Category Archives: Graduate Students

Finding your way at your first MLA convention

In the days leading up to the 2018 convention, the Committee on the Status of Graduate Students in the Profession will be posting information about graduate student-specific events, panels, and things to watch out for. Here’s our second post:

One of the most common things first-time graduate student attendees report about MLA is feeling overwhelmed by the sheer size of the convention. Unlike a graduate student conference or regional conference, the MLA has dozens of panels running simultaneously–and you just might find that you wish you could attend several talks in the same hour. And few first-time attendees realize that there is a lot to do at the MLA convention aside from attending sessions.

Our best advice? Know that you simply can’t do it all, and try not to get overwhelmed by that fact. Try using the MLA 2018 app to plan out your days. (Here are the links for downloading the MLA 2018 app for Android and for Apple. And here is the online program if you need it.)

In the app, you can browse by day, session type, subject, and more. Try browsing by subject first. Look for topics related to your dissertation, project, or research (and that includes papers you might be writing for seminars if you are still in coursework!). When you click in a subject title, like “Spanish literature,” you’ll further get to select by date–so you can ensure you’re only looking at panels for the days you plan to attend. While the title of the session can help, they are often (necessarily) a bit general. We find that clicking on the title and reading the titles for each individual presentation is most helpful. This will give you a firmer sense of what will be discussed in the session.

Then check out the Connected Academics site to start, as it has a list of sessions which are particularly useful to professional development for graduate students. Highlighted sessions including talks on editing, publishing, developing a digital identity, and securing funding in the humanities.

When you find a session you can’t miss, use the app to add it–along with the date, time, and location–to your in-app convention schedule. That way, you’ll have each day planned out and you won’t have to wonder where to go each day. Our best advice is to do this a few days before the convention, or as you travel to the convention so that you don’t need to worry about where you will go each day.

Try to focus on choosing two to three sessions a day to start. Any more than that can feel overwhelming for a first-time attendee, and you will likely find that there are other things you’d like to do during the day at the convention as well.

What else can you do at the convention? We’ve culled a list of things to do from the MLA website and the recent MLA email on last-minute information for attendees and compiled it here for you:

  • Visit the graduate student lounge (New York Hilton (Trianon Rendezvouz, 3rd floor) to connect with other grad students attending the convention–and to charge your phones or devices between sessions and interviews. More information on dates and times can be found in our first convention blog post.
  • Stop by one of the MLA advocacy tables (Hilton, second and third floors; Sheraton, second floor) and send a postcard to Congress to support the issues you are most passionate about.
  • Join an MLA cultural excursion or explore New York City on your own. We like this site that posts free things to do in New York, from museums with free admission to free wine and beer tastings.
  • Considering a career outside academia? Visit the Possible Futures Career Fair on January 5 (MLA Career Center, Americas II, 1:00–5:00 p.m.) and meet with representatives from mission-driven companies looking for candidates with your skills and knowledge.
  • Get a free head shot for your Web site, blog, or Humanities Commons page. Visit the Bedford / St. Martin’s booth (200 and 201) in Americas I (Hilton, third floor) on 5 and 6 January, 9:30 a.m.–5:00 p.m., to sign up.
  • Ready to publish? MLA members attending the convention can sign up to “chat with an editor” who is a member of the Council of Editors of Learned Journals (CELJ), an allied organization of the MLA. The service gives scholars the opportunity to meet one-on-one with an experienced editor to discuss any aspect of the publication process. For registration information, visit the CELJ Web site.

A few final things:

  • Don’t forget to bring your badge or pick it up when you arrive–and don’t lose it! There is a $20 replacement fee.
  • Check out the Convention Daily each day. People get sick, cancellations happen, new events arise, and sometimes rooms change. Grab a copy of the Convention Daily on January 4, 5, and 6 for the latest convention news.
  • Follow us on Twitter at @MLAgrads. You can also follow other MLA accounts, such as @MLAConvention and @MLAConnect, for updated information on the convention daily. And don’t forget to add your two cents: you can post about your convention experience and connect with others with hashtag #mla18.


Pre-convention posts: The Grad Student Lounge

In the days leading up to the 2018 convention, the Committee on the Status of Graduate Students in the Profession will be posting information about graduate student-specific events, panels, and things to watch out for. Here’s our first post:

The CSGSP is pleased to announce that it is once again hosting a lounge for graduate students at the convention! Come meet the committee, or just chill out, charge your phone, and catch your breath between sessions (and interviews).

