Notes from the Road

A few passing remarks about CDC 2013 composed from an airport because the minute I hit the ground in Boston I have to deal with the mess I left on my desk in order to accommodate being at this conference:

There’s something to be said for conferencing in packs.  I’m fortunate enough to attend a

walking into the Fells in Baltimore; lovely!

walking into the Fells in Baltimore; lovely!

program that hits certain conferences en force.  CDC is a favorite of the Tufts crew (or, as we were dubbed by one of our dinner companions last night, the Tuftskrüe) for a variety of reasons: the timing for both its abstract deadline and the conference itself is ideal for our projects, the subject matter/conference theme fits our projects well, it’s close enough to home to not be a ridiculously expensive trip, and the general level of discourse is nice and comfortable without being over or under whelming.  It’s a very friendly conference and one that welcomes graduate students with open arms (which we appreciate).  Because there are many of us, we tend to make an impression.  So not only is it neat to be recognized as “oh, you’re one of the Tuftskrüe!”, but it also helps your recognizability and memorability; basically your conferencing street cred.  Also; it’s great not to have to dine alone if you don’t want to.

My panel was extremely well attended and there were some great ideas tossed around the room.  It was, dare I say, fun.  While I always enjoy giving presentations of my work, I don’t always enjoy the presentations of others on my panel.  This panel was assembled of myself and a paper on the usage of excrement in Jarry’s Ubu Roi so, really, it was a recipe for awesomeness.  Many thanks to those who were there, those who spoke to me after the panel, and those I ran into over the course of the weekend who complimented my work!  It was great to have met all of you and I look forward to seeing you again in the future either here or somewhere in the great big conferenceverse outside.

Seriously, graduate students, stop dressing like you’re trying to be a grown up without actually committing to the role.  Put down the jeans, put on a pair of slacks, and leave the sneakers at home.  When you have tenure, you will have plenty of time to dress however you want; but for now for the love of all things bardy it won’t kill you to look nice.  Also, if your paper is selected for a conference, that’s wonderful.  Congrats!  But now it’s your job to figure out what a conference paper should read like.  Here are a few hints: it shouldn’t be a fifteen-minute plot re-hash of some lesser-known work without any synthesis whatsoever, it shouldn’t have enough fifty-cent words that you lose your audience in the process of “enlightening” them, and it shouldn’t be dry, monotonic, or snooze-worthy.  I would love to hear more papers from people who sound like they’re actually excited to be working on what they’re presenting.  It doesn’t make you less intelligent if you have some enthusiasm for your own work.  I promise.

CDC is a really great conference because it attracts a wide array of scholars from various areas: English Lit, Theatre, Comp Rhet, and Translation Studies just to name a few.  Because of this, I always wind up meeting a variety of interesting folks with a variety of interesting fields.  Also because of this, my ideas resound differently here than they do at ASTR for example.  I come to CDC to hear a multiplicity of opinions from some extremely intelligent and diverse intellects.  For that, this year was very Shakespeare-heavy!  How neat!  The only downside to this is that because one can’t actually count on speaking to a room of folks whose expertise closely matches our own, we spend a great deal of time engaging a listening audience with current discourse surrounding our ideas.  I heard a lot of plot summaries, theory primers, and overall exposition over the course of the weekend.

Lovely chandeliers in the theatre where our conference play occurred

Lovely chandeliers in the theatre where our conference play occurred

It’s a fine line to walk here between “not enough” and “too much” and I think, unfortunately for those already acquainted with the subject areas discussed, that folks tend towards the “not enough” which sometimes doesn’t leave room for arguments to fully develop.  I don’t think there’s a real way around this because of the layout of the conference, and I suppose that the real answer is to catch up with speakers in the hotel bar and ask more detail about discussed arguments, but I can still lament that there will always be more unsaid in this kind of format.

