title! 

Once you write your draft abstract, you may wish to share it with your advisor or another mentor for feedback. This is why it can be helpful to plan ahead and give yourself enough time for them to read it and then to incorporate their suggestions. However, you should also not feel obligated to ask for feedback if you feel confident with your proposal.

Submitting your Abstract and the Selection Process

Once you’ve written your abstract, be sure to follow the submission guidelines from the CfP. For MLA panels, you are asked to send your abstract and a short professional biography to the organizer(s) via email, and the deadlines for submission vary based on the panel. For some other conferences, you have to submit your materials through the conference portal. Once you submit your proposal, the organizer(s) will often send you a confirmation of receipt and then it will generally take 1-3 weeks after the deadline until you learn whether or not your proposal has been selected. If your proposal is accepted, you will receive more information about the conference, format of the session, and any associated deadlines, so be sure to keep an eye out for those correspondences. If you were not accepted, don’t be discouraged! Oftentimes sessions receive 2-5 times the number of proposals they can accommodate. Other factors, such as how well the papers fit together or your institutional context (for example, the MLA has a limit on the number of speakers that can be from the same university), might have edged you out. Sometimes you may even be able to submit the same or a slightly revised version of your abstract to another conference session, so keep a look out for the next opportunity to share your work.

Good luck, and be sure to check out the CfPs for our committee’s two sponsored sessions: “Building Your Scholarly Identity: How to communicate your brand in a Remote World” and “Mental Health and Wellness in Graduate School,” both due by March 15!


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

The Embodied Grad Student in Relation: A CSGSH Roundtable at #MLA19

Join CSGSH at session 330: The Embodied Grad Student in Relation on Friday, January 4 at 3:30 PM — Hyatt Regency Chicago, “Columbus KL.” This roundtable is included in the presidential theme, Textual Transactions.

In this roundtable, panelists consider the importance of various forms of self-making, kinship, coalition, and allyship within the graduate student experience. With an attention to concepts of power and notions of identity, they explore how we survive and thrive in the academy variously as individuals, as part of communities, and in relation to how we approach, read, and learn from objects of study such as literary texts and theory.

Featured Panelists: 

Kristen Angierski (Cornell University) considers how communal eating functions, and sometimes hilariously malfunctions, within graduate communities. Drawing on her embodied experience as a vegan graduate student writing a vegan dissertation, she examines the personal-political act of eating-in-relation to those with different ethical commitments, arguing for the renunciation of ethical “purity discourse” that drains the act of eating of its complexity and creates binaries where there could be, per Haraway, “tentacular thinking” – and maybe even humor.

Diana Arterian (University of Southern California) opens a dialog on approaches to facing the intense life events that we inevitably encounter during our graduate work. She uses her own experiences of trying to locate the ability to care for self while engaging with issues that arose during her studies to push against the general approach of “working through” it to question how we can carve out time to be human in a space that often requires superhuman behavior.

Soh Yeun Kim (University of Washington) will talk about her experiences of self-fashioning as a minority and international graduate student and leader. She will discuss how she sought engagement with university leadership and community service out of desperation to build a stronger coalition and allyship among and for underrepresented students, out of a desire to connect her academic research with the community, and out of a need to address issues of structural racism, marginalization, and microagression from within the university system to discuss the significance and need for advocacy and coalition-building for vulnerable graduate students.

Adena Rivera-Dundas (University of Texas at Austin) discusses the contentious history of incorporating the personal into the scholarly by considering how much of herself to put in her own writing. By considering her dissertation and comparing scholars’ incorporations of theory into the personal, she discusses the evolution of scholarly and literary communities which expand the definition of self into one which incorporates and is incorporated into the world around us, a world which includes the grad student.

Sarah Shelton (University of Texas at Arlington) considers how breaking both of her ankles (months apart) and one wrist the same year she was hoping to graduate helped her to make stronger personal connections with her areas of studies in fat studies and posthumanism while questioning the lingering ableism and privilege in her theory/praxis. She discusses how her experiences lead to more nuanced understandings that helped her open up to and depend more on her graduate student community while figuring out how to navigate the last leg of the graduate student journey.

Rhonda Shanks (University of British Columbia) explores the fraught and burgeoning relationships between academic writing, spiritual labour, and public scholarship to trace the genealogy of a project of reading Black Feminist texts as a sacred practice. She presents the story of the limits of listening and the possibilities of a failure that keeps trying, of imagining alliances through old and new registers and through ruptures and disruptions of form, and of gradually attuning to the places, objects, and affective relationships that both bar listening and become the conditions of its possibility.

Abstracts for CSGSP roundtable “Teaching as Theoretical Practice”

As you make plans for the MLA, be sure to add session 403, “Teaching as Theoretical Practice” to your calendar! Graduate students and professors from a range of institutions and disciplines will discuss how they integrate theory and teaching in the undergraduate classroom.

See the abstracts below, and join the conversation on Friday, 6 January, from 5:15-6:30 pm in Room 303 of the Philadelphia Marriott.


Hybrid Teaching, or the Performance of Comparative Theory

Germán Campos-Muñoz (Appalachian State U) and Mich Nyawalo (Shawnee State U)

The transcultural and methodological negotiations embedded in the discipline of Comparative Literature are coterminous to those of the teaching practice. As a virtual locus that attempts to relocate cultural background onto the foreground, the classroom coordinates comparatism of the most complex order–not only intellectual, but also social, institutional, professional, and political. The prestige of hybridity in our contemporary academic institutions, with its commitment to multiculturalism and multilingualism, further exacerbate the internal comparative structure of the classroom. What alternatives does this realization offer for a practice of Comparative Literature that seeks to disrupt the orthodox chasm between teaching and theory, or wishes to be pedagogical and theoretical at once?