The lounge will be located in the New York Hilton (Trianon Rendezvouz, 3rd floor) and will be open:

Thursday, Jan. 4: 8 am – 5 pm

Friday, Jan. 5: 8 am – 5 pm

Saturday, Jan. 6: 8 am – 5 pm

Sunday, Jan. 7: 8 am – 12 pm

We hope to see you there!


Can’t “Cure” Imposter Syndrome? Reframe It Instead [Guest Post by Melissa Phruksachart]

Guest post by Melissa Phruksachart (NYU). Have an idea for a piece about the graduate student experience? Get in touch — we are on the lookout for contributors!

“It cannot be denied that the university is a place of refuge, and it cannot be accepted that the university is a place of enlightenment. In the face of these conditions one can only sneak into the university and steal what one can. To abuse its hospitality, to spite its mission, to join its refugee colony, its gypsy encampment, to be in but not of – this is the path of the subversive intellectual in the modern university.” –Fred Moten and Stefano Harney, The Undercommons: Fugitive Planning and Black Study, 26)

In what follows, I share three different ways to reframe imposter syndrome, which I define as “a pervasive feeling of self-doubt, insecurity, or fraudulence despite often overwhelming evidence to the contrary,” per psychologist Ellen Hendriksen. My hope is that by finding more ways to think and talk about imposter syndrome, we lessen the shame, blame, and stigma that surround it, in order to find collective ways to manage (if not “cure”) it.                                                                        


Much of the popular literature on imposter syndrome treats it as an affliction of the minoritized – as a pathological and psychological disorder that minoritized subjects cannot get over. In some ways, this is a documented phenomenon. According to the Dunning-Kruger effect, the less competent you are, the less aware you are of that incompetency. In other words, smart people know what they don’t know; they have self-awareness. This is, unsurprisingly, a gendered and racialized affect. In a study entitled “Gender Gaps in Overestimation of Math Performance,” researchers found that men consistently overestimated their performances on math tests, while women were more likely to accurately predict their scores (h/t Chris Matyszczyk). Another set of studies showed that doctoral students in underrepresented minority ethnic groups and women were less likely to submit research for publication than their non-underrepresented male classmates.

Dr. Koritha Mitchell has referred to this phenomenon as “white mediocrity.” In the context of the extrajudicial killings of black people by white police officers, Mitchell notes that the low standard to which white people are held is literally killing black people. (The proof of how far mediocrity can succeed is none other than our President, Donald Trump…)

Academic job consultant Dr. Karen Kelsky has noticed this phenomenon in junior scholars too. I usually take Kelsky’s advice with a huge grain of salt, but I thought her blog post “Women Fail, But Men Bomb,” was spot on. When asked if there were any differences between male and female job candidates, she replied (and I believe this is worth quoting at length):

“The bad job talks by women candidates were run-of-the-mill bad—They were dull, or poorly organized, or unoriginal, or unconvincing, or sadly presented. But the bad job talks by male candidates? Well, those talks could be spectacularly bad. […] These male candidates had somehow managed to completely and totally fail to grasp the spectacular inappropriateness of their topics, their preparedness, and/or presentation styles. They had, apparently, blithely ignored any of the cautions or admonitions that they undoubtedly received from advisors, peers, and general well-wishers, and they proceeded with blissful abandon past the looks of shock, dismay, and outrage gathering on the faces of their job talk audiences. I never saw a woman candidate bomb a job talk in this way. Obviously, this is the flip side of male privilege. Women are not given the license to fail big because they aren’t given the license to try big. Women are disciplined (and punished) and circumscribed and admonished and chastised at so many levels, in so many ways, that men are not….that in the end it is by and large only males who have the opportunity to burst out onto the job market with wildly inappropriate egos and presentation habits intact. This is not to say that all men do. […] But the chances are higher, far higher, that a man may slip through the cracks of the graduate school socializing apparatus, meant to beat graduate students into a state of deference and submission and hyper-self-criticism, and emerge entirely unaware of the impression that he is making on his audience.”