A few conference faux-pas that I saw enacted this weekend which annoyed me enough that I will reiterate their gaucheness here: when the moderator stops you because you’ve run over time, don’t question it.  The moderator is just doing his/her job and you should have timed your presentation.  If you are using technology in your presentation, make it a point to arrive in your room ten minutes before your panel and TEST the technology so that you don’t hold up the entire panel because you can’t get an adaptor to work with your mac.  Rehearse your presentation and eliminate speech disfluencies like “like” or “uhm”.  Especially when there are going to be theatre people in the room whose job it is to beat this sort of thing out of wide-eyed undergrads and thereby will be doubly annoyed that you, a so-called “professional”, can’t give a fluent presentation.

Alright; it looks like my flight will be boarding in short order.  I truly did have a marvelous conference and, as always, hope that next year will be even better than this year.  See ya, Baltimore!

Pre-Conference Panic

At its best, conferencing is both draining and stressful.  It’s also wonderful, horizon-broadening, and fun; but we cannot forget the fact that it involves many particulars which can be disruptive to the life of an average graduate student.

I love to travel and flying is a special treat.  It’s probably good that I chose a profession which allows me to do so on a regular basis (since I’ve been in the PhD I’ve averaged about 2.5 trips a year for various things).  That said, it always takes me a night to adjust to sleeping in a bed that’s not my own in a city that’s not my own away from my schedule, desk, library books, and on the whole away from my life.

It can be very unsettling to attend a conference when your life is bustling and the things

A shot I took last year of the conference hotel.  Pretty snazzy, no?

A shot I took last year of the conference hotel. Pretty snazzy, no?

you’re flying away from to spend a few days in an actual manifestation of the ivory tower are large and stressful.

Which is probably why I’m having such a hard time this week.  I’ve so far managed to recover from every little blunder (forgetting my iPad at home, nearly missing meetings, making minor scheduling errors which could have huge rippling effects on certain committees I’m chairing, etc.)  The worst part?  It’s only Tuesday.  I have plenty of time to make all kinds of crazy mistakes which could impact my future as I know it.

I’m trying to be methodical to head off any chance of large error; my paper is already printed, I’ve done the majority of my packing, my packing list is composed, I’m creating my usual conference redundancies (kits to deal with paper loss, bad breathe, bleeding, spills, etc.).  Despite this, I have the sneaking suspicion that I’m going to forget something and that something is going to be vital to my future as an academic.

I leave for Baltimore tomorrow.  If you’re at the Comparative Drama Conference, feel free to say hi and ask me if I’ve remembered my pants.  At this rate, there’s the very real possibility that I might be living that particular anxiety dream.

Finals, Finals, Finals….

Multi-tasking at its best is the name of the game right now. As I begin to take the dive into deep-finals mode, here’s a list of things I have done/will do over the course of last week and this coming weekend.

  1. After much waiting, gnashing of teeth, and bating of breathe, it looks like we are a GO GO GO! for the launch of Offensive Shadows! About a year ago, my ever-wonderful partner in crime hatched the plan that we should co-host a podcast dedicated to explicating Shakespeare for the common man. He, as a normal smart
    Myself and aforementioned partner in crime during our visit to Gallow Green this summer.

    Myself and aforementioned partner in crime during our visit to Gallow Green this summer.

    person who has been adulterated by having a best friend doing a PhD in Bardy Goodness, had realized many things over the course of watching me at my work: 1) that Shakespeare (and theatre in general) is pretty neat! Like, much more neat than he had maybe at first thought. 2) That normal smart people (like himself) could definitely get into Shakespeare and connect with it if they had someone to talk to about it . 3) That I’m a good someone to talk to about it and, through the process of this talking to, we could help other people get into it as well.

So we set out on our quest. We are going to cover all of the plays in (roughly) chronological-to-being-written order (as much as we can), omitting the War of the Roses cycle for its own special run in the middle of the series. We will be releasing one episode a week and each play will have between three and five episodes dedicated to it. The episodes will include discussions of the play’s major themes, things to watch for in the play, information about dramaturgy, history, textual notes, and special readings of snippets by our very talented friends.

