How to do an academic conference: advice for first time graduate student attendees

CAMWS 2016 Reception

By Samuel Hahn, PhD Student at the University of Colorado, Boulder, and Sarah Teets, PhD Student at the University of Virginia.

Attending a conference for the first time can be stressful. The unknowns of CAMWS threaten to deter newcomers from participating in all the opportunities this conference has to offer. We all remember our first conference and the anxiety that accompanied it. So, drawing on past experience, we have compiled answers to the questions that we wish we had known before attending CAMWS for the first time. We hope that you find our answers and resources helpful.

When should I plan on arriving at the conference? Do I need to come on the first day and stay the whole time?

You are not required to arrive at the conference by a certain time. However, a good rule of thumb is to arrive the day before your presentation to give yourself time to settle in after traveling. With your budget in mind, check the draft of the program (here) and decide if you want to attend certain panels or events; use that information to guide your decision.

What is the etiquette like during panels?

When you attend a panel, you are expected to arrive on time and stay for all the papers. You should give your full attention to each speaker and refrain from distracting yourself – especially in noticeable ways. (A panel is not the appropriate venue to put the finishing on your own presentation). During the Q & A, make sure your questions are succinct and pertinent to the paper. The Q & A is not an opportunity for you to demonstrate your own erudition, but rather a chance to receive clarification or offer polite criticism. As a general rule, extend the same courtesy that you would wish to receive from others during your presentation.

I want to hear papers at two different panels that occur at the same time. Can I leave one panel to go to another?

Although it is ideal to attend only one panel at a time and stay for the whole thing, it is also perfectly fine not to stay for an entire panel, or to come in late. The general etiquette is to enter and exit a room between talks, ideally during the applause. If you absolutely must enter or leave a room during a presentation, do so as quietly and discreetly as possible. If you are planning to stay, try to leave the aisle seats or seats near the door for those who will be coming and going.

How do I know what the papers will cover in a panel?

CAMWS publishes the abstracts for all papers online, organized by author name and by title. However, it is important to note that presentations occasionally differ from the outline in the abstract, especially if the presenter has written the abstract before the paper.

What else happens at conferences besides paper panels?

In addition to reuniting with friends and professors at other institutions, CAMWS provides various venues for socializing which are all listed on the program. Beyond the banquet, lunches, and receptions, GSIC is hosting a Happy Hour on Thursday night for graduate students to enjoy each other’s company over drinks. There will also be a book display for you to peruse throughout the conference. While the vagaries of ‘roundtable’ and ‘workshop’ may deter you from attending, these are opportunities to contribute openly to broader discussions in the discipline. GSIC will be holding a workshop on the various issues that graduate students face – from financial constraints to diversity – in which all those attending will be asked to participate. It will be held on Friday morning.

Socializing with strangers is uncomfortable for me. Are there strategies for making this less awkward?

First thing’s first: you’re not alone in feeling this way. Not only is a common sentiment among grad students who are new to the conference scene, but I’d be willing to wager half my Loeb collection that there are seasoned professors who feel this way, too. I can personally sympathize while I also say that it’s worth putting yourself out there for a bit, though as with panel attendance and other conference activities, it’s perfectly fine to pace yourself and take breaks because the whole thing can get exhausting. Know thyself! The standard small talk involves “Where are you from? What do you work on?” If these questions are stressful to you, rehearse a two-sentence answer and a change of subject. It’s also fine to skip these questions altogether and talk about something more fun. Are they sports fans? Do they like craft beer?

If there are lots of people from your home institution at the conference, wonderful! I would say a word of caution against only associating with people you already know, as much as this is a natural reflex for most people at conference social events. By all means, spend time with them, but I suggest you also make a point of meeting at least a few new people per day. If this does not come natural to you, you can always approach someone whose paper you heard with a question or (charitable) comment at a social event, or simply find someone who looks friendly, or like they don’t know anyone, and introduce yourself.