After I read this I began to really pay attention to the way this manifested in my academic life – from male students who repeatedly ignored my advice, to male colleagues who took credit for my organizational labor, and so on. It creates more labor for me – yet one more thing to keep an eye on – but I think I sleep better.

If you want to think about imposter syndrome in this context – as an irrational response to your own unrecognized competence despite all evidence to the contrary, one solution is to begin to build that evidence for yourself. What have you accomplished? Keep a separate document for things that may not make it onto your CV, a running log of all the ways in which you are contributing to the profession – like informally mentoring a new doctoral student, having coffee with someone at a conference, or even attending a talk. All of this is evidence of your presence and participation in the field. At the end of the semester or academic year, review your list and highlight what you’ve accomplished – where you’ve grown, what you struggled through, what you did too much or too little of, and what you’re looking forward to. You can also embrace the negative to lessen the blow: One colleague keeps a list of every academic rejection she receives. Every fifth time, she treats herself.  


A second response to imposter syndrome rejects the suggestion to “lean in” or lifehack our way out of it. Another school of thought suggests that imposter syndrome is a perfectly rational response to a plethora of clues, both structural and those that manifest as microaggressions, that tell you that your work is not valued – whether because you are a measly graduate student, or because you work in a minoritized field, or because your scholarship needs more work, or all three. Cate Huston notes that, “The focus on imposter syndrome as a personal problem, as a series of ‘irrational’ beliefs, pathologizes its victims and diverts attention from the problematic environment to the individual: this is classic victim blaming.”

On an individual level, graduate students or anyone experiencing imposter syndrome should try to become more attuned to the ways in which legitimacy is performed in the academy in ways that index race, class, gender, ability, appearance, and many more.

On an institutional level, departments, faculty, and students can create more spaces for student-led low-stakes scholarly activity. In 2012, my graduate school colleagues and I, together with our faculty mentor Kandice Chuh, started the Mentoring Future Faculty of Color Project for graduate students in the New York City area. Its goal was to create an interdisciplinary intellectual community as well as a support system of intergenerational colleagues. Our principal activity was a lunch and lecture series with scholars of color from area institutions. Over lunch, scholars spoke to us, often quite candidly, of their experiences of struggle and survival in the academy. This was followed by a public lecture on their recent work in order to emphasize the importance of understanding “diversity” not only in terms of bodies, but more importantly as an epistemological project. Alongside this model of vertical mentoring, we benefited greatly through horizontal peer mentoring. We discovered that we could create space for critical discourse in the academy not only through an academic field, but also through the feminist formation of social communities and the knowledges produced therein. By making this space for minoritized students, we created a community that hadn’t formally existed before. Through this experiment, we learned how scholarly work does not happen in a vacuum, despite the way in which we’re taught to go about our work.


This last reframing is more fun. Rather than trying to convince yourself that you are not an imposter, Beth McMillan suggests that it is far less work to embrace your position as an imposter. She asks, “If you were a spy who had somehow managed to get right into the heart of the enemy’s regime, would you waste time feeling guilty about tricking your way in there, or would you get on with the business of leaking nuclear secrets, taking photos with tiny cameras and poisoning the soup of important diplomats?” So, if you indeed are an imposter, own it. Steal away with what you can, and enjoy your life.

– – –

These remarks are adapted from those I gave at a roundtable, “Experiences Navigating Impostor Syndrome and Inequity in the Academy,” organized by the Minority Scholars’ Committee of the American Studies Association for the ASA annual meeting in Chicago, IL, on November 10, 2017.

Melissa Phruksachart is Assistant Professor/Faculty Fellow in the Department of Cinema Studies at NYU, where she teaches television history, Asian American media, and minority discourse. She received her PhD in English from the CUNY Graduate Center in 2016. You can find her on Twitter at @mphruksachart.

Who Are We and What Do We Do? Meet the 2017-2018 Members of the CSGSP!

Meet the 2017-2018 members of the Committee on the Status of Graduate Students in the Profession! As CSGSP members, we are appointed via nomination and serve for a three-year period. We are graduate students and recent PhDs at various points in our graduate school careers, and we are dedicated to advocating for graduate students.