In short, if you like Shakespeare, or think you might like Shakespeare but have no idea where to begin, or know nothing about Shakespeare and would like to learn, or would really like to listen to the dulcet tones of my voice on a regular basis, you should definitely check us out!

The first series (released this weekend) is a set of preview episodes on Titus Andronicus. Through the process of recording these episodes, we learned a lot about the podcasting process and, by learning a lot, didn’t produce what we thought was our best work. As a result, these episodes will be a taste of what Offensive Shadows has to offer, but won’t be exactly what you’ll get in the real deal episodes.

Our first real deal stuff will be out the following Monday and will focus on Two Gentlemen of Verona.

  1. Prepping the last of my presentations of the semester. This talk is on the work I’m doing for my paper on William Brown’s 1821-22 production of Richard III. Some pretty nifty and exciting stuff if you like early American theatre.
  2. Wrapping up research on my two finals papers and transitioning into writing mode. This is one of the more difficult stages of the research process; when is enough enough? There is always something more to learn and when do you walk away from the books and begin to write? For term papers, I constantly have to remind myself that I am not writing a book, I am not expected to know everything about a topic, and I am definitely not going to be able to dig up every bit of archival evidence available. I tend to research until I can see (very clearly) my research looping back in on itself. What I mean by that is that if I’m reading the same facts or the same re-printed letters, looking at the same sketches or the same scripts, or if my sources start to reference each other, it’s pretty clear that I have enough to write a 15-25 page paper. There’s always the lurking gremlins, and generally there will be something you’ve forgotten to verify that will rear its ugly head when you’re elbow-deep in the writing process, but for the most part my philosophy should do you as a general rule.
  3. I turned in my essays on Measure for Measure for Prologue (Tufts’ Drama publication that comes out in conjunction with each of the shows the department puts on). For Measure, I had to write two 800-1000 word pieces; one a dramaturge’s essay (fondly referred to as “Page Three”, guess why?), and one a sort of op-ed piece about some issue which the play brings up (“Page One”). These essays, short as they were, caused me no undue amount of stress. Prologue is disseminated fairly widely and a good amount of eyes will be upon my work for it; it’s yet another way that we graduate students can bring honor and glory to the department. Have I done it with my pithy writing skills? Stay tuned to find out!
  4. Prepping my abstract for submission to the 2013 Comparative Drama Conference. I had a great time at this conference last year, and have been helping the conference
    The CDC conference hotel.  AWESOME!

    The CDC conference hotel. AWESOME!

    chair get an official conference twitter feed on its feet. I’m pretty excited about the possibilities that social media can bring to a national conference like this, so here’s hoping my abstract wows them enough to ask me down there to speak!

So that’s me right now. Excuse me as I take a deep breathe and head down deep into the land of paper writing. I think I’m well-prepared for it at least; and I know that I will always have my trusty French press at my side. Small comfort on this long and winding road to slay the semester’s final chimeras.

Have a great weekend!

News from the Front

Random news from the front:

  1. For the love of all things holy, please don’t wear jeans conferencing. I’ve seen people do this from graduate students to faculty members and every time I see an offender, my blood boils.

Wearing jeans at a conference communicates that you don’t take the conference

sunrise over Nashville Saturday morning

seriously enough to dress professionally for it. The old axiom “dress for the job you would like to have” definitely applies. Would you wear jeans to a job interview?

I was networking every moment of every day in Nashville (including a clandestine encounter with a Yale reference librarian on the shuttle from my hotel to the airport). There was never a moment when I wasn’t, in some way, on display. You never know who you will meet or where you will meet them, and especially at a large conference where most of the participants are staying in your hotel, you want to make sure you look your best for any possible encounter.

So say it with me: I will not wear jeans at a conference.

