Category Archives: Professional development

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!


Graduate Students Preparing for the Fall (Part 2)

Edited by G. Edzordzi Agbozo, with support from the members of the CSGSH

In this final part of our series on preparing for the fall semester, two international graduate students — Meng-Hsien Neal Liu, and Joan Jiyoung Hwang — share how the ongoing pandemic and the recent national debate on international students in the United States has affected their lives and their work. While Liu focuses on syllabus redesign for online teaching, Hwang reflects on the challenges and rewards that international students experience not only during the pandemic but more broadly.

Meng-Hsien Neal Liu
Ph.D. English/Writing Studies, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

This unprecedented global pandemic has mournfully thrown many international graduate students, myself included, into a welter, as we navigate through drastic change of our professional and personal settings, routines, obligations, and even prospects. These sudden changes have continued into the present period, with some universities keeping classes online for Fall 2020, some offering in-person instruction, and the others opting for a hybrid model. Undoubtedly, each of these curriculum delivery methods poses different kinds of challenges to administrators, staff, faculty, and students, but as a graduate student who juggles teaching, research, and coursework, I find the emotional and physical labor exacted on me particularly taxing. Although my institution aims for a hybridized delivery for the coming fall term, the first-year-composition class that I am teaching in the Fall 2020 at my institution will be online. As I am now revising my syllabus, several critical, yet fruitful questions about pedagogy and social justice emerge. These questions help me to critically deliberate on my role as a graduate teaching instructor in the climate of uncertainty.

Adapting my in-person writing class syllabus into an online version presents itself with a wide array of local and perhaps far-flung questions that I need to consider strategically. For example, how should I facilitate peer work synchronously and asynchronously? How do my students coordinate their peer reviews when they are not able to meet in person, when they are in different time zones, or when some do not have reliable access to the Internet? What if some students do not have personal laptops to do the work at home or in dormitories? What if some students cannot work for a long time on their computers due to their physical conditions, such as their vision or ability? What are some topics that are amenable to online migration and thus deliverable through an online facilitation? What are some topics that need to be omitted or changed? For instance, my first-year composition class is typically themed around language ideology along with some discussions dedicated to gender, race, class, and ethnicity. How should I create a “safe” (virtual) space where my students and I could be encouraged to engage in meaningful discussions about linguistic imperialism, ideology, and domination without fearing our words will be decontextualized? Or should I just change the theme of my writing class and go for a more skills-based composition class so that I could “play it safe”? Do I still want my students to undertake original research projects (e.g., conducting interviews) when campus resources might be hard to access? How can I motivate my students to continue applying themselves to honing their academic literacy, provided that they faced mental and perhaps physical, disquiet? On that note, how can I assess their performance meaningfully, when they might have to de-prioritize their academic work due to living, housing, or food insecurities? When students miss several synchronous meetings, should I still strenuously enforce the draconian institutionally-mandated attendance policy and take off points ? Some of these questions have been extensively discussed since the outbreak of the pandemic, but I foresee that this situation is going to be slightly more glaring for my incoming freshman students (and for us instructors), as students themselves will be exploring their first (full) semester in college in an unorthodox fashion — virtually. They will be entering into uncharted territory and need to forge interpersonal relations and affiliations with their instructors, teaching assistants, classmates, friends, advisors, majors, departments, or colleges on those little Zoom chat windows and boxes. Therefore, I made it a point to bear those questions in mind as I redesigned the syllabus.

That said, rather than feel downright saturnine about the upcoming fall semester; I do believe that there is one overarching theme that can salvage us from the narrative and the spanned time of uncertainty. To wit, that is humanity. The pandemic, however devastating, highlights our graduate teaching instructors’ need to be more humanistic, empathetic, and sympathetic, because we, along with our students, are collectively experiencing this unparalleled historical moment. Coupled with the recent civil unrest and the federal visa restriction targeted at international students, the pandemic has disrupted the normalcy of many people’s lives, but as we are readying ourselves for the fall semester, I am convinced that first-year-composition classes can functionally serve the critical role of helping students to theorize and discuss their thoughts regarding social justice and equality, a necessary, if not imperative, outlet that could endow students with anchors to stabilize themselves and obtain countervailing power to contest debilitating discourses.

