Graduate Student Conference and Publication Workshop: Demystifying the Process

Dr. Sweeney headed a workshop on Thursday, Nov. 17 for English graduate students on demystifying the processes of submitting work to conferences and for publication. Also leading sections of the workshop were Dr. Dahn, who spoke finding conferences and Calls for Papers (CFPs), and Dr. Morrow, who gave some insights on the benefits of submitting for conferences and on how to submit work for publication as well.

A scene from Central Park. I, Emily LaPointe (your friendly English Department blogger), recently attended a conference at Fordham University in NYC, and an additional perk to being accepted to the conference was my first trip to the city!

Hold on a second, first things first: Why would you want to present at a conference in the first place? What are the benefits? These are some of the questions that came up in the workshop, and there was some helpful feedback from both the students in attendance as well as the professors in answering. One benefit is that presenting at a conference can help you advance your own work and can help you to receive feedback on your current work.

Another pro is that it great addition to your curriculum vitae (CV) or resume! Another benefit of presenting at a conference is that you might get the opportunity to visit a city you’d like to see. Yet another benefit is conference networking with other students and professionals in your own or in various fields.

So, now that you know what the benefits are, here is what Dr. Dahn advises when digging around for a conference to submit to. First, go to the site Dahn identifies the “granddaddy of them all” as the U Penn site. This site is arranged by areas of literary genre/study and the sheer number of CFPs posted to the site makes it a great resource. The MLA Annual Convention site, is another good place to look, but Dahn advises that any one new to the conference scene might want to first “get their toes wet” with a graduate conference before submitting to a regional (such as NeMLA) or national conference.

Some other tips from Dahn were once you find a conference that you might like to submit to, don’t be scared off if the theme doesn’t exactly fit your paper topic. A good way to go you find yourself in this situation is to organize a panel and submit a panel proposal rather than an individual abstract. The panel-route, however, should really only be travelled once you’ve got a couple conference experiences under your belt. Finally, Dr. Dahn mentions that if you are accepted to a conference, you should let Dr. Morrow know about it as he can possibly help with funding and will get the great news out there for publication in the English Department’s social media venues.

Dr. Sweeney led the next section of the workshop, dealing with writing a proposal and discussing what makes a proposal stand-out and be successful. While your chances of acceptance are rather slim if you just submit a proposal to the general conference, Sweeney mentions that your “best chance” for success is submitting to a specific panel at a conference. Having organized conference panels and written CFPs for those panels in the past, Sweeney gives us the inside information on what a panel organizer is looking for. It might not be too surprising that his guidelines sound very familiar, almost like the expectations of all of our final paper projects for literature courses. Sweeney’s guidelines are:

1) Does the proposal specifically address the topic if the CFP?

2) Does the proposal have a clearly stated thesis?

3) Does the thesis make an intervention into the critical conversation? (knowledge of recent scholarship and clearly states the contribution it wishes to make to the critical conversation?)

4) Is the proposal a plausible description of a conference-length (8-12 pages) talk?

Sweeney provided examples of abstracts he had received after putting out a CFP and had the students read through and rate the abstracts based on the above criteria. While we cannot publish those examples here, Dr. Sweeney mentioned that he is always glad to provide abstract examples and CFP models to anyone interested in practicing their conference submission skills—just ask!

Dr. Morrow gave some insights into the conference submission process. Like the other professors, Morrow backs the strategy of submitting to a panel rather than the larger conference because this way you have “built-in feedback.” Another way to get built-in feedback, Morrow says, is by submitting to seminars rather than conferences. As a last word of advice about conference submissions, Morrow advises you to push the ideas you have for proposals that you might not necessarily have the answers for—this is a great way to introduce new and interesting work and to get helpful feedback as well. In terms of the publication side of things, Morrow mentions that talking to professors and looking around at the different journals out there is a good place to start if you are trying to get your work published. Once you find a journal that you like, the key is to “speak in the dialect” of that particular journal in order to be a desirable candidate. Morrow also mentions that submitting your work to edited collections or anthologies, which usually put of CFPs just like conferences do, is also a great way to get published. To wrap up, Morrow asserts that rejection is part of the “long process of drafting and submission”, and it even has its own perks, as useful personalized feedback commonly accompanies the blow of a “No.”

A final thought to leave with when thinking about submitting your work to conferences is that if you do get accepted to a conference but need that extra push out the door, remember that everyone is nervous presenting their work! Also, the professors comment, audiences at conferences are always “rooting” for graduate students! Yes, you are lower on the professional totem pole, but that just makes your acceptance and bravery in presenting more commendable! So, kick the nerves to the side, be ambitious in looking for places to submit, practice your submission writing skills, and focus on the many pros that come to getting your work heard and/or published!

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