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How (not) to Organise an Academic Conference.

28 May

A quick online search will lead you to a list of sites with great advice about how to put together a great conference. And it’s something I would definitely suggest that postgraduate students consider taking part in.

GradHacker outlines the pros and cons of conference organising, The New Academic even gives you a pre-prepared checklist. Donna Alexander in Americasstudies gives tips on the use of social media and ‘Storyifying’ your conference. Catherine Armstrong’s article on the Jobs.ac.uk website stresses its value for new academics, while Gary DeCoker’s piece in  The Chronicle shows that even tenured academics find themselves facing the same problems – and rewards – that graduates do when organizing a conference.

However, even with the best advice, mistakes can and will be made. The following is a list of examples of what NOT to do when organising a conference. They are tried and tested paths to some hiccough or catastrophe. They are mistakes that I have come across as a speaker, ones that  I have made myself as an organiser or ones that I have heard about through a third party. Hopefully, they will help budding conference organisers in the future avoid the same pitfalls.

If you have more points you think can be added, please do so in the comments below!

not-to-do

  1. Don’t take on a conference if you have little time to dedicate to it – organising a conference is time consuming.
  2. Don’t refuse other people’s help. Even if it’s just a small colloquia.
  3. Don’t go over budget.
  4. Don’t assume that when a plan of action is agreed upon that it will be carried out. Seriously. Delegate. And make sure whoever is delegated the job knows that they have it!
  5. Don’t think that making a room booking means everything will be fine. Book early and then check back with whoever handles booking a week or so before the conference. Usually, one office books rooms for a variety of groups so always double check.
  6. Don’t forget to keep all your receipts in case you need to claim money back after the conference.
  7. If you are going to charge participants, don’t forget to tell people how they can pay as well as how much they must pay.
  8. If you need people to pay before the first day of the conference, state this on your website or circulars.
  9. Don’t forget to have change in the kitty if you plan on accepting cash on the day.
  10. Don’t assume the electronics will work. Go to the rooms where your speakers will be presenting. Check all the equipment. Don’t just look to see if it’s there, actually use it. Do this the morning before (so there’s time for relevant media dept to come and fix whatever may be broken/missing/faulty).
  11. Don’t forget to ask plenary speakers if they have any media requirements for their presentation – or dietary requirements for the conference meal later!
  12. Don’t assume your first programme will be the last.
  13. Don’t think the programme you make two days before the conference will show exactly how the proceedings will go.
  14. Don’t get mad that people pull out, want to change times, have problems with their PowerPoint, change their paper title, change their paper altogether…
  15. If you receive and accept panel submissions, do not them break up into other panels, add or remove a speaker, change the title of the panel or change the topic of the panel  without first contacting the panel members.
  16. Don’t put similar panels on at the same time.
  17. Don’t forget the maps, posters, arrows, SOMETHING to tell people where the conference is actually being held once they get on campus.
  18. Don’t feel you have to present a paper as well as organise the entire event.
  19. Don’t forget the food and beverages, even if you’re only doing the coffee breaks – conferencing is hungry and thirsty work!
  20. Don’t forget to actually go listen to some papers.
  21. Don’t forget to breathe!
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Should I Blog? Reflections of a Doctoral Student

7 Apr


blog

My blog has lain barren for several months now, one of the many victims that fell in the final push towards the completion of my doctoral thesis and preparations for the viva voce examination.

Recently, a colleague @americasstudies wrote a piece on her experience as a blogger and the friction that lies, still, in academia when the term ‘blogging’ or ‘blogger’ comes up in conversation. This is a recurring debate – both for students and academics – and one which is, I feel, is an important discussion.

As I have just completed the doctorate, and am looking back on the experiences that I have had with social media and blogging during this time, I have decided that my re-entry into blogging will be with a post about blogging and the potential benefits this area holds for research students.

Fear of the white page and the red ink.

rewrite

The one thing that plagues every graduate student – the feeling that you need to read more.

‘I need to read more on these topics’ / ‘If I read x then I can write a better chapter about p because z mentions it’ / ‘I keep hearing this person’s name come up in conferences, I should read them before I write anything else in case I have to change something later’ / ‘I don’t really deal with that area but y is a big name and may be useful later on’…

The excuses are endless, and the sentiment isn’t (always) a reticence to write but rather a fear to write something that won’t be good enough. Unfortunately, a thesis cannot be written by reading alone.