Joan Jiyoung Hwang
Ph.D. Writing & Rhetoric, George Mason University

It’s no longer a visa issue; it is our life.
Frankly, I turn my eyes away from any news headlines related to the U.S. government’s immigration policy. I know it relates to my family and me one way or another, but my heart already hits bottom without even reading the contents. Any news cannot be good news for foreigners. On July 6, 2020, when news headlines on TV and on the internet were plastered with these two words, “ICE” and “international students” , my mind was blown away and I could not resist, this time, scavenging for any piece of news about this topic.
Holding a student visa or F-1 visa status was an honorable, legitimate entry ticket to the U.S. higher education after years of preparation, family support, and the careful juggling of financial investment and loss of opportunities. I am sure all international students remember the celebrations and congratulations they shared with their families, friends, colleagues, and excitement when their passports returned by mail with a student visa stamp. Ironically, however, the emblem of celebration, pride, and privilege turns into a label of exclusion as soon as our lives as international students start. We start being called visa students, multilingual writers, or foreign students.

When I tapped into the job market, while pursuing my doctorate degree, with my master’s degree earned in the U.S, I encountered a common job application program that has a section asking applicants to answer “yes” or “no” to a question if they need a sponsorship when hired. The first time I read this question, to be honest, I did not get it. The disability section has disclaimers that the information will not be disclosed and not used as discrimination against applicants but only for the purpose of providing necessary accommodation; the sponsorship section has no such disclaimer.

Being a graduate student, especially being an international Ph.D. student, is not just running a life as a full-time student. We have family, and our children go to school and grow up here. They make friends, participate in community sports clubs, compete with their friends in local competitions in band and sports, and volunteer just like any other youths with citizenship or legal residency. During their parents’ 6 to 8 years of graduate studies, if advancing into a doctorate degree, our children’s identities, cultural, ethnic, and communal, shape and develop here. The most critical time of their life takes root here, beautifully growing into valuable cultural capitals. The student parents build their companionship with their colleagues, faculty, and students, and their spouses stay connected with their neighbors, local churches, or any other affiliation of their interests and values. The entire family becomes a part of the communities. Following their parent’s work and study, my children, both in high school, have now spent a total of 70% of their life here in the U.S.. Still, their legal status is an F-2. Suppose I am not hired by any employer willing to sponsor me after my degree conferral. In that case, my children need to change their status from F-2 to F-1 when they start college in the U.S. and inherit the status of a non-immigrant student visa holder, exempt from all college benefits their friends and peers enjoy or compete for.

Being on a full-time graduate teaching assistantship, I take six credits of coursework and teach two three-credit courses each semester with tuition waivers and a decent stipend. This is an amazing equal opportunity for international graduate students and another source that attracts many capable international students to U.S. education. However, more than the tangible equality— this never means than the material conditions matter less —the personal and professional growth that I have experienced being a part of the amazing academic community of faculty, staff, and peers in my program is something I would not want to forfeit but instead continue to belong to as my second home. International graduate students live with this fear that someday, we might have to involuntarily opt out of this community, displaced from years of personal, professional, emotional, communal attachment, if the label, once a gracious entry ticket to the prestigious higher education in the U.S. and now a tag of non-immigrant status, doesn’t change into a temporary work-visa or an employment-based green card.

The student status of a non-immigrant goes beyond studentship; it is a life rooted and growing in a new land. It is not something that can be uprooted and transferred back across the borders at the mercy of policy upheavals. I hope legal, systematic consideration can be made for international graduate students’ resident status and employment after their degree. Once they receive the doctorate degrees, their stay should not be considered a matter of visa, but a matter of sustainability, the sustainability of a person as a scholar, and of a family as community members and research community that invested and nurtured the international graduate students.

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.

Precarity and Activism: A CSGSP Roundtable at #MLA18

In one of our three sponsored roundtables at #MLA18 we focus on precarity and activism for graduate students and non-tenure-track faculty.  We ask, how do graduate students engage activism from the position of precarity? How do these issues impact research and teaching? Issues include confronting rape culture, creating space for junior scholars in academic organizations, fighting for academic freedom in teaching, critiquing faculty and the corporate university, addressing poverty, and discussing different aspects of union-organizing.