  1. My book fort is up to 47 and counting. Of these 47, there are only six that I have not yet cracked. This means that, in addition to keeping up with my class reading, I have read all or most of 41 additional books since the end of September. No wonder my brain is tired.
  1. I spent four hours in the archives at Harvard yesterday paging through so much material that the poor reference librarians were working overtime just to pull my requested obscure folders, boxes, and files. I cannot say how thankful I am for all the work that these people put in to making sure that I can do my work.

On that note, paging through two hundred year old documents will never get old. However, I live in fear of the day that one disintegrates in my hands through no fault of my own, or I accidentally turn the page a bit too rigorously and tear something that’s older than my country.

Though if I ever need to hide from some murderous gunman, I’m going to do it inside of an archive. They are seriously the safest places I’ve ever encountered and the murderer would have to breech so many levels of security and protocol to find me that I’m pretty sure he would just give up when faced with the infinite yards of red tape at the library privileges office. And even if he didn’t they’d strip him of everything except a pencil, notebook, and digital camera before they would buzz him through three different glass door anyway. And that would be just to get into the reading room! Since we already know that archive librarians are superheros, he’d pretty much have to contend with the most badass of superpowers before he found his way down to me crouching behind the stacks of bad Hamlet Quartos (mostly because those would be the things most worthy of being destroyed that would actually be available in the archive). Although now that I’ve given away my planned hiding spot, maybe I should instead take cover by some collection of modernist paraphernalia…

  1. For the purposes of one of my research projects, over the course of the last week, I’ve clocked more hours than I care to relate conflating the first folio Richard III with Colley Cibber’s 1700 adaptation. While I cry inside to really and truly see the deplorable reworking of my patron Bard’s great works that so many generations of theatre goers were subject too, I also think that this should earn me some kind of stamp on my nerd card. I take every chance I get to bring it up in conversation because, well, who does this stuff? “Oh, yes, I spent another two hours conflating Cibber’s Richard with Shakespeare’s first folio… how was your day at work?” “How’s your paperwork going? Cibber’s just dandy.” “What did you do today? Oh, me? Just understanding adaptations of great works of literature and how they affected generations upon generations of theatre goers and their comprehension of Shakespeare… no big deal.”

another thing that proves my geek cred is my insanely awesome pair of Shakespeare socks.

  1. Dramaturgy is a weird job. To give you a small sampling of questions which have crossed my desk this week: “Define ‘moated grange’.” “What does x line of text mean?” “What are some ritualistic gestures of the Catholic mass?” “Woops! This character was cast as a woman! How do we solve this problem textually?” To my geek cred, I find it fascinating to answer these questions; when I know the answer off the top of my head, it makes my little bard heart sing. When I have to dig for the answer, all the better; I’m learning something about Shakespeare that I didn’t know before!
  2. It’s snowing in Boston! And, as everyone knows, there’s no business like snow business!

To Rewrite, or not to Rewrite?

Today, dear readers, I write you from the brink of an age-old academic quandary.

I will be giving a paper at this year’s ASTR conference.  ASTR follows a work-group model rather than a conference-panel model, and this will be my first experience with such.  What this means is that every individual in a given work group has written a paper.  This paper is sent around to the other individuals in the work group.  Everyone in the work group reads all the papers.  Then, at the conference, we all sit down and talk about the guiding idea of the panel in hopes of coming to some kind of higher understanding of this idea.

On the whole, I think that this round-table style is much more productive than the

no matter which model a conference goes by, coffee is a necessity. This is a life truism though, rather than a conferencing factoid.

traditional read-and-listen model.  What it does mean, however, is that I need to send my paper to a group of academics who have never met me before to read, critique, and be ready to discuss my ideas.

This is an extremely daunting proposition.  Compound this with the fact that the work groups consist of a vast range of scholars – from graduate students to department heads.  My work group is particularly large and particularly vast in range of experience.  There will be people reading my paper who have been in the field much longer than I have and who know much better than I do what they are talking about.

