Tag Archives: graduate students

Providing Audio Feedback on Students’ Writing

By Sritama Chatterjee, a third-year PhD student in Literature at the University of Pittsburgh

Due to the shift to online learning because of COVID-19, one of the things that I miss about teaching are the corridor conversations with students, before and after a class, and listening to their fears about an impending Chemistry exam, their excitement about an upcoming Taylor Swift album or the joys when their favorite team has won the Superbowl. It made space for knowing the students on a more personal level and who they are as human beings without overstepping boundaries. However, the shift to an online medium made it necessary for us as instructors to reimagine how we make these connections with students.

For me, one way was through a shift from written feedback to audio feedback and an exploration of  what the medium of sound offered. In a pre-COVID world, I had tinkered with audio feedback, but still preferred written feedback because I was not too sure about the technical challenges: what if my microphone did not work? Did I need to install another piece of software? However, once I got over the initial difficulties, it was a smooth process. You can find technical advice for providing audio feedback on Blackboard, here, for Canvas, here, and how to record using the recording software Audacity, here.

One of the reasons I shifted to providing audio feedback was to convey the affect and tone of my feedback, as speaking can avoid a potential scope for misunderstanding. Students can hear the excitement  in my voice when I come across an idea in an essay that I think is really interesting.   I can also clearly communicate when an argument lacks evidence. It also allows me the space to create a more personal and meaningful connection with students. Often I ask a question to my students when I am particularly curious about why they have made a writing move in a specific way or what brings them to a topic or idea. Although there is no requirement on their end to respond to my comments/questions, I find that students write back to me in an email responding to my questions or set-up a time to talk to me and that these follow-up conversations often take us in directions that I did not anticipate.

Before providing audio feedback on a draft, I read the draft at least twice, making a mental note of two things: areas where the essay is already strong, so that I can provide examples of what the essay does well to take the argument one step further, and two instances of where the essay needs more work and in what ways. Once this is done, I record the feedback, addressing the students directly, as if I am in a conversation with the student, guiding the students through specific areas of revision and ending the feedback by inviting students to get in touch with me with questions or if they need to clarify something. I learned this conversational approach in audio feedback from Annette Vee’s piece on providing audio feedback, who takes written notes before recording.

Here are some things that I have found helpful for providing audio feedback:

I usually keep the feedback between three to four minutes for a 1200-word draft. Initially, it used to take me six to seven minutes and I found myself repeating the same things. However, with practice, I have grown out of this practice and find four minutes to be of optimum length. However this may vary depending on the pace of your feedback. Keeping a timer in front of you might be helpful. As a graduate worker, I am protective of my time and I ensure that I do not spend more than three hours providing feedback on a major assignment to twenty-two students (and this includes time for reading the assignment).

I use audio feedback only when I am providing feedback at a more conceptual level rather than structural or craft level, though I can imagine that audio feedback could incorporate both of these components. One could use audio feedback in a stand-alone manner or use it in combination with written feedback.

I quote specific page numbers, paragraphs and sentences while providing feedback so that it is always grounded in an idea and students are not lost about what I am referencing. Initially I was not referring to specific passages, but after listening to feedback from my students, I adapted accordingly and am now more direct about what I am talking about.

I try and keep things as spontaneous as possible. The pauses, “aaahs” and “ummm…” are very much part of the feedback.

From student feedback*, it seems that they appreciate audio feedback because of its clarity. For instance, one student wrote: “I really like the audio feedback! I think that a number of times when professors give comments on essays, the tone of what they are trying to say is lost, so the audio gets rid of the ambiguity.” Another student pointed out, “It was nice to hear from you in that way because it sounded like a conversation, which is a nice change from just seeing comments on my assignment.”

In the future, when I use audio feedback, I might make it optional for students to respond to the teacher’s comments, asking them to listen to the feedback first and then summarize their revision plan either in a written or audio form. Having pointed out some of the benefits of audio feedback and the ways in which students have responded to it, I will note that audio feedback might not work for students who are deaf or hard of hearing and as educators, it remains our work to make feedback more inclusive.

*Student permission has been taken to include comments in this piece.