The white page looms large. Not only do you have to write about something, you have to make sure you write using somebodies, even more worrying, the right somebodies. The true idea of a draft, especially to those starting out, is a concept not fully appreciated.   Before I met with my supervisor to talk about the first piece of written work I had submitted to her, I received one of the best pieces of advice about the drafting process:

“The more red pen you get, the better”.

Your first draft will have red ink. Hopefully, a lot. This is especially true if you have more than one supervisor.

I can see the dubious faces out there, but think about it. Take a look back at some of the essays you wrote as an undergraduate that received good marks and look at your work now. Would you receive the same mark for that undergraduate work if you handed that up at postgraduate level? 

Your supervisor has to read the work properly, not just gloss over it, to see the mistakes. Red ink means your supervisor/s care/s enough to help you learn and push your abilities to higher standards.

red ink

Blog posts are generally much shorter than academic papers. They can be multidisciplinary; you can add images, imbed videos, hyperlink to other information or people. They can be fun. The white page becomes less confrontational and more interactive. Blog posts do not require the same rigour as academic writing. That said, they can also be the beginning of an idea that you decide to expand into a larger, more formal written piece, later on.

Blogging makes you the writer, editor and publisher all in one. It makes you more self critical. It makes you demand more from what you write. Structure, tone, style, content, all become more intimately assessed. Nobody wants to publish something bad.

Blogging gives you the red ink.

What do I write and When? Shut Up and Write!

Blogging

The focus of a student’s blog does not necessarily have to directly reflect the student’s research. My thesis is entitled “Oppositional Consciousness, Dialogism and Re-membering in the novels of Helena Maria Viramontes“, my blog does not reflect the novelistic concerns or theoretical tools I engage with in that work, at all.

It does, however, deal with contemporary and historical Chicano/a concerns, which loosely ties in with Viramontes, who identifies as a Chicana writer. It has also allowed me to keep abreast of other research interests, such as border studies, the immigration debate, U.S. and Mexican politics, the media, education and digital technology in the humanities.

Not only that, it has given me a space where I can think about these things critically, and actively engage with these discussions rather than allow the information to passively pass me by. This critical engagement also complements the analytic skills you need to write a thesis.

When you write is different for everyone but, if you have time to procrastinate, you have time to blog.

There are also groups like the Shut Up and Write! movement, #AcWriMo on Twitter, and possibly a similar group or activity in your own university (if not, why not make one?).

Things I learned about my own writing through blogging:

A) I waffle.

B) I have a habit of swapping between US and British English spelling.

C) I have the ability to write something to completion.

D) Editing takes longer than writing.

E) My conclusions need more work.

F) I need to write more.

Blogs reflect the skill of the blogger. The more you write, the better you become.

gaiman writing

Transitions and Continuities in Contemporary Chicana/o Culture

19 Jun

On 24-25 of June, University College Cork will hold the first major Chicana/o conference in Ireland. A host of academics from across Europe and the Americas are due to present papers on a diverse range of topics under the rubric of “Transitions and Continuities in Contemporary Chicana/o Culture”.

Running concurrently to the two day conference are two art exhibits by Chicana artists Alma Lopez and Celia Herrera Rodriguez. Lopez’s exhibition, “Our Lady and Other Queer Santas” ties in to the European book launch of “Our Lady of Controversy”, edited by Alma Lopez and Alicia Gaspar de Alba.

our lady of controversy

Our Lady of Controversy

This book hosts a collection of essays by Chicana writers who respond to the controversy surrounding the first exhibition of Lopez’s digital print “Our Lady” in New Mexico in 2001. On Friday 24th she will also be presenting a video screening of “I Love Lupe”, a video that accompanies the book and records interviews by Chicana visual artists who have also re-envisioned and re-imaged La Virgen de Guadalupe in their own art.