If you’re that person who doesn’t know anyone at CAMWS, don’t despair! It’s perfectly fine to introduce yourself to strangers; I think you’ll find most CAMWS attendees are a friendly lot and perfectly willing to meet new people. You can always try to feel out who the other grad students are if you find it easier to dive in with peers. Sometimes people dislike socializing at conferences because they experience it as a an unpleasant exercise in posturing and being judged. I won’t argue with anyone’s experience, but in my own, most faculty who attend CAMWS are not about to ask you to defend your dissertation on the spot, nor do they seem interested in sizing up your potential for the job market over the wine and cheese reception. Similarly, most of the grad students are not interested in one-upmanship. Of course, there may be people who are unpleasant to interact with, and if you meet one, excuse yourself and find someone more amiable. If someone snubs you because your institution lacks a certain prestige, I am really sorry, and I would again suggest moving on and finding one of the many people in the room who will not behave so disgracefully. It goes without saying, but don’t be that person yourself!

What do I need to know about the book display?

Every year at CAMWS (and the SCS/AIA, as well as some other conferences in our field), there is a large room devoted to exhibition. You can find this room’s location in your program, or ask at the registration table. Most of the exhibitors are publishers displaying books for sale. These books are usually being sold at a discounted rate, so if you’re looking to buy, this can be a great opportunity to save a little cash. It  certainly makes for fun browsing! Books aren’t the only thing on exhibition, however. Other professional organizations in our field (such as the American Classical League) have tables with representatives and information, as well as interest groups, including yours truly, the Graduate Student Issues Committee (come say hello!). You’ll find representatives from other groups, such as the Paideia Institute, as well. It’s always worth spending time browsing the tables and learning about what other people in our field are doing. If you’ve never heard of an institution before, don’t hesitate to ask the representative what they do! There’s often Classics-themed swag to be had, sometimes even things like raffles with prizes. And a matter of extreme importance at any conference: when the program indicates that a break has a sponsor, that usually means that there will be complimentary coffee, and sometimes snacks, available for all in the exhibition room.

What do people wear?

The standard of dress at CAMWS, as at other academic conferences, is business attire. This is because the context of an academic conference is professional. Some attendees will dress more formally than others. The majority of men wear suits and ties, though quite a few will forego the coat or the tie, or even both. The majority of women wear slacks or skirt and a blouse, blazer, or nice sweater. Some wear pantsuits. Some wear business/professional dresses. Heels are neither necessary nor out of place. It is also the case that there are usually a few attendees who dress more casually. I have seen both grad students and faculty who have worn jeans vel sim. at CAMWS. I have also on occasion heard people comment on the appropriateness of such casual choices.

For the Friday evening banquet, some people will dress more formally than during the day (think evening wear), but many if not most will wear what they’ve been wearing that day. Another consideration for first-timers is that if you’re staying at the conference hotel, you may well end up unexpectedly in close quarters with other attendees outside of conference events. Thus, if it would embarrass you to run into a distinguished professor at the ice machine while wearing your pajamas, take heed.

In addition to this more descriptive than prescriptive discussion of dress (that is the intent, at least), I would also like to acknowledge that it has long been observed that standards of professional dress have historically tended to be sexist, cis- and hetero-normative, and racist. It can also be the case that professional dress is beyond the means of grad students subsisting on meager stipends. It’s beyond the scope of this blog post to delve into the full history of this issue, or survey the array of possible responses. For many of us, the extent to which our identity puts us outside the dominant norm combines with the anxiety that many grad students feel in a conference setting that they are constantly being judged by others. What I said in the question about socializing, I believe, holds true about dress as well: I cannot guarantee that you won’t meet someone who judges you unfairly on the basis of your appearance, but I do believe that when you’re presenting your paper, for instance, the vast majority of your audience will be more interested in the quality of your argument and presentation than in the price tag of your outfit.

For those who are gender non-conforming or non-binary, I cannot pretend to any personal knowledge of how to navigate dress in this particular context, but I have marshaled a few resources that I hope may prove helpful:

How to Dress for an Interview as a Butch Dyke (from The Professor Is In)

Gender Neutral Interview and Business Clothing (from The Balance)

Dressing Professionally as an LGBTQ/Non-Binary Grad Student (from The OUTgroup Project)

How do you give a successful conference paper?

This is a huge topic that can’t really be answered fully in such a short post, but these tips that may help.