GRADUATE STUDENTS PREPARING FOR THE FALL (PART 1)

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

The ongoing Coronavirus pandemic has meant that universities undergo shifts in the coming fall semester. The MLA Committee on the Status of Graduate Students in the Humanities asked for reflections on how graduate students are responding to and navigating the challenges that this drastic change brings. In the first of this two-part series of blog posts, Dina López and Amir Hussain reflect on how they are preparing for teaching online. Below are their reflections.

Dina López
Ph.D. Student in Technical Communication and Rhetoric, Texas Tech University

Today, July 1, 2020, marks the end of my first year of teaching First-Year Writing and the first summer session of a sophomore-level Introduction to Technical Writing as a graduate part-time instructor, or GPTI. The summer course ended on a nice quiet note; however, I was very relieved to see this day come. In the spring semester, which had exhausted me physically and mentally, my first-year students had been frustrated with the first-year writing requirement. It was a very expensive box to check on their list of non-degree related courses. Most of the time I felt as though I were walking a fine line between student, counselor, substitute parent, and doormat. Going online mid-semester made a lot of the complaints seem to disappear in the Zoom classroom; however, one effect of the pandemic was that some of my students returned home to difficult situations. Many returned to environments that exacerbated their mental health struggles and interfered with strategies for navigating the first year of college. For the rest of the semester, we all just floated on down to the last day, glad it was over.

That experience made me a little concerned about preparing for the summer: I had only two weeks to frontload my course and prepare for a full online synchronous class, something I could easily adapt for fall teaching. Given this new set of circumstances, I decided to become an instructor/user experience (UX) researcher to learn how I could make this course useful to my students/users in a digital environment. I began by sending out a survey and looking at their general descriptions. Most of them were juniors or seniors. Several were taking full loads for the summer so they could graduate in December or May. Areas of study varied from computer science to sports management. Class introduction posts revealed that some were enrolled in the class for the humanities requirement: they were either genuinely interested in boosting their technical communication skills or just needed the three hours.
This combined knowledge led me to prepare my class for users who were, for the most part:

● Interested in the course for its content
● Mature enough to begin working in groups with a foundation of trust
● Going to be tired as we approached the end of the summer session

Armed with this knowledge, I carefully tailored the four-week summer course and placed the bulk of the reading
assignments and quizzes into the first two weeks. I threaded the objectives and goals of each unit into the next during class discussion and lectures. Sometimes I opened a space for discussion on how each of their projects would inform their own studies (again, threading the objectives), but the general daily pattern was the same so there would be no surprises during the fast-moving summer session. I now have a conceptual framework as I prepare for the fall: study my users to determine the scope of their learning needs and create a structure and skeleton for a course, so that on the surface the course will be fairly free of issues.

Amir Hussain
Ph.D. Candidate in Comparative Literature, Emory University

When the Coronavirus pandemic started last spring, I was in Germany on an exchange year for dissertation research and language study. Universities in Germany, like in the United States, quickly moved to online learning. Since the semester schedule is different in Germany and since I continued distance learning in another institute after I returned to the U.S., I have now taken four months of a weekly language and culture course online. Drawing on this new online experience and on my prior teaching experience, I will briefly present several suggestions for graduate students trying to navigate and make the most out of an online course—whether preparing to take a course or to teach one online. While the overwhelming majority of graduate students have likely grown up with computers and digital technologies like smartphones or social media and are comfortable with and accustomed to them, it still takes a concerted effort to adjust to an online learning environment for the first time. Following are three tips:

1. Make it Synchronous

There has been discussion about both the advantages and the challenges of synchronous (or real-time) classes versus asynchronous classes, but my personal experience as a learner is that synchronous class sessions are crucial for getting the most out of an online course. Reading materials, written discussions, and assignments can of course be done asynchronously, but having the class meetings in real-time cannot be replaced as far as getting immediate participation, input, and feedback. The online sessions can be split into small synchronous groups for activities where students talk to each other. Still, I have found the bigger discussions and conversations that the teacher guides are particularly useful from a pedagogical perspective. In a language course, for example, hearing and seeing the language spoken correctly by the teacher is very important, and the synchronous sessions can provide a place for a question-answer conversation to unfold. A recent article titled “Turns Out You Can Build Community in a Zoom Classroom” from The Chronicle of Higher Education further discusses and presents useful suggestions for how online classes can “build community”; in that sense, synchronous class meetings become a place where, despite the distance, one becomes part of a community meeting for a shared educational purpose.