See below for titles, abstracts, speaker bios, and further resources.

Time: Friday January 5 1:45 PM-3:00 PM

Location: Concourse F (Hilton)

Session 342. Chosen as one of the sessions under this year’s theme #StatesofInsecurity


Melissa Leigh Antonucci (U of Oklahoma)

Making Room for Junior Scholars

At the 2013 biennial conference for the Society of Early Americanists (SEA), the incoming President Kristina Bross (Purdue University) and Vice President Laura Stevens (University of Tulsa), who later served as president, expressed interest in the possible formation of a junior scholars’ caucus during an early morning breakfast meeting of graduate students. The onus, however, of bringing such an organization into being was on us—the graduate students. Three years and two biennial meetings later, the official Junior Scholars’ Caucus made its debut as a functioning organization within SEA. During those three years, Kirsten Iden (Auburn University) and I worked closely with Kristina, Laura, and others within SEA to carve a space for junior scholars within the larger national organization. This presentation will outline the challenges we faced and the support we received from the SEA executive board in developing an optimal space for junior scholars to share research, fellowship/grant information, job market resources, and ways to create a sense of sustained community among younger scholars. This presentation will also include a discussion of those foundational issues with which junior scholars must contend when considering organizing similar associations—issues such as the degree and scope of national leadership involvement; protocols for communicating with the executive board and caucus members; caucus governance and the creation of a constitution; membership; events coordination; and funding. Finally, I hope this presentation will foster discussions as to how junior scholars, many of whom, even after earning their PhDs, find themselves in positions of precarity, can begin establishing professional and steadfast presences within national organizations that do not always address specific concerns of younger scholars.

Melissa Antonucci is a faculty member in the English Department at the University of Oklahoma. She earned her PhD at the University of Tulsa in 2015, where she also recently completed a one-year postdoctoral appointment. As a graduate student, Melissa served as co-chair of the Graduate Student Caucus for the American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies (ASECS) and is co-founder of the Junior Scholars’ Caucus for the Society of Early Americanists (SEA), which officially launched in March 2017. Her discussion today focuses mostly on those experiences of laying the groundwork for the Junior Scholars’ Caucus and the challenges and benefits of advocating for graduate students within national organizations.
Michaela Brangan (Cornell U)

We Are Workers (?): Organizing Graduate Assistants in the American Labor Movement

It is an organizing commonplace, and paradox, that the worse off the worker is, the harder it can be for them to step toward their union. What, then, when the graduate assistant does not see herself as a worker? What, too, about the grad member of an underrepresented, marginalized or oppressed class. How can they know that anything will improve with unionization: a historically majoritarian model of gaining power? This paper gives a brief political and legal analysis of the graduate unionization movement. Specifically with reference to the author’s organizing experience at Cornell University, it thinks through the intersectional and class conflicts that arise with traditional organizing; discusses issues around American business unionism; interrogates the double precarity of “student labor” within the administrative university context; and speculates on what productive solidarity and activism could look like in future academe.

Relevant links:

Michaela Brangan, a PhD candidate in the English department at Cornell University, researches and teaches at the intersection of law, politics, and contemporary literature. From 2014 to 2017, she worked to gain recognition and collective bargaining rights for graduate assistants at Cornell with Cornell Graduate Students United (CGSU). She holds degrees from the University of Washington and the Benjamin N Cardozo School of Law.
Update: unable to attend

Aesthetics in the Adjunct Age

Is philosophical labour commensurable with exploitative labour? In his influential 1950 essay “The Origin of the Work of Art,” Martin Heidegger focuses on a painting of a worn pair of farmer’s shoes by Vincent van Gogh. “A pair of peasant shoes and nothing more,” he says, and then pauses to add: “And yet.” Thinking further, the philosopher decides that “the toil of the worker’s tread stares forth” from the shoes, and argues that the painting is thus “pervaded by uncomplaining worry as to the certainty of bread.” With his continuation of this “and yet,” Heidegger mobilizes the material reality of poverty in the service of philosophical explication; in doing so, however, he renders his peasant woman silent: “uncomplaining.” In the contemporary academic condition, performing the work of aesthetic philosophy often means also having to worry as to the certainty of bread, and increasingly, many of us are refusing to remain silent. The corporatized university and its dependence upon precarious labour is what Kevin Birmingham calls “the great shame of our profession,” and adjunct professors who make poverty wages tell of having to “sell their plasma on Tuesdays and Thursdays” to pay for their children’s daycare (Birmingham). “We tell our students to study literature because it will make them better human beings,” Birmingham argues; “that in our classrooms they will learn empathy and wisdom, thoughtfulness and understanding. And yet the institutions supporting literary criticism are callous and morally incoherent” (emph. added). What is the relationship, I ask, between Heidegger’s and Birmingham’s “and yet”? In this labour climate, what kinds of work are we being asked to perform in order to get to a place where we can perform intellectual work, and how do we reconcile this moral incoherence?