  • Finish writing your paper and handout or powerpoint before you leave for the conference. It’s one thing to tweak the odd sentence or two in your final read-through before your panel, but if you are doing substantial writing in the airport and/or hotel room, the quality will likely suffer. You will also probably be much more stressed out. It’s also important to think about how your ability to be fully engaged as a conference participant will suffer if you’re holed up in your room instead of hearing papers and meeting people.
  • Practice presenting your paper before you arrive, ideally in front of other people. Many departments are perfectly willing to hold mock conference panels for graduate students who are presenting at conferences; some even do so as a matter of course. This is an excellent opportunity to get specific feedback from faculty and fellow grad students about how to improve your paper prior to the main event. You can always request such a practice session from your DGS, chair, or placement officer, provided you leave them enough time to organize it (at least a few weeks). If faculty are unable to hold a practice session, ask some of your peers if they would listen to you read your paper. Barring that, a mirror or even your cat can give you some much needed practice.
  • Do not exceed the allotted time for speaking. This is one of the reasons why practicing is important! If you know your paper is too long, edit it down (at an average of 2 minutes reading aloud to 1 Word page, 12 pt. font, double spaced, a CAMWS paper should not be more than 7.5 pages). Do not speed up your delivery to make time, or people will not be able to follow your presentation.
  • Remember that the medium of your paper is oral delivery, which means that some elements of style and structure that make for good prose writing will not work as well in this context. Remember that long, periodic sentences are harder to listen to than shorter sentences. Lists of numbers (such as passage citations) are hard to follow. Quotations in Greek, Latin, or any other language are hard to follow if the audience can’t read along with you on the screen or on your handout. Be sure to give your thesis at both the beginning and the end of the paper, and as you’re describing your evidence, make sure to say explicitly how it connects to your argument. As one of my professors once told me, to write a good oral presentation, “at the beginning of your paper, you have to tell them what you’re going to tell them. In the middle, tell them what you’re telling them. At the end, tell them what you told them.”
  • Your handout or powerpoint should aid your audience in understanding your argument, not hinder it. To that end, make sure all passages you quote appear there (with full citations), as well as citations for any secondary scholarship you mention (you should have a bibliography). Don’t give huge blocks of Greek or Latin text to which you refer only briefly and expect your audience to be able to read and ponder while you’re reading your paper. They will either read the text or listen to your argument; it’s impossible to do both. If you print your translation of a text (which you should if you read it in your paper), make sure the translation you print matches the translation you read.
  • In the future, whenever your hear paper presentations, make mental (or actual) notes about what works or doesn’t work, and imitate the good while avoiding the … less good.
  • Try to get a good night’s sleep the night before your presentation, and mind your Ps and Qs. The florescent lighting of the conference rooms will not be improved by a hangover!

What do I do if someone is rude during my Q & A?

You’ve probably heard horror stories about what can happen during a Q & A. First of all, it is very unlikely that you will have an audience member whose behavior toward you is rude or inappropriate. CAMWS in particular is known for having a friendly environment for grad student speakers. Of course, once in a blue moon, someone may hijack a Q & A period as a soapbox for their own work, or decide to excoriate a speaker for utilizing the work of a scholar with whom they disagree, or make some similar display of a total lack of professional decorum. In the unlikely event that this happens to you, know that at least 99% of the people in the room will think that the person is behaving poorly and will sympathize with you. They are the ones who look bad, and it’s not a poor reflection on you as a scholar that someone else decided to behave so unprofessionally.

That’s all well and good, but it feels really bad to have this happen! What do you do?! Try to stay calm and poised. Take a deep breath (or three). I see two basic strategies. The first is ignore the rudeness, either by giving a brief comment (“Thank you for your observation. Are there any other questions?”), or with a lengthier response that steers the conversation back to the specifics of your argument but without addressing the rude behavior. The second strategy is to stand your ground. If someone is being truly rude, don’t pay them back in kind (that is unprofessional), but it’s also OK to acknowledge what’s happening. You can say something like, “That tone isn’t necessary, but my use of so-and-so’s arguments about text X is perfectly valid because of Y and Z.” Or, for the soap-boxer, it’s legitimate to ask what the relevance of their musings is to the specifics of their arguments, especially if you can do it tactfully (and with an eye on the clock). Whatever happens, try not to respond with heat or let yourself get too flustered (this is hard)! You can deliver a profanity-laden rant about the experience to your friends over beers later (ideally not within earshot of other conference attendees); while you’re still at the podium, if you can stay calm, collected, and come across as professional in the interaction, you will win the exchange in the minds of your audience.