The paper I’m presenting is a paper I wrote for a seminar this semester past.  I did a lot of research and put many man hours into this paper.  For that, it most certainly needs some work before it can be sent off to aforementioned group of scholars.  As I sit here, cradling its pages between my hands like the body of a newborn infant, I am faced with an important decision: To re-write, or to re-vise?  That is the question.

William Fualkner famously said of revising, “In writing, you must kill all your darlings” (though he was likely quoting Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch).  Stephen King later agreed with him (“Kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when I breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings” On Writing).

Yes, yes, I know I must be ruthless, but so often I feel like completely scrapping something is the cheater’s way out.  While it may seem less time-consuming in the long run, in reality to just burn what I’ve written is to invalidate all the work that I’ve already put into it.  So while, at this moment, dashing the brains out of this poor pile of pulp only to allow a bigger, stronger, faster model to emerge from the slurry seems like perhaps the most advisable solution, I have to remember something: I spent a lot of time on this.  I edited.  I slaved.  I wrote and re-wrote.  All that time and energy must have produced at least pieces of a finished product.

So, generally, when I’m feeling like just starting over would be best, I take a moment to recall the hellish process of editing.  I allow myself a moment of silence for the many many stacks of pages of drafts that were fed to my fireplace.  And then I realize that no, there must be something in here worth saving.

I start with my abstract.  I go through it and write myself a clear logic train.  A rhetoric map.  “Fact: X.  Fact: Y.  Following in this progress, you reach my inevitable conclusion which is Z.”

abstract outline on right, prep to red-pen on left

Then I proceed into a harsh red-penning of my previously-produced paper.  What do I absolutely need?  What can go?  Ignoring the length of the final paper, I cut and slash my way through the prose jungle until I’ve boiled things down to their essence.

Then I take those bits and I re-arrange them.  Sometimes I physically cut and move them around on a table until I have something that makes sense.

Then I reverse-outline what it is I’ve wound up with.  I boil things down to topic sentences; what am I saying?  When am I saying it?

I compare the reverse outline to my rhetoric map to discover where my holes are.  Do I need a bit more research on weird fact B?  Do I need to explain logic leap C a bit better?  What do I need to do to ensure that we all wind up smoothly at the station of my final destination?

Then I set to work.  Sometimes this involves more research; a trip to the library, some ILL articles.  Sometimes this just involves a few days in the bunker holed up with my previous research and a fully loaded French press.

Then, a few drafts later, I have something.  It’s very different from what I started with.

Then come the external eyes.  Always always vet your writing by an outside party if you can possibly manage it.  Work out paper-shares with folks in your department.  Find a friend willing to proofread in exchange for dinner.  The more outside eyes you can have on a piece, the stronger it will become.

After this step, I generally have to go back in for a draft or two and adjust a few things – generally not a complete overhaul at this stage since I’ve already spent so much time living with the paper.

And then I have something.  Is it finished?  Well, it will never be finished.  But at least it’s evolved.

So that’s what I’m facing down now.  The next step in the evolution of a paper.

Well, hey hey and away we go.

Timoncrantz and Pumbastern are Dead

Along a similar vein as last week’s post…

I recorded the talk that I gave at the Comparative Drama Conference this past weekend.  In case you didn’t catch my panel, I have uploaded the talk here for your convenient listening.

Please excuse my copious abuse of the speech disfluency “um” (especially at the beginning of the talk).  I’m fairly certain that the only reason I was able to even stand during the presentation was by sheer force of will and the amount of antibiotics coursing through my veins at the time.  Take that particular element of the presentation as a good example of what not to do when giving a talk.


…I think I’m Gonna Like it Here

This is, for all intents and purposes, a drive-by.

I just wanted to check in on the eve of the 2012 Comparative Drama Conference to say that I am safe on the ground in Baltimore and checked in to the conference hotel.

It is gorgeous.

The room is gigantic and lovely (especially wonderful since I’m sharing it

yup. That's my room. Told ya it was gorgeous!

with three colleagues for part of the weekend).