Related resources:

Kevin Birmingham’s Truman Capote Award Acceptance Speech:

Martin Heidegger, “The Origin of the Work of Art”:

Alyson Brickey is a Sessional Instructor in the Department of English at the University of Winnipeg and University of Manitoba, Canada. She writes about the aesthetics of listing in late-nineteenth and early twentieth-century American literature, and her work has appeared in intervalla and Mosaic. She is currently at work on a book-length project called The Agony of the Partition, which focuses on the recurring figure of the wall in modernist American short fiction by women. Twitter handle: @alybrickey


David Puthoff (U of New Mexico, Albuquerque)

Beyond Bargaining: Uses and Limits of the Modern Language Association’s Academic Collective Bargaining for Radical Organizers

Following the victory of Columbia University graduate instructors at the National Labor Relations Board in August 2016, the Modern Language Association promoted to members its 2006 collection of essays in collaboration with the American Association of University professors, entitled Academic Collective Bargaining. Perusing this book helped convince organizers at the University of New Mexico that organizing graduate students and adjuncts within traditional unions would be insufficient for our urgent needs in a new political landscape. Instead, organizers sought and found an alternative in an anti-capitalist union, the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW). This paper seeks to chart those conditions altering the struggle for precarious academic labor. These conditions affect our students as well as our teaching and include mass deportation, violence against women on and off university campuses, police violence, Islamophobia, climate change denial, and anti-intellectualism. As educators, we need to recognize these conditions are not new developments stemming from a recent change in federal administration. I argue that instead they are the conditions which the organization of our labor has failed to adequately address before and since the publication of Academic Collective Bargaining. However, we have increasing opportunities now to engage in solidarity work with student groups and community activists as Foucauldian “specific” intellectuals. Coalitions will improve our working conditions beyond the relatively modest stakes set forth in the MLA’s collection, while our organized labor translates into real gains for our students and our communities.

David Puthoff is a graduate instructor and a PhD student in American Literature. His research focuses on the practices of collective identity in the 19th century, including slave rebellions, non-nuclear family configurations, and labor unions.   In his spare time, David networks with student activists on dismantling rape culture, fighting white supremacy, and deploying effective demonstration techniques. He lives in Albuquerque with his partner and their three cats.


Leland Tabares (Penn State U, University Park)
The Precarious State of Academic Freedom for Graduate Student Instructors in the Trump Era

This paper examines the precarious state of academic freedom for graduate student instructors in the Trump Era. As English departments continue to rely on contingent labor, graduate students increasingly occupy that influential position behind the lectern. But university structures make addressing race in the classroom difficult. Graduate student instructors have little to no institutional protection. With tenured professors already coming under fire for discussing racial politics in the classroom, especially as neoconservative watchdogs like Turning Point USA encourage students to surveil university classrooms through anti-left websites like “Professor Watchlist,” graduate instructors are often left on their own to speak on sensitive issues regarding race—even in courses dedicated to unpacking racial violence—making teaching a daunting task. However, while some of the dangers of the Trump Era lie in its pervasive bigotry and anti-intellectualism, I also suggest that the structures that govern graduate student professionalization in the academy risk enculturating self-censorship, silence, and even fear in graduate student instructors as they attempt to test the political worldviews of their students. I use my own experiences teaching an Asian American Literature course in Spring 2017—currently my home institution’s only course singularly focused on Asian Americanness in any capacity—in rural Pennsylvania to interrogate the institutional conditions that impact graduate students. Asian American Studies holds a particular relevance to discourses on academic freedom because the contemporary political climate is fueled by anti-immigrant sentiments, yellow peril ideologies, and orientalist conceptions of Asians and Asian Americans. I reflect on my time teaching units on Chinese exclusion, Japanese internment, Indian immigration, and post-9/11 Muslim American surveillance programs during the first full semester after the election of Donald Trump, and consider how these units coincidentally overlapped with the inauguration of Trump, attacks against Asian Americans, and the signing of Executive Order 13769. In the end, I put forth some useful initiatives that universities can take to support their graduate student labor forces.