Remember that it’s normal to feel bad about receiving any criticism, and you may receive legitimate criticism from an audience member which may feel bad even though your critic has not behaved poorly. One reason why practicing your paper in front of faculty and peers is so important is that they can help you prepare to answer valid criticism.

Any advice on not breaking the bank for someone living on a grad student stipend?

In addition to applying for travel grants to offset your costs and claiming the discounts from CAMWS, you can almost always save more money on your flight and hotel. You can search and compare Hopper and Skyscanner to identify the cheapest flights or bundle your flight and hotel (as well as car rental, if needed) with similar services (e.g., Expedia, Kayak, etc.) to save. (Keep in mind that certain airlines [e.g., Southwest, Frontier, Spirit, etc.] will not appear in these searches. Take the time to check these prices before buying your ticket to guarantee the best rate possible). Most of these services will allow you to set alerts that will inform you when is the best time to buy your ticket. While many websites claim to offer the lowest rates on hotel rooms, the official hotel website usually has the best price. Nevertheless, websites like Trivago can help you research hotels more quickly. Lastly, with the advent of Airbnb and Homeaway, you can almost always find cheap accommodations very close to university/hotel where the conference is being held.

A Primer on the Varieties of Graduate Programs in Classics

By: Sarah Teets, Doctoral student in Classics at the University of Virginia (sct4ze@virginia.edu)

If you’re considering applying to grad school in Classics, I’m willing to bet that you’ve heard at least two things about it: the admissions competition is stiff, and once you’re in, the work itself is much more demanding than what you were used to as an undergrad. This is true! And it’s a great reason why it’s important to understand the differences between the kinds of degrees and programs out there to determine which is the best fit for your professional goals and current skill levels. The PhD is not the only option for grad school in Classics, and those who do go for the PhD get there via various paths. This post aims to give a summary of the different options available to prospective students.[1] It’s not a guide to individual schools, but once you decide on the degree(s) you want to pursue, you can identify which schools offer it, and go from there.[2] The four basic options are the PhD, the MA, the Post-Bac, and the MAT.

Getting Advice

The PhD[3]

A typical PhD program in Classics or Classical Archaeology takes 6-8 years to complete (the first two of which generally result in an MA), and many people take longer to complete their PhDs. Six to eight years is a long time to spend with the pressures and demands of grad school (not to mention the low income). You want to be sure before you begin that this is the path you want. So ask yourself, do you want to pursue a career in academia, or do you have another professional goal that you would best achieve with this PhD?[4] Do you believe that this PhD is something you can’t live without? If you’re confident that this is what you want, the next thing is to decide whether to go straight to a PhD program, or whether to pursue one of the options below.

Talk with your professors about your skills in Greek and Latin. This is a crucial factor: in grad school in Classics, it’s not uncommon to have a workload of 500-1,000 lines of text in Greek or Latin per course, per week, and you’ll usually have 3, sometimes 4 courses in a semester, often with secondary reading assignments as well. In Classical Archaeology programs, the standards for Greek and Latin are also very high. If this is something you’re in a position to succeed with, then going straight to a PhD program may be right for you.[5] If you don’t have sufficient background with the languages yet, consider the options below.

One last word about the PhD program: if you are unsure about whether you want to do a PhD, but know you want to continue to study Classics, applying to PhD programs may not be the best idea. Certainly, if you know now you don’t want to finish the PhD, it’s a bad idea to apply. Of course, some graduate students enter PhD programs with every intention of finishing but end up leaving early. There’s nothing wrong with this decision since it’s impossible to understand what graduate school will be like for you until you’ve tried it; your goals may change over time, but this is a separate issue from being on the fence about the PhD to begin with. Fortunately, if you are on the fence, there is another option.