There is a heat-lampy-thing to turn on for when you get out of the shower so that you don’t freeze.

There is free wifi.

There is a view of the water from my window.

It is a block and a half from the national aquarium.

Despite having contracted both Sinusitis and Bronchitis during my stay in San Diego (and discovering this diagnosis a mere eight hours before my flight today), I made it here, I am in one piece, and I am all systems go for my talk tomorrow morning.

…and then we’re seeing Into the Woods tomorrow night.

To quote a certain little red-headed orphan:

Notes from the Road

Hello again, my friends and readers!

I am writing to you from the JetBlue terminal at JFK in the midst of my most hectic week of the 2011/2012 academic year.  I am currently en route home from a week in California and will return to Boston tonight only to be greeted by a desk full of projects and only two days in which to accomplish them before a full week’s course-load crammed into three days (one day of which involves a major project due).  On day three directly after class I leave for the Comparative Drama Conference where I will be giving a paper (which, by the way, is not quite ready to present yet) and, in the next four weeks, I have to give three class-related presentations in addition to my usual course reading and the three seminar papers whose due-dates loom ever-nearer as the semester winds down.

Suffice to say I’m going to be a little tired and harried.

I did, however, want to take a moment to check in after the National Gothic Fiction Conference.  Obligatory weather comment: I managed to be in San Diego for the three days out of the year when it wasn’t sunny in San Diego.  It rained off and on and the entire trip was covered in ominous clouds perhaps as a result of the conference itself.  I have to say, the setting was rather… well… Gothic.

My paper was extremely well-received and I met some very interesting people (and got to spend time with a dear old friend).  I do have a few observations that I would like to share for you graduate students who do conference, have conference, or will conference.

Every time I’m at a conference, I notice some things that I firmly believe the entire profession of academia would be a better place without.  As the next generation of tweedy professors, it’s our job to change these things.  Just like on the New York City Subway; if you see something, say something.

So here’s a list of things that no matter what happens, no matter how much the conference gods beg, no matter how much easier this would make your presentation/flight/life, just don’t do them.  Seriously.

1)      Wear jeans.  No joke.  If you are conferencing, that means that you have an eye towards professional development, which

means that you would like to get a job in the near future, which means that as many people as possible should take you

please excuse the decor, but do you know how hard it is to find a full-length mirror in a hotel with enough landing strip to actually get a full-length photo? Anyway, this is my default conference wear.

seriously.  Jeans may be okay in some people’s professions, but they’re not okay in ours.  It doesn’t take that much effort to put on a pair of slacks and some nice shoes.  Wearing jeans to a conference is like wearing sweats to class; it shows that you just didn’t bother to take yourself seriously enough to get dressed that morning.  This rule also goes for Hawaiian shirts, tee-shirts, miniskirts, and see-through shirts.  Present.  Yourself.  Professionally.  It makes me so angry when I see my colleagues not taking conferencing seriously enough to look their best because they are, in turn, making me look bad.  Graduate Students unite and show the big boys that we mean business.  Do yourself a favor and stop giving me headaches; it’s a two-for-one!

2)      Not have business cards.  Even if you don’t have official university cards (I don’t), get yourself a little slip of cardboard with your name, e-mail, affiliation, etc. on it.  They are not expensive, and they add ages to your credibility.  Also, they’re a great way to quickly give someone your contact information (which happens a lot at conferences).  I don’t have time to write something down, my pen isn’t accessible, etc., but I can definitely take your card and stick it in my pocket.

3)      Have one too many at the bar after hours.  This is especially true of the night before your panel.  There is nothing more disrespectful than being late or hung over while giving a talk.  Remember: the industry of academia is reliant upon time and brainpower.  If a roomful of people have shown up to hear you speak, they are foregoing other important things to do so.  You owe it to them to be as polished and on point as you can.  Also, think about impressions.  You may be drinking with people who will be deciding the fate of your career in the future.  These aren’t your friends from home, they’re your colleagues.  They’re important and vital connections for you to have as you go forward in your career, and they’re what you’re here to do (network, that is).  Getting a bit sloppy means you run the risk of offending them or embarrassing yourself, or a whole host of other ailments which come with drink.  This is not to say that you can’t relax, but treat schmooze time like an interview (albeit an informal one).

