A Few Humble Observations on Conference Abstracts: Part 1


A few things to think about before you submit your abstract –

1. Many of you will undoubtedly already know this, but the absolute best place to find conference CFPs in English (and for some of our Humanities fellow travelers) is at the University of Pennsylvania Call for Papers website. You should make it part of your general habits to check the site no less than once a month. It’s theoretically organized by specialty but conference presenters will often annoyingly cross-list in wrong categories. Nevertheless it’s easily organized and it’s where you should start.

2. Ask yourself “Is this is a conference worth attending?” – If you’re new to conference-going there is nothing wrong with trying to attend a few for the CV – graduate conferences are perfect for this. Otherwise at a certain point accruing conferences can have diminishing results and you might have to discriminate a bit in terms of where you want to go (sometimes you might just want to go to sunny San Diego, and that’s ok, but know that that’s why you are applying to the conference).

In general the following guidelines work:

1)If you get into MLA, go to MLA.

2) If you get into a regional MLA and it’s easy and affordable to attend – go to that      regional MLA. This tends to be most useful though if it’s a regional MLA in the actual part of the country you live in.

3) Try and make some major national academic organization your “home organization” and then go to that conference as often as you can.

4) If the panel is being organized by a grand Pooh-Bah in your specialty and you think you can make a professional contact, give it a shot.

5) Graduate conferences are great to start with but unless it’s something EXACTLY in what you’re doing, or it’s within, say, 50 miles and you can get there in a day and back they can be ignored. That being said these are your future colleagues so a good argument can be made for getting to know these people.

6) International conferences can be fantastic (some of my best contacts have been made this way) but unless you’re in comp lit it makes the most sense to stick to conferences in Anglophone countries (save for Australia…… just kidding!) and try to combine it with a research or an archive trip if possible to make the cost justifiable.

7) Single author conferences can be a great way to meet relatively big names in what can be fairly small specialties. Though remember that some of these people can be SUPER INTENSE.

8) There are lots of small organizations that can be great for a “home” organization, but make sure that they really are a fit for your interests.

9) Conference diversity can be great when you’re finding your academic voice, but post-comps (hell, at any time in the PhD program really….) try and stick to stuff that’s appropriate for your actual specialty. That means Romanticists apply to Romanticism conferences, early modernists to early modernist conferences. God bless interdisciplinary or trans-specialty fields because they’re nice ways to break out of our disciplinary gulags. If you can find a legitimate reason to send your Milton paper to a pop culture conference, go for it. Otherwise it gets weird if you’re the Whitman scholar who is always at medieval conferences.

10) Once you’re working on your dissertation every conference paper you give should be related to your dissertation. At this point you’re basically promoting what you hope to make your name with, so don’t waste time talking about totally unrelated things. And remember, academic book publishers are everywhere at the big (and even the not so big) conferences, so selling yourself becomes all the more important.


One thought on “A Few Humble Observations on Conference Abstracts: Part 1”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: