Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Why the "Learn Old English" Post Is Late

Usually, I try to get the "Learn Old English" posts up by Tuesday and Thursday nights, on the theory that those following along in groups probably meet the next day.

I haven't had a chance to write that post (which is actually pretty time-consuming) because I was ever-so-slightly ill, which just manifested itself in 4 hours worth of naps followed by going to bed early and getting up late.

In my waking hours, though, I've been plotting with my undergrads to get them to academic conferences. The closest one in both time and space is the Regional Medievalisms conference in Macon, Georgia October 9th-11th.* The next after this is the PCA/ACA conference in New Orleans, April 8th-11th. And of course, while it would be nice to plan ahead, undergrads can't really work on the "let's do this in a year or two" slow cycle of scholarly work, so it's rush-rush-rush and push-push-push.

The students have been asking for advice on how to do a conference as an undergrad, and I keep reassuring them that I'll be there holding their hands, that I'll make sure their papers aren't embarrassing, etc. I would like to throw the question out there to all the Wordhoarders. If you could offer any advice about attending academic conferences as an undergrad, what would it be?

*Apparently when I told Jennifer Lynn Jordan I wasn't going to this conference, I lied. I'll have to make up for it by asking a softball question in her session and buying her a drink. Or maybe I'll buy her a softball and ask for a drink.


  1. I've had students present at the Plymouth State Medieval Forum in New Hampshire, which is very undergrad-friendly but also attracts some big-name people from New England, so students get to meet profs whose work they've read.
    My biggest piece of advice is for the students to "perform" the session in advance for a small audience of friends and profs at the home institution. I got a few colleagues to act as question-askers, and then when the conference came around, the students were prepared for the "feel" of a conference.

  2. A couple of things, basically adding to what's already been said.

    1) I agree with Mike: You (or your colleagues) should ask at least one question the presenter can feel comfortable answering. It needn't be a softball question; just something you know the presenter can handle, to help build confidence. (As well as to eat up some of the allotted time; time that might otherwise fall into the Machiavellian hands of somebody who loves nothing more than a rousing game of "make myself look good by stumping the speaker".) The Q&A, I've found, is what freaks most first-timers out.

    2) Definitely have them practice, practice, practice. I've been known to *overprepare* myself, and they needn't go that far. But stumbling and stuttering undermines confidence in an already tense situation. They should read their papers aloud, several times at least, revising difficult to enunciate passages as they practice. I've seen so many presenters (even seasoned old hands) stumble over their papers as if reading them aloud only for the first time, as indeed they may be. Too, some presenters just *read*, never looking up or making any eye contact. Don't let that happen to your students. Also, they need to be practiced enough that they know they aren't going to run out of time. I've also seen presenters steal a glance at a clock, realize they're going to go waaaay over, then start hyperventilating. It's not pretty.

    The experience should be great fun, ideally, not just a chore, and more than just a line on the CV. Good luck to all of you!

  3. I'll second Mike and Jason on the practicing -- ideally with a couple of other professors (besides yourself) in the room -- that way they have the experience of being heard by folks who aren't their advisers.

    I never gave a paper as an undergrad (though at one point my entire life's goal was to give a paper at Kalamazoo by my senior year -- luckily, I chickened out before I applied!) -- but I did attend Kalamazoo once as a sophomore and once as a senior. The advice I'd give is to remind them that some of what happens in papers WILL go over their heads (because they haven't read the texts, or they don't know the theories, or they don't know the languages) -- and that is perfectly normal and fine. They aren't behind -- they're going to a conference, and even presenting! They're ahead of the game already, as most of us don't do that until graduate school! They should focus on enjoying the atmosphere, the questions, and the various things they've never thought of before, rather than worrying about all the things they have to go back home and READ RIGHT NOW.

    Very, very cool that you're helping them do this: just attending a conference was a formative experience for me. Getting to present -- even more amazing!

  4. Anonymous9:38 PM

    I was lucky (or foolish) enough to present at k'zoo twice as an undergrad- shout outs to Dr. Marzec!- and I just want to mention time, as in watch your. I actually went over almost 5 minutes my first time out. Caught up in the moment, I finally noticed my professor, Dr. Philip Phillips, glancing at his watch, then at me. Very embarrassing. Anyway, just thought I would pass that along. Michael