Our presentation ventures an answer to these questions by assessing two distant cases of World Literature in which teaching is both thematized and performed: the 2nd-century Greek tale “Herakles,” by Syrian rhetorician Lucian of Samosata, and the novel The River Between, by contemporary Kenyan writer Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o. In both works, experiences and social tensions stemming from intercultural exchanges and hybridity are articulated and tackled through pedagogical imperatives and classroom spaces. As a performative exercise of comparative theory and collaborative pedagogy, both presenters will work on texts belonging to his co-presenter’s fields of specialization, peer-review their findings, and compose conclusions emerging from the comparison of both cases.


From Practice to Theory: Collaboration in the Composition Classroom

Joanna Grim (Lehigh U) and Dana McClain (Lehigh U)

Collaboration represents a common practice in the composition classroom, including small group discussions and peer review, yet the extent to which it shapes the writing process, as well as classroom and community relationships, often remains unacknowledged. Building off of our interest in collaborative writing methodology, we co-designed a course in which students utilize collaboration to develop their own opinions and arguments and to explore and critique collaboration in different social contexts.

In our course, Teaching and Learning through Collaboration, we examine collaboration in different cultural contexts. Students analyze collaboration in settings such as the workplace, sports, music, the college campus, and the local community in order to understand how collaboration addresses and/or reproduces imbalances of power and authority. Through group assignments like a multi-modal project addressing a specific social justice issue, students practice collaboration and theorize how it can be used to dismantle unequal power structures and create a more just world. We hope the course will lead students to engage in future collaborative work, both in the classroom and beyond the university, with greater intention and thoughtfulness.

Teaching this course has also influenced our development as scholars. We are interested in how collaborative research and writing can challenge prevailing values in the academy, especially the emphasis on individual success, which can lead to isolation. We plan to teach future iterations of this course and to do further research into how collaboration among students and teachers at both the undergraduate and graduate levels can encourage the creation of supportive academic communities and new opportunities for intellectual and personal growth.


Performance and the foreign language and culture curriculum: theory and practice

Anna Santucci (Brown U)

My work focuses on the exploration of language creation as performance and on theater-based pedagogy in relation to the of teaching of foreign languages and cultures. Paying attention to the crucial role played by bodies in the production of language and culture can help us answer more thoroughly the MLA call for a FL curriculum able to produce “educated speakers who have deep translingual and transcultural competence” (2007 “Foreign Languages and Higher Education: New Structures for a Changed World”, 3-4). In my research and teaching practice, I strongly advocate performance-based teaching of language and culture at all levels of the curriculum: from improvisational and culturally meaningful participatory activities for the beginner classroom to full-fledged theatrical productions for the advanced classroom. Research on theater and education in general, and in more recent years on performance and foreign language and culture teaching in particular, has been constantly growing; engagement with the theater and performing arts has repeatedly been praised for promoting active and embodied learning, facilitating the dissolution of cognitive barriers, fostering cooperation among students, stimulating critical thinking, and supporting the development of trans-cultural competence. My presentation will explain how my research informs my teaching and vice versa, providing examples from my developing dissertation and my teaching experience: my research based on performance theories, which investigates language as embodied cultural practice (from Aristotle’s mimesis, through Mauss’s habitus, to Carrie Noland’s kinesthetic production of culture), language-learning as liminal play (from Richard Schechner’s conception of play and Victor Turner’s notion of liminality), and the relations between theater proper and the FL and culture classroom (how issues of empathy/alienation and theories of participatory theater by practitioners like Bertolt Brecht and Augusto Boal relate to the inter-cultural encounter), significantly shapes the daily choices I make as a teacher, while my practical classroom interactions with my students help me anchor my theories and productively interrogate the tensions between qualitative and quantitative research in my field.


English Remix: Curating and Enacting a Posthuman Classroom

Sarah Shelton (U of Texas at Arlington)

This presentation looks at where posthuman pedagogy is now in order to imagine where it might take us that humanism and humanist education can’t. And at how such imaginings translated into praxis (and back into imaginings and into praxis again and again) in my own classroom this past semester.

In “Reuse, Remix, Rewrite,” a sophomore literature/special topics course, I purposefully approached classroom design and pedagogical praxis from a posthuman instead of humanist schema. This did not include digitizing my entire classroom and turning my students into cyborgs. Far from this misconception of what posthumanism is and what a posthuman approach can do for individual classrooms and for education in general, my approach relied heavily on the material turn and the excellent work that art education has already done in posthuman pedagogy. Focusing on Karen Barad’s theories of intra-action and onto-epistemology as well as Hillevi Lenz Taguchi’s application of those very theories to early childhood education, I sought to not design and implement (two separate stages), but to curate and enact (two intra-acting time-spaces) a posthuman English classroom that reframed reading and writing as ontological acts, not simply tools to make students better citizens or employees. This shift in my thinking/approach allowed for a fluid pedagogy that saw meaning not as waiting to be deposited or discovered, but as being made between all actors (from bodies to desks to texts to ideologies and beyond). Such a pedagogy necessitates a reframing of the classroom itself as a unique, unpredictable and not repeatable chronotope and presented several challenges as well as significant successes, including the Journal assignment this presentation focuses on.