Call for papers, or CFPs to those of us in the industry are both a source of wonder and frustration to me. [These are open calls for submissions to academic conferences, journals, or edited collections.] I read these listings almost daily, pretending I have both the time and expertise to present about sitcoms at a conference in Berlin or postfeminist popular culture in downtown Washington DC. Then I think about the time, money, and experience I don’t have. And then I think about all the advice saying PUBLISH! PRESENT! But with what money? And time?
And let’s face it…some of these calls are so ridiculously written. The thing about cultural/literary studies is that anything can mean anything or relate to any conference theme if you try hard enough.
Here’s every call for programs:
The [long acronym for your organization] is holding it’s annual meeting [not a conference, a MEETING] in [CITY THAT IS TOO EXPENSIVE FOR ANY GRADUATE STUDENT TO TRAVEL TO FOR LESS THAN 1.5K] This year’s theme is [VAGUE CONCEPT THAT SOUNDS ESOTERIC]. This theme covers [LONG, REDUNDANT EXPLANATION OF THE THEME USING BUZZWORDS AND THEORISTS UNTIL THE THEME CEASES HAVING ANY MEANING IN THE CORPOREAL WORLD.]
Some topics could be, but not limited to:
[LIST OF TOPICS THAT HAVE NO CLEAR CONNECTION TO THE ALREADY UNCLEAR THEME]
For consideration, please send an abstract between 250 and 10,000 words to [A PROFESSOR WHO STILL USES A HOTMAIL EMAIL ACCOUNT].
And then, you as a student, pretend that you will already have a paper written, fully cited and formatted to submit, throwing some ideas at each other, hoping that in their collision something will come of it. Which you will only write if you are accepted. And then if you do get accepted, you probably won’t go to the conference anyway, because traveling takes away time from your work.
Here’s a real gem.
Ah, the academic conference. The superbowl of academia. To see and be seen. To connect with colleagues, to flirt with colleagues, to have real or imaginary flirtations. For graduate students, it's a mixed bag of opportunities and desires. Maybe all your friends are going and you don't want to miss out. Maybe you have a 10 minute paper presentation that you think is going to wow the pants off someone. Maybe you just think it is what you are "supposed" to do. Maybe it's a line on your CV. ["It's a line on your CV!" Is a justification for everything. "Help your professor with a manuscript preparation: it's a line on your CV!"; "Sit on this committee faculty don't have time for! It's a line on your CV!"; "Show a prospective student where the restroom is: It's a line in your CV!"] Then there is this idea of networking, which is in every career field ever, and it means absolutely nothing.
For people who are skilled communicators, it means "just be your self, do nothing different." For people who are not, it means forcing yourself to act like a sociopath. It's a touchy spot for everyone (just do a blog search for networking tips) Here is my tried and true method for networking at conferences:
As soon as you get the program booklet, hide up in your hotel room and mark off the sessions that contain presenters you'd like to see and get to know better, the sessions that are related to your area of study, and then the sessions that contain your friends whose research you've heard a hundred times but you just want to be supportive. And maybe see them screw up.
Wake up early for the first day of the conference, go downstairs to get coffee, wearing your name tag, waiting for people to flock to you. Find the only person you know from your school and cling to them, glad to see someone you know.
Go to the first session of the person you wanted to see. During their presentation, think of questions you'd love to ask them about their research but never will have the guts to. Run out of the room when it is over, why embarrass yourself by introducing yourself.
The next session is your panel, where you get to cram months and months of research into ten minutes to a room of five. Wonder who these people are who came to see your session. Maybe it's like sports, where a talent scout comes to see you play? Someone here will be the one to offer you a job, demanding you must study at their institution. Nah, never happens. Ignore the discovery that three are partners of other panelists, not even in the field.
Get excited when someone in the audience has a question for you. Time to show off your expertise! "Have you considered [insert text that yes, you did consider, but didn't include because you needed to focus on something else.]" No, you didn’t because that’s not your paper. Leave the panel in a hurry when it is over to avoid anymore conversation.
Run back to your hotel room for a recharge. Fall asleep until dinner. Make dinner plans only with the people you came with. On the way out of the hotel, you run into a mutual friend and they introduce you to someone they are with. You chat a while, they ask about your research, you do the same. CONGRATS! You talked to someone new. Networking!
Go out to dinner with people and spend a fortune and wonder why you traveled five hour to a city only to have an overpriced quesadilla with people you see everyday at home.
Have a panic attack on the way home about how much reading you still need to do for class.
What is this? A semi-regular newsletter about life in graduate school.
All content reflects my individual views and is not associated with any university, department, faculty, or students. Names and situations mentioned have been changed.