On 12-13 October 2017, the CSGSP held its annual organizing meeting. During that meeting, our agenda included:

  • Providing campus updates to bring awareness to issues that graduate students currently face (including issues relating to labor and unionization, safety, and finances)
  • Organizing panels and social events for grad students at the 2018 convention in New York (this year’s panels include: “Interviews in the Digital Age,” “Possibilities of Public Humanities,” and “Precarity and Activism”)
  • Proposing committee panels for the 2019 convention in Chicago (CFP’s forthcoming!)
  • Meeting with MLA executive director Paula Krebs to discuss graduate student concerns and the resources that MLA can offer them
  • Planning future projects to benefit grad students and to advocate for their needs

Please feel free to reach out to us individually or at with your questions or concerns. You can also connect with us on twitter (@MLAgrads) or meet us in person at the MLA convention where we host the Grad Lounge!

2017-2018 CSGSP Members:

Barbra Chin (co-chair) is a Ph.D. candidate and full-time writing instructor in the Department of English at Howard University in Washington, D.C. Her research explores notions of identity as they relate to nation and community, race (and mixed race), and gender in 19th and early 20th century African American literature, particularly in the writings of Nella Larsen. As a member of the CSGSP, Barbra is committed to providing a voice for and representing the HBCU graduate experience and the unique concerns that attend it. (Twitter: @bchin_19)


Lisa Chinn (co-chair) is a Lecturing Fellow in the Thompson Writing Program at Duke. Her research focuses on 20th-century American poetry, particularly post-1945 poetry and its intersection with print and sound cultures. When she’s not researching, writing, or teaching, she is learning how to play the upright bass, likes to run in her Old North Durham neighborhood, and enjoys good cuisine. (Twitter: @LisaChinn1)


Meredith Farmer Photo

Meredith Farmer is an Assistant Teaching Professor of English and the Center of Energy, Environment, and Sustainability at Wake Forest University. Her current project, Melville’s Leaks: Science, Materialism, and the Reconstitution of Persons, is under advance contract with Northwestern University Press. She is also at work on two editorial projects: a collection titled Rethinking Ahab: Melville and the Materialist Turn and a special issue of Leviathan on “Melville and Materialisms.” Her next project will be focused on the “American Storm Controversy,” hurricanes, and attempts to model climate change in the nineteenth century.  As a member of CSGSP she is especially passionate about work to support student and adjunct laborers, raising awareness about different kinds of public humanities projects, and developing a revised and visible set of best practices for search committees in the era of online interviews. (Twitter: @farmerm)

Andrés Rabinovich is a Ph.D. student in the Department of Spanish and Portuguese at the University of Kansas. His research revolves around the representation of sports in Contemporary Latin American Southern Cone with a focus on the link between sports and affect as it pertains to political agency. He was both first-year representative as well as president of the Graduate Student Association of Spanish and Portuguese at the University of Kansas. In the CSGSP, Andrés plans to use his experience in student organizations to represent graduate students across the country and to give a voice to international graduate students in North American academia. (Twitter: @AndresRabinovi2)

Kristina Reardon is the associate director of the Center for Writing at the College of the Holy Cross, where she teaches composition courses, runs the peer writing center, the Writer’s Workshop, and does faculty outreach on teaching writing. She is also a Ph.D. candidate in comparative literary and cultural studies at the University of Connecticut. Her dissertation focuses on the use of comedy in World War I era writing, and her composition work focuses on translation as a lens for student reflection on the writing process.

 Niko Tracksdorf Photo

Niko Tracksdorf received his Ph.D. in Literatures, Cultures and Languages from the University of Connecticut in 2017. He is currently the Coordinator of the German International Engineering Program (IEP) and part-time faculty member in German at the University of Rhode Island. His research interests include interdisciplinary language teaching, intercultural competence, and online and blended learning. Working for dual degree program in German and Engineering, his research and teaching currently focus on the intersections of language and culture education and STEM.


Christine “Xine” Yao is currently a SSHRC postdoc in English at the University of British Columbia and starting in September 2018 she will be a Lecturer in English at University College London. She earned her PhD in English, American Studies, and Feminism, Gender, and Sexuality Studies from Cornell University. She is working on a book project about the racial and sexual cultural politics of unfeeling in nineteenth-century America. In her advocacy work Xine is especially interested in the precarity of graduate student labor and issues facing women and people of color in the university. She’s the co-host of PhDivas, an iTunes podcast about academia, culture, and social justice across the STEM/humanities divide. (Twitter: @yao_christine)