Leland Tabares is a PhD candidate in English at Penn State. His research focuses on contemporary Asian American literature and culture, with interests in neoliberalism, institutionality, and professional labor economies. Leland has served as the managing editor for Verge: Studies in Global Asias (published by the University of Minnesota Press), a journal in Asian and Asian American Studies, which was recently named the Best New Journal by the Council of Editors of Learned Journals. He currently serves as the Student Representative of the Executive Board for the Association of Asian American Studies. His work has appeared inLateral: Journal of the Cultural Studies Association.


“Peers Now”: Pitting the Corporate University against Professorial Fictions

While faculty share many concerns about the corporatization of the university with graduate students, there is a marked—and unnoticed—exception. The touted alternative and precursor to the corporate university, shared governance, masks and often reinforces rather than negates power disparities between faculty and graduate students. The polite fiction then becomes one of equal footing: shared governance, shared intellectual exchange, shared responsibilities as scholars and educators in the field. But even this shared governance is inevitably conditional. Faculty have tenure, compensation (to some extent), and inertia. Graduate students take on further vulnerability and a pressure towards silence. It is at least in part self-sabotage to demonstrate for the faculty senate or one’s committee members (groups that can easily overlap) that they are incorrect in perceiving one as a peer.

Yet they are. Faculty who endorse this fiction of equality, no matter how sincerely, absolve themselves of accountability, responsibility, and power. We have a genuine and vast disparity in faculty and graduate student perceptions of power, one which becomes a minefield in, for example, the context of romantic and sexual relationships. Graduate students face this power disparity in gatekeeping, recommendations, reviews, lab access (outside the MLA’s scope), limited alternatives for their chosen studies, and reputational consequences, all of which impinge on free consent.  I will expose the problems of this dynamic in a specific case, the Cornell Faculty Senate’s rejection of a more stringent supervisor/supervisee relationship policy on the grounds of respecting graduate students’ agency and its subsequent denial of the representative graduate assembly’s formal request for that more stringent policy. Through this I hope to show that in select instances the reviled top-down corporate decisions and corporate culture can, counter-intuitively, be enlisted to mitigate graduate student precarity and aid safety, educational access and diversity.

Anna Fore Waymack is a Ph.D. candidate in Medieval Studies at Cornell. Her dissertation investigates the construction of old age and its relationship to futurity in late Middle English writing. She is also coauthoring Insider Information: The Worlds of Medieval Identities, a book on mnemonic practice, the Global Middle Ages, and textual maps. As a Title IX activist, member of the MLA Committee on Disability Issues in the Profession, and executive vice chair of Cornell’s University Assembly, Anna’s service work focuses on access in higher ed. At times her service work and research meld, resulting in a just-published article on Chaucer’s rape allegations at Medieval Feminist Forum and related digital humanities project Twitter handle: @annawaymack
Unable to attend: Tara Forbes (Wayne State U); Lucia Lorenzi (McMaster U)
Christine (Xine) Yao now a SSHRC Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the University of British Columbia and later in 2018 will join the English department at University College London as Lecturer. She completed her PhD at Cornell University in 2016. She is currently working on her book manuscript Disaffected: The Cultural Politics of Unfeeling in Nineteenth-Century America. Her second SSHRC-grant-funded book project is Sex Without Love: Affect, Bodies, and Resistance in Nineteenth-Century Sex Work Narratives. She has published or has work forthcoming in J19: Journal of 19th-Century Americanists, Occasion: Interdisciplinary Humanities Journal, Common-Place: The Journal of Early American Life, and American Gothic: An Edinburgh Companion. Twitter handle: @yao_christine