Tuesday 24 April 2012

American Studies PG mini-conference - CFP

The American Studies Postgraduate Mini-Conference will take place on the afternoon of Wednesday, May 9. It is traditionally part of the American studies MA that all postgraduates make a short presentation at this conference. Although this might sound daunting, in our experience this has been one of the most valuable and rewarding parts of completing the MA here at Manchester, and is something that builds confidence not only if you intend to go on to study for a Ph.D. but in whatever profession you move into in the future. Read instructions below carefully and feel free to talk to me about any of this should you wish to do so.

A note on the proposals
Your proposal for any conference should always include the title of the paper, as well as your name, institutional affiliation, and contact details. Keep to the requested word limit for any call for papers. If you send long, broad, untitled, and unnamed proposals to a professional conference, the organizers will hate you and probably pass over your proposal. Typically, students choose to focus on either their MA dissertation project or on a piece of assessed work they have completed during the year -- it doesn't matter which, although if you do choose to talk about something from you dissertation this is often a very good way of covering substantial ground. in terms of preparatory reading and thinking, very quickly.

Advice on the presentations
Presentations should last for a maximum of 10 minutes, with 10 minutes being the cut-off. This might be very difficult to stick within such a short space of time. To keep yourself focused and to keep your audience interested, you’ll need to be very succinct in presenting your argument and in providing an adequate piece of analysis that supports your argument. It may help to single out one or two examples and use them to gesture towards your larger argument. As in any academic conference, your audience will want to hear you make a coherent kernel of argument, not pitch a broad prospectus of a larger dissertation or book project. Make sure what you submit doesn’t read like a whole dissertation or article proposal—all within 10 minutes! You simply cannot present on everything, nor can you summarize everything. So you’ll have to narrow the scope of your presentation. Here is your chance to present a snapshot of your best work from your larger project. This is not a requirement to propose, rehearse, or defend your entire project.

One way to imagine the structure of your paper is to say something like, “In my larger project, I consider X Y and Z. In this paper, I will look specifically at A to show B.” Signposting also helps your audience follow your argument. You might set up the introduction by saying, “First I will discuss Q. Then I will show how R leads to S.” Then, as the presentation moves along, you can say, “Now that I’ve shown that about Q, I’m going to show how R leads to S. Then I’ll end with T.” When it helps to point towards your larger project, or just to show you’re doing more than just one thing with a particular text, it’s always fine to add asides like, “In my larger project, I look at F in G context, but here I’ll just talk about H.” It helps if you walk your audience through the presentation. Otherwise they might simply have trouble recognizing where they are in the argument and begin to lose interest.

These suggestions might be more helpful when you find yourself making a 20-minute presentation at a conference than they will help you here. But still, it’s worth remembering. Think about all those presentations you’ve seen where you’ve lost interest or felt confused or lost. Now imagine that bored and restless version of yourself as the audience of your own presentation!

Most academics have trouble presenting a coherent and organized argument spontaneously or from notes. It’s always a good idea to have a clearly written script from which you present. At the same time, however, you should rehearse your presentation as an oral presentation. Try to craft the script in a way that sounds like an accessible statement of ideas and observations, even a conversation, rather than dense, theoretical scholarly piece of writing. Try to read/present at a normal pace (too fast is too hard to follow, too slow annoys everyone else on the panel), and try not to lapse into a monotone. A good rule for presentations is that reading a page of double-spaced writing in size-12 font takes a minimum of 2 minutes. So for this particular presentation, you should try to keep your script to no more than 5 pages maximum. Provide handouts with quotations if it’s helpful, and if you do, make sure your name and the paper title is on them!

Other postgraduate students or faculty members will act as panel chairs on May 9. In the interests of fairness and time (we’ve got to get to the wine afterwards!), I’ll ask the chairs to stop you if you run past 10 minutes, so remember: don’t try to condense your whole project into 10 minutes, talk about one or two specific things that highlight the larger argument you want to make. This will mean you can’t talk about 4 whole novels, or 2 whole films, or about 6 different critics’ responses to a particular idea, or about 3 complete case studies. Keep thinking small as a way to reference the big.
All best,

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