4)      Read your paper directly off the page without any connection to your audience or mind for presenting.  I really don’t understand why people do this.  If I wanted to read someone’s paper, I would have had him e-mail it to me.  Remember that a panel consists of three to four papers and generally lasts 45 minutes to 1.5 hours.  The last thing I want to do is listen to someone drone on tonelessly about a work I may or may not have read while using vocabulary that is simply beyond my aural comprehension for that long.  It’s boring, it’s superfluous, and it’s a sure-fire way to lose your audience.  Don’t you want them to listen to you?  Don’t you want your ideas to be heard?  Give it some zing!  Spice it up a bit!  Make it interesting!  Chances are if you are boring yourself, your audience won’t want to sit through it either.  The best papers I’ve seen involve visual stimulation (via powerpoint usually), an engaged speaker who knows what she’s saying and isn’t afraid to speak from notes, and an attention to the feel of the room.  If you’re going first thing in the morning or directly after lunch, this is especially important.

5)      Dominate someone else’s panel from the audience.  The audience is there to ask questions of the panelists, not random audience members.  You need to be a gracious and attentive listener when you come to hear a paper.  Even if you know something that the panelist doesn’t seem to, make a note of it, and quietly go speak with the panelist after the Q&A concludes.  The panelist has done a lot of research on her presentation topic and, should a question arise that she simply can’t answer, it’s her job to find a way to talk around it.  This is great practice for teaching undergrad.  Also, unless you really know your who’s-who of academia, you may be inadvertently stepping on the toes of someone who is influential in your field.  Do you really want your name black-listed from top universities because you were rude at a panel that one time in Graduate School?  Remember that you’re wearing a nametag… it’s not that hard to track you down.

6)      Go over your allotted time.  This comes with rehearsing and being prepared.  When you practice your talk, make sure it’s at least two minutes shorter than the panel calls for.  That way you know that you will be fine for time even if you have to divulge into a tangent or two, which does happen.  Going over is rude to your fellow panelists and your audience and is highly unprofessional.  Just don’t do it.

7)      Come unprepared.  Bring a pen, bring a notebook, bring a time piece, bring business cards, bring a bottle of water, bring a snack.  These are all vital bits of my “conference survival” bag (I also usually include some ibuprofen, lip-gloss, mints, a compact mirror, an extra hair tie, a folder, a jump drive, hand lotion without an overpowering smell, my netbook, and my iPad… all of these are items which I have previously needed during a conference).  Also, bring a smile.  Seriously.  It helps.

Now that that’s out of my system, I think I’ll go work on my CDC talk.  If you’re in Baltimore next weekend, be sure to say hi!  I’ll be speaking on session seven which, while still depressingly early in the morning, is at least not the first panel this time so you have no excuse as to why you’re not dressed yet.  Hope to see you there!

Leaving on a Jet Plane

My bags are packed, I’m ready to go.
The speech is written, it’s an appropriate length.
I’d hate to forget something important…

Well folks, in approximately an hour and a half I will be off to my first conference of 2012, the Studies in Gothic Fiction conference in San Diego, California.  I will be giving my paper on The Scottish Play (entitled “The Scottish Play”) and enjoying some spring break sunshine while valiantly attempting to forget all the things waiting for me on my desk when I come home.

By now, I’ve developed something of a system for conferences.  There are a few very important items that you simply cannot forget while prepping for them and, since it’ll serve as a sort of checklist for me (though at this juncture if I’ve forgotten anything, I’m kind of screwed anyway), I’d like to share this system with you.