2. Make it Meta

One challenging thing I have found in my online classes has been adjusting to speaking to the computer screen and not being able to expect discernibly clear nonverbal cues that are important to human communication. Online discussion, for example, means there is a greater mediation or lag time for how one may be able to register other people’s reactions to what one is saying. For those taking their first online course—and I assume for many this would be the case—an opportunity to explicitly reflect on technology or more simply reflecting on something that one is finding challenging in the online environment can be useful. If teaching a course online, one suggestion might be to include technology and online environments into a sub-topic related to the course. In a humanities course, for example, a session on how to vet sources that one finds online or on how to use digitized primary sources for research would be very relevant for coursework and could be tied to discussions about online environments and/or digitization. Also, a low-stakes writing assignment (low-stakes meaning that the assignment is short and counts for a minor portion of the grade) could be designed—perhaps to take place within the first few class sessions—where the class is asked to explicitly reflect on their experiences and challenges with online learning.

3. Make a Presentation

My final suggestion is to have presentations—whether individual or small group ones will likely depend on the syllabus and the class size. In the first online class that I took in the spring, everyone was required to do a group presentation on a topic of their choice (but one related to the course theme) where each presenter had to speak for a certain length of time. We used a website I would recommend—padlet.com—to post our presentation materials online. This site provides a blank page where anything can be posted, including PowerPoint slides, images, or other website links that might be relevant for a presentation while making it synchronously available for anyone with the link to open on their personal computer. I recommend a presentation because I noticed that it makes a big difference going forward in the class—that is after one has presented online to the class, there is a sense of being more comfortable talking in the online environment in general. While some students might be intimidated by the thought of having to deliver a presentation online, having to give a presentation can surprisingly speed up the process of adjusting to online learning and its technologies. Needless to say, the sooner one acclimates to these things, the smoother the course and the overall online semester can go.

Seeking Empathy & Community

Graduate Studies in the Time of Coronavirus, Part I

Edited by Didem Uca, with support from the members of the CSGSH

The COVID-19 pandemic has radically altered all aspects of society in North America and around the globe, including higher education. The Modern Language Association’s Committee on the Status of Graduate Students in the Humanities asked graduate students to submit short reflections on how this situation has affected the core aspects of their scholarly lives––from coursework and teaching to research projects and dissertation defenses––as well as the impact on their broader selves: personal well being, physical and mental health, familial and domestic responsibilities, financial and living situations, and any other repercussions of this crisis. We received such a tremendous response from graduate students across disciplines and around the U.S. and beyond that we decided to produce a series of posts over the next several weeks on different themes, each with contributions by several graduate student writers. Our first post addresses recognizing the need for empathy and community, both for ourselves as graduate student-researcher-instructor-humans and for the students entrusted in our care. We are very grateful to everyone who was able to share their perspectives and are in solidarity with all of our colleagues around the world who have been affected. If you are struggling, we hope that these posts help you feel less alone.

 

Anonymous Contribution

I am a first-year doctoral student at an R1 university in the American south. I left my home state and traveled half a country away to attend this university, leaving behind my friends, my family, and my job security, all in an effort to achieve my PhD. I am a graduate teaching assistant at my university, on top of taking a full course load. On top of that, as I attend an R1, I am juggling the writing load of no fewer than 5 publications at any time. Nothing slowed down or stopped when we went “virtual”––if anything, people have assumed that I have more time than before, and have been asking me to complete tasks for them. I am busier than I have been in years, and most of it is the heavy lifting of other people’s needs. I haven’t had time to process how the quarantine has affected me; instead, I am setting up family Zoom meetings, editing other people’s work, and giving of myself because people ask me to, and because they are in need. I feel like that old teaching adage, where in order to light the way, a teacher needs to burn themselves out. I have nothing left, and yet I keep burning to give others light. 

Aside from my personal academic progress, I have my students to worry about. Some of them were forced to move back home to a place that is not safe, where they face food and housing insecurity, and where they worry about simply surviving. All of their classes don’t matter as much as their safety and health, and yet, I have to be that “jerk” emailing them about assignments that they need to turn in. I am one of the lucky ones, though. My supervisor and my department have been amazing through this entire debacle, and have given all of the GTAs the freedom to do what they feel is the best for their students. My supervisor checks in on me and the other students under her care, and I feel supported academically and personally. I don’t feel alone, however stressed out I may be. I don’t have anybody who I am immediately responsible for––no children or parents to care for. I settled my mental health issues prior to this, and because of that I am not reliant on therapy to function. I am one of the lucky ones, whose big complaint is that I am helping others and neglecting myself, and that is a luxury. But, this life is not easy. This is a heavy weight being placed on us all, and sometimes I want to crumble under my share of the weight. 