Xicana Codex of Changing Consciousness

Xicana Codex of Changing Consciousness

Celia Rodriguez’s work “enAguas enTlalocan / Prayers for Mother Waters” accompanies the worldwide release of “A Xicana Codex of Changing Consciousness” by award winning Xicana lesbian, feminist, writer, educator and dramaturgist, Cherrie Moraga. The book is a collection of Moraga’s writing that spans over a decade and is her first publication since her 1997 biographical work “Waiting in the Wings: Portrait of a Queer Motherhood”. Rodriguez’s images appear and compliment Moraga’s writings throughout the book, using a contemporary twist on the style used in ancient Aztec codex. Her watercolours will also be on display Friday and Saturday in the same room as Lopez’s pieces.

The exhibition will be small but is free to the public and definitely worth a visit for any Chicano/a researcher in the country, or indeed anybody interested in contemporary Mexican American art.

Xicana Caminante

Xicana Caminante by Celia Herrera Rodriguez

Blowout! Sal Castro & the Chicano Struggle for Educational Justice: review

12 May Blowout!

BLOWOUT!: Sal Castro & the Chicano Struggle for Educational Justice.

by Mario T. Garcia and Sal Castro

Blowout!

Blowout! is the testimonio of American educator and activist Sal Castro. A phrase adapted by a Garfield High School student from a jazz term that means “to be expressive”, Blowout! was heard from tens of thousands of high school students, primarily Chicano, as they walked out of their classrooms in 1968 in protest at the poor quality of education they were receiving in East L.A. Carried out over a ten year period, this book is the result of hundreds of hours of recorded conversations compiled by historian Dr. Mario Garcia with Sal Castro as well as with a wealth of other students, teachers, administrators, artists and activists who knew Sal personally, many of whom had also been part of the 1968 High School Blowouts.

These blowouts are hailed as the impetus of the urban Chicano Movement, following on from the rural Chicano Movement that had begun some time earlier with Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers thus placing Sal Castro as one of the most important Chicano Civil Rights activists of the 60s and 70s. This is the first time his story has been written.

Garcia frames the main autobiographical text of Blowout! with an introduction and epilogue that situate Castro’s story within that of the larger Chicano Movement. In the afterword, Garcia outlines the strong links between Castro’s approach to teaching and the theories of Brazilian pedagogue and educational theorist, Paulo Freire. While Freire is no stranger to most educators today, during the 60s and 70s his work was not widely read outside of Latin America. Castro was completely unaware of his work. However, the concepts of conscientização (conscientization or critical consciousness) are undeniably present as you read through the testimony of Sal Castro.

Unlike most other testimonios, Garcia peppers Castro’s accounts with quotes from different people and news articles. While there is the obvious danger of fracturing the narrator’s story, in this case it has worked quite well and the fluidity of the text is maintained. Moreover, Castro repeatedly emphasises his desire to empower the students and community, to have them speak out so the infrequent additions adds a symbolic connection between teacher and community that suits the text.

Blowout! tells the story of Sal Castro from his early childhood in Mexico to his present retirement. His firsthand experience of discrimination in the U.S. educational system as both a student and educator; in the U.S. Army where he experiences Jim Crow during his travels in the South; and society in general like when his father is returned to Mexico after WWII as part of the “repatriation” program thus forcing his parents to separate, which ultimately leads to their divorce, all provide insights into the challenges faced by immigrant communities in the U.S. at the time. These experiences would also help Castro as he critically assessed and challenged the U.S. education system. He gives personal accounts of the Zoot Suit riots, the Watts riots, the Chicano Moratorium against the war in Vietnam and more. As a teacher of history and politics as well as his background in campaigning for various senators – including John and, later, Robert Kennedy – Castro masterfully contextualises the political and social climate of the 60s and 70s in the build up to, and the later repercussion of, the blowouts, all the while managing to maintain a sense of humour that can only endear him to the reader.

This book is a strong asset not only to Chicano Studies but also to U.S. History, Political Sciences and Education Studies. While it is the testimonio of Sal Castro, it is ultimately the story of young High School students who finally found a teacher who believed in them and gave them the courage and opportunity to protest the inequalities they already knew about and faced daily in their schools and colleges. Although many problems still persist in the education system, the enduring legacy of the blowouts is visible in the ever increasing enrollment of Chicanos and Latinos at third level institutions, a greater presence of Latinos as teachers as well as on educational boards and the emergence of Chicano Studies as an elective in High Schools.