Make reservations at the CONFERENCE HOTEL (not a nearby hotel, not a hotel unaffiliated with the conference) early.  The block of rooms reserved by the conference

prepping for my talk at the 2010 University of Montreal Graduate Conference

inevitably goes quickly, especially during prime conference days (i.e. Friday and Saturday).  There will be a discounted rate for these rooms and, since you’ll likely be sharing a room with at least one colleague, you can generally stay fairly cheaply.

Call the hotel at least a day beforehand and find out how to get from the airport to there

sans a vehicle.  There’s no need to have a car while conferencing; it’s expensive, and too much of a temptation to forsake the networking opportunities and stressful situations for the much preferable sightseeing and relaxing aspect of travel.  Call ahead, be prepared, and make sure you know how much it will cost to get from one place to another.

Put your boarding pass somewhere easily accessible.  This seems like a “duh” but trust me, with all the paper I’m carrying onboard the airplane, one thin slip of it can get lost pretty easily amongst my notes and papers.

Your Paper

REHEARSE your paper.  At least four times.  Time yourself.  Come in at least two minutes under your time allotment.  Try to eliminate speech disfluencies from your presentation (like, uh, and, um).  You will come off more polished and more professional if you can manage to give a succinct and timely performance on conference day.

Don’t just read off the page, actually speak to your audience.  Also, keep in mind that a paper being read aloud to someone is a different medium than a paper the individual herself reads.  We process information differently in this different medium.  Allow for this, adjust your paper accordingly.  There is nothing more tedious than sitting through a paper which hasn’t been re-jiggered for reading.  You want your audience to listen to your ideas, not fall asleep on you.

Print at least one hard copy, have a copy on a jump drive, and pre-load the paper (and your notes) onto your laptop/netbook/tablet before you leave your house.  Redundancy is key here.  I’ve had so many anxiety dreams about giving a presentation only to find that someone spilled something on/ate/incinerated my paper and notes.


Say it with me: I will not wear sneakers to the conference.  Even if they are all black and my pants are a little too long.  PRESENT YOURSELF PROFESSIONALLY, people!  Graduate students already sit at the bottom of the barrel, we don’t need to reinforce this by looking like we stole our suits from our parents’ closets.  Get some nice shoes, have some nice conferencing clothes, and for god’s sake put on some makeup and do your hair.  First impressions are everything and for all you know someone you meet on any given day at a conference will want to give you a job.  Don’t give him a reason not to.

Again, redundancy is key.  Have a backup shirt/pants/clean pair of socks in case the unspeakable happens to your primary pair.

Bringing Work

My panel at the 2011 Rutgers Newark MA Consortium

Realistically, you’re not going to get a whole lot done at the conference and that’s okay.  You’re there to network and meet people while getting your ideas out into the academic ether.  Your primary focus is to make yourself available to do this.  Don’t hide in your room with homework; you may as well be at home if you’re going to spend the weekend that way.  Prevent the temptation to over-book yourself by reading way ahead the week before.  I tend to read everything that I need out of a physical book at home, then load up PDFs and articles for the plane ride.  I also take a back-up book off my comps list, you know, in case I get really antsy/ambitious.  This, for me, has been a good balance between “OHGODOHGODIGOTTAGETTHINGSDONE” and “conference time”.

While at the Conference…

Shower frequently.  Brush your teeth often.  Carry mints.  Seriously.  Do you want your personal hygiene to prevent you from getting a job?

Sleep at least eight hours a night.  Conferences are rough and can run you down easily (especially if you, like me, are something of an introvert and need a lot of re-charge time after being ON all day).  Make this concession and don’t spend too much time at the bar with your buddies the night before you give your talk.

Be courteous to EVERYONE.  Unless you’ve memorized the facebook of everyone in academia ever, you have NO IDEA who you may cut off in the coffee line or accidentally bump into while rushing to your panel.  Don’t let your career die a fiery death because you are a jerk.

And on that note, I have to go tie up some loose ends before I’m off.  I may or may not be checking in next week due to traveling, but I will try to return with a few choice anecdotes from the wide world of conferencing.