 

Kay Sohini

English PhD Candidate and Instructor, Stony Brook University

Twitter: @KaySohini

On March 7, when New York issued a state of emergency due to COVID-19, I was in Boston for NeMLA. It was in all likelihood the last academic conference that would not be canceled for the foreseeable future. On coming back to NYC from Boston, I stocked up on essentials and prepared to self-quarantine. My university went entirely online soon after. As movement became more and more restricted in my city and beyond, my summer research project—which required fieldwork and international travel—was canceled. It was a time-sensitive project that likely cannot be completed at a later date.

Luckily, unlike the 10 million people who filed for unemployment in March, I still receive a (albeit modest) paycheck in my role as a graduate TA/instructor of record. My university has extended our graduation timelines by one year. However, we have not heard anything so far about what that means on the funding front. Instead, there have been a flurry of webinars on the best distance learning practices and how to teach on Zoom. While these resources can be helpful, they implicitly create pressure to teach synchronously (which my university initially required, before eventually pulling back on it). In my experience, that is no longer a viable option. Undergraduate students are dealing with employment loss, have precarious living situations, and some even have to care for their families. I suppose it is important for universities to maintain a semblance of normalcy during these trying times, for both morale and fiscal reasons. Regarding the latter, perhaps we (graduate instructors, contingent faculty) are beneficiaries too, inasmuch as we would be the first ones to lose our paychecks in the event of universities losing money. 

Nevertheless, to insist on normalcy when there is a global pandemic, to assume that all students have the emotional (and technological) bandwidth to deal with synchronous modes of instruction compromises on the values that the humanities espouse. Over the past week, my students have told me that some of their instructors have assigned extra work because they are no longer meeting face to face. Some have told me that their internet connectivity is not strong enough for Zoom. One student has had to pick up extra shifts at work to make ends meet. Yet another informed me that both of their parents tested positive for the virus. Personally, I lost my grandmother this week to COVID-19 related complications. I am in Queens, which has the highest number of COVID cases in the New York area. The constant sirens outside my window are deafening, and it exacts an emotional toll. So while I want to do right by my students and do my best under the circumstances, I am acutely cognizant of the fact that these are not normal circumstances— and we must adjust our standards accordingly. I understand the need for structure (provided by synchronous learning) and that it even helps some people. I understand that we cannot suspend life and work until this is all over, since we do not know when this will end. However, I also believe that we as individuals and as a community need to cultivate more empathy and compassion. Especially now.

 

Heather Stewart

PhD Candidate in Philosophy, Western University

www.heatherstewartphilosophy.com

As I sit on my bed, writing from what has now become my makeshift office, comprised of a lap desk that hadn’t been used in years and a cat who is thankful for but perhaps also confused by my suddenly being home around the clock, I reflect on the ways in which the sudden changes brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic have radically shifted what it means to be a graduate student. Upon reflection, the thing I find myself most struck by is the sense of time––how at times it feels as if it is moving so slowly, as if I have been stuck in my one bedroom apartment for a century or more; at times it feels as if it is flying by, as I look at the clock after watching the third press conference or listening to the tenth news podcast of the day,  and somehow a whole day is gone and I feel as if I have done, or accomplished, next to nothing but still somehow feel exhausted. 

This confused sense of time––it’s being somehow simultaneously slowed down and sped up––is impacting graduate student life in myriad ways. Despite time feeling like it is frozen––like life itself is stopped in its tracks––our funding clocks tick on and progression milestones await us, unmoved. 

And while I worry about the loss of time, and how that loss ultimately presents new financial challenges or exacerbates old ones, I also reflect on how much more is being lost than time, and how reflecting on those various losses really helps to illuminate what it means to be a graduate student. Being a graduate student, stuck at home in isolation along with so many folks around the world, required to be physically distant from other people, makes salient the unique pleasures of graduate student life, which, perhaps we take for granted; but in their absence, we come to realize that these play a significant role in sustaining us, our research, and our mental health.  

