Why You Should Always Submit Proposals: My Surprising Experience at my First Conference

Meadowbrook Hall, Oakland University by Wm. Chris Rowland, II

As a second year graduate student this past fall, I found myself headed to the International Conference of Romanticism at Oakland University with few goals other than to make it through my panel without throwing up, and to not look like an idiot in front of my peers. The fact that I was even in the conference was a surprise, after all I had only submitted my paper proposal just inside the deadline that summer at the encouragement of my fellow Romanticists at Arizona State. “I don’t know if I’m even ready to submit to a conference like this,” I wrote in an email responding to their reminder of the upcoming deadline. I might not have been, but with the encouragement of Kent and Kaitlin I submitted anyway, and not soon after the first surprise came—I had been accepted. Thankfully the two of them had been as well, so I figured I would have at least two people at my panel in September. As the date of the conference approached, we made the group decision to not attend the official banquet largely due to financial concerns, and believing that none of us had a chance at winning the competitive Lore Metzger Prize, which went to the best essay read by a graduate student at the conference.
Well reader, I won that prize. Instead of learning this news at the banquet where I could have stood up and been recognized for my paper “The Undead Presence: Exploring Boundaries of Life, Death and Sex in ‘Christabel,’ ‘The Skeleton Priest,’ and ‘The Aerial Chorus’” by my fellow Romantic scholars, I found out via text message from Jacob while I was at an Irish pub down the street. I was lucky enough to have Kaitlin and Kent by my side at that moment to congratulate me, but the initial shock of that moment has yet to wear off. I am so honored to have won such a prestigious award not only because I was a second-year graduate student and that it was my first Romantic conference and first out of state conference, but because I wrote about something I am truly passionate about. Talking about the importance of walking, talking corpses in Romantic literature seems risky, but it paid off.
“So halfway from her bed she rose, And on her elbow did recline to look at the Lady Geraldine.”

The lessons I learned from this experience are significant, and I believe, important to share. First, if you are lucky enough to find a community in your university that encourages and supports you, listen to them. They might know of potential you do not see in yourself. I would not have even tried to be at ICR if it wasn’t for the kind (but firm!) push from Kent and Kaitlin to submit a proposal, and I would not have won the award for best graduate paper without the edits and suggestions given to me by the ASU 19th Century Colloquium. Peer review is good, honest peer review with your best intentions in mind is fantastic—and absolutely integral to succeeding in the academic field. Secondly, always submit a proposal. Even if you think there is no chance in hell that you will be accepted to present at that conference, or be asked to write a chapter for that book, do it anyway. Not only is it excellent practice, but it will also force you to be more confident in your ideas and get your name out there. When you get accepted (because you undoubtedly will with all those submissions), have your work critiqued by people you trust and respect. They will tell you the truth, strengthen your argument, and you will be better for it. And finally, write about what you love. Zombies and vampires and all the variations inside and outside of those categories might be a laughable topic at first, but I truly believe that if I had gone to ICR with anything else than that, anything other than something I am passionate about to the point of insanity, I would not have won the Lore Metzger Prize. So take those risks, submit those proposals—the outcome could surprise you.
Oh, and always fork over the money and go to the banquet.
Emily Zarka

One Reply to “Why You Should Always Submit Proposals: My Surprising Experience at my First Conference”

  1. Emily, congratulations on your prize! I wanted to add that your afterword about always forking over money for the banquet almost deserves a blog post of its own. It at least deserves an anecdote. Like most grad students on a budget, I have *never* wanted to pay the fee of $50 or more to attend a banquet. Most years, I have not; I made sure to have alternative dinner plans with grad students and/or profs. However, at NASSR just a few years ago, my alternative dinner plans fell through and I learned at the last minute that everyone in our group except for me and one other grad student was instead going to the banquet — it was an accidental failure of large group coordination. Our hearts sunk, we felt left out, but then made the best of the evening. Lesson: if you buck up and pay to attend the banquet, you will never be caught without dinner plans and you’ll be forced (pleasantly) to network and talk shop with colleagues you might not meet in person otherwise. And there may also be a DJ–the PhDJ, to be exact–and dancing, as at the 2013 NASSR! You definitely added the best perk — you’ll be there if you happen to win an award 🙂 I haven’t skipped a banquet since then.

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