 

The “Terminal” MA[6]

An increasing number of universities are offering MA-only programs, sometimes referred to as “terminal” MAs, but since that sounds like some kind of horrible diagnosis, I’ll just call them MA programs. These are generally 2-year programs which are separate from any PhD program at their respective universities. The advantages of these programs include that they’re a great option for people who are uncertain about whether they want to do a PhD, but are sure they want to continue their studies in Classics. With an MA, you can always apply to PhD programs to continue after you graduate with the MA, either at your current institution, or elsewhere. In fact, having an MA can improve your chances of success in the competitive world of PhD applications, as you’ll have far more experience in the field than you did coming out of your undergraduate institution, not just in terms of your knowledge and skills (which are obviously very important), but also in the less tangible elements of your professional relationships with faculty members and fellow graduate students. An MA program is also an excellent option for those who know that they do not want a PhD, but still want an MA. An MA in Classics or Classical Archaeology can be a valuable asset in a number of fields, especially teaching.

The main downsides of MA programs in Classics include that many of them do not fund all of their students or do not fund them fully. Usually such funding as does exist is attached to teaching and is fairly competitive. This means that you may be on the hook for tuition, which is generally high, and federal graduate student loans have high interest rates and are no longer subsidized. If you do choose an MA program, be sure to apply for funding, and consider applying to more than one to increase your chances of receiving one of those coveted funding packages! Another potential downside is that if you do an MA program, then move on to a PhD program, particularly if you move to a different institution, you may take longer to finish your PhD than if you had gone straight to the PhD. Many PhD programs require all new students to begin at the MA-level, meaning that you would be required to complete a second MA. This may or may not be desirable, and you should know that not all PhD programs will require this; some even do not allow it. If you are in this position, you’ll want to find out about these requirements, decide what you want in terms of a second MA, and apply accordingly.

 

The Post-Bac

Another option, if you want to go on to either the MA or the PhD, but you don’t think you’re prepared for graduate level work (especially if your language skills aren’t there yet) is a post-baccalaureate (post-bac) program. These are generally 1-year, non-degree programs (though some offer a certificate) that have the specific aim of preparing you for graduate-level work.[7]

Unlike an MA program, in which first-year students begin graduate-level work immediately, a post-bac is designed to bridge the gap in language skills that exists for many people coming out of their undergraduate programs. The transition in workload is thus meant to be more manageable. Aside from this, a post-bac can have many of the same advantages as an MA program when you go on to apply to PhD programs: your skills will be better than they were before, you’ll have forged connections with faculty members and fellow students at you post-bac institution. You will also have spent less time accomplishing this before your applications than with an MA program.

The downsides include that post-bacs are expensive and virtually never have funding packages. In addition, since they’re generally non-degree programs, you are not eligible for federal loans (though you’ll want to confirm funding details with individual programs). Furthermore, you may or may not consider it a disadvantage that since it is a non-degree program, if you decide not to apply to grad school after all, you won’t have a degree to show for your hard work.

 

The MAT

If you want to do a Masters degree, and know that you want to teach Latin at the secondary school level, look into programs that offer a Master of Arts in Teaching in Latin. Many universities with graduate programs in Classics have this option, often in conjunction with their department or college of Education. The benefit of an MAT compared with an MA is that you will be certified to teach in public schools as well as private, and your program will be more tailored to your specific professional goals. At the same time, you’ll also be able to do graduate-level coursework in Classics.

 

In addition to your own research on different programs, your best bet when choosing which specific programs to apply to, and later, if you’ve had admission offers, which to accept is to seek advice from multiple people, both professors and current graduate students. Because the selection process is inherently subjective (you want to match your own goals and interests with a potential advisor as well as with specific program requirements, department culture, funding situation, location, etc.), it’s a good idea to get multiple opinions in order to get a broader sense of what program is likely to be best for you. I hope that this piece can serve as a useful starting point for this process.

 

 

Notes

[1] I regret that this post is biased toward graduate programs in Classics rather than Classical Archaeology, though I believe that much of what is written here is applicable to both fields. It is also exclusively concerned with graduate programs in the US.

[2] CAMWS maintains lists of graduate programs in Classics, which are found here: https://camws.org/directories/study_classics_surveys.php. The SCS also maintains a list of graduate programs in Classics in the United States, with degrees offered and links to individual department websites. This excellent resource is available here: https://classicalstudies.org/list-graduate-programs-classics.

[3] See CAMWS’ directory of PhD programs in Classics, available at https://camws.org/directories/phd-programs.php, and the AIA’s directory of archaeology PhD programs: https://www.archaeological.org/professionals/gradprograms.

[4] I’ll leave aside the vexed issue of the advisability of pursuing a career in academia, and would instead recommend that you ask a professor to talk frankly with you about the current state of academic employment in our field, not to discourage you, but so you know what you’re getting yourself into.

[5] Your writing skills are also an enormously important element of success in graduate school. Ask a professor for whom you’ve written a paper for their opinion about your ability to succeed at graduate-level writing.

[6] See CAMWS’ directory of MA programs, including MAT programs: https://camws.org/directories/MA-programs.php.

[7] See CAMWS’ directory of post-bac programs: https://camws.org/directories/post-bacc-programs.php.

First-time Teaching of a Large Lecture Course

By: Prof. Christopher P. Craig and Dr. Taimi Olsen – University of Tennesee Knoxville (ccraig@utk.edu; tolsen@utk.edu)

Full version (including endnotes) published in The Classical Outlook, Vol. 89.3 (Spring 2012).

Original oral paper delivered at GSIC panel, organized by Jennifer LaFleur, at the annual CAMWS meeting in Baton Rouge, LA, in March of 2012.

Photo by Brett Jordan, 2007.

Photo by Brett Jordan, 2007.

For many of our colleagues at the beginning of their careers, the transition from graduate school to a full-time teaching position brings a completely new experience, responsibility for a large lecture course. This new role can be daunting. It does not have to be. The following suggestions may help. They derive primarily from my own classroom mistakes. They are certainly not meant to be exhaustive. Improving teaching is something we learn by doing, by talking with colleagues, and by appropriating whatever works. If we ever stop thinking about how to do it better, we are all in trouble.

I. Basic Principles

Most of us have not taught a large lecture before we get our first full-time job. Still, many of us have teaching experience in smaller classes, and all of us have in mind the examples of the favorite teachers who taught us most effectively.

The basic principles that almost all effective teachers have in common are going to be the same for a teaching assistant’s discussion section, an introductory Latin class, or a lecture for 200 people. They are:

I.1 Golden Rule (In its strong form: Treat others as you would want to be treated.)

I.2 The fact and perception of fairness are both essential: treat all students equally.

I.3 Know your stuff (and be honest when your omniscience fails).

I.4 Be shameless about your own excitement with the material and your eagerness to share it with your students. (But leave the pom-poms in your office.)

I.5 Without compromising performance standards, actively be on their side.

 

II. Large Class Essentials

To teach a large lecture class, the only thing you have to do is translate those basic tenets from a relatively intimate group in which you can have a better sense of the capacities, learning styles, and perhaps even the aspirations of everyone in the room, to a large lecture hall where you are guaranteed to finish the semester without knowing most of your students by name.

The greatest change is the level of regimentation. In a small class, your simple proximity creates a relationship, so that students maintain a certain level of alertness and have a certain amount of themselves invested in not appearing “clueless.” When something is obvious, you do not have to make it explicit. You don’t have to tell people that their term paper should have a thesis, for example. In my experience, that dynamic changes when you get more than 30–45 students in a class. In any class with more than 45 students, the expectations based upon their personal involvement with the experience go out the window. As a result, for the class to be successful, and for your own sanity, you may find helpful these basic guidelines:

II.1 Make the obvious explicit. What is blindingly obvious to you and to most of your students will not be obvious at all to perhaps 10% of your audience. Be painfully explicit about what you are doing, why it is important, and about all requirements and expectations. Doing so also gives you credit for professionalism with the students who do not need to have everything spelled out.

II.2 Think hard about the syllabus on the front end, make it as detailed as possible, and then stick to it. In a smaller class, one can take a poll and change the date of a test or adjust assignments if most or all in the class are amenable. In a large class, any such change, even from the kindest of motives, will somehow wound someone. It is a one-way ticket to a plausible perception of unfairness, even to grade appeals. Don’t go there.

Figure out the order and interrelationship of lectures before the class begins, and treat everything on the syllabus—assignments, due dates, grade