If this experience of physical distancing and self-isolation teaches us anything about graduate study and the parts of it we ought to appreciate more deeply, it is that being a graduate student involves so much more than completing coursework and hitting progression benchmarks of exams and dissertations. The full experience of being a graduate student is about the creative stimulation that is driven by being part of an intellectual community and occupying communal spaces with other like-minded thinkers. It is about the feeling when you finally make something click for the student who has come to your office hours for the third time, having been ready to give up but feeling grateful that they didn’t. It is about connecting with the colleague you don’t see often when you happen to be making coffee in the department kitchen at the same time, and learning about their work, but maybe also about what their partners or kids have been up to lately. It is about your supervisor stopping by your office, not to ask about your research progress, but just to see how you are doing, as a human.

As a graduate student writing from home, disconnected from the intellectual community and creative spaces I perhaps took for granted, I realize now that so much more is being taken from me than the time that is being rapidly subtracted from my funding window. I am losing the graduate student experience itself. And like passing time, you can’t get that back. 

 

Anna Barritt

Ph.D. Candidate in English: Rhetoric and Writing Studies and Assistant Director of First-Year Composition, The University of Oklahoma

While sitting in a meeting with my writing program administrator—learning of the directives from upper-administration about the impending move to online instruction to combat COVID-19—my first thought was, “I’m going to be able to get so much reading done for my doctoral exams.” Two weeks of working from home would give me that much-needed time to focus and prepare without interruption. Though I was fully aware of the difficulties that would accompany this temporary shift, I secretly rejoiced at this time to study. 

A week into online instruction, it was announced that the remainder of this semester would be held online. My previous excitement quickly turned to concern. How does this affect my exams? How will I defend? How will I meet with my advisor? Like most institutions, we have made do by converting in-person meetings to Zoom meetings. In adjusting to this new digital normal, one thing has become clear to me: camaraderie is a grad student’s lifeline. 

So much of our career happens in isolation. We read, think, and write holed up in whatever quiet place we can find. But we come up for air to commiserate with our peers, to admit to our advisors that we’re behind schedule, to share our love of learning with our students. We desperately depend on fostering connections with the people around us to survive what is often a lonely life. This comes as a surprise to me, as I call myself an introvert and revel in the academic life of mulling over ideas while surrounded by my books. I didn’t know how reliant I was on my peers to get through the solitary environment of grad school. With every day that passes in quarantine, combined with the possibility of the fall semester also moving online, I am wondering how I can go on like this without the social aspect of talking about my research and writing. How does any of this matter if I can’t share my findings? What hope do I have of effecting change through my projects if no one hears what I have to say? My greatest insights come in spurts of kairos and are largely inspired by the people around me; I am not the island that I once thought I was. 

Sure, I’ve had more time and fewer distractions—but I’ve learned how valuable those distractions are.    

 

Jonquil S. Harris

Masters of Professional Writing Student, Kennesaw State University

Three weeks ago, life as I knew it changed personally, professionally, academically, and worldwide. I was slightly relieved when we received the call from my employer that we would be shut down for approximately two weeks. I would have a moment to catch my breath and focus even more on what brought me joy––my graduate studies. The excitement I find in being around like-minded individuals as we discuss our craft and our future as professional writers and gaining invaluable insights from professors and advisors makes the 90-minute commute to my university seem brief.

Then the reality of the pandemic sank in, and it took a week before my anxiety wore away. I couldn’t help but think about me or my family members becoming sick. I acknowledge my privilege during this time. I have a full-time job with benefits and sick and annual leave; and I have full capability to work from home until we return to a new normal. That new normal is what I cling to get me through this. Just as I am now working remotely from home, I am also attending classes remotely. I miss being in the same room as my colleagues and bouncing ideas off of one another so openly and freely. Viewing one another on split screens, trying to determine who should speak next, or losing each other to shoddy internet connections is not nearly the same as being in one another’s physical presence. 

However, I am thankful that we are still able to connect in that way, and I am now thinking even more broadly about what community means. I have seen the power of social media to aid freelancers and creatives in the way of fundraising and virtual book tours and readings.

I miss spending time with my parents, then having a long embrace before we leave one another. I miss engaging with my colleagues face-to-face. Virtual calls can only reach so far. But at this time, I worry less about being productive and more about persevering. I am thinking of resting while in a state of unrest. I am thinking about the impossible being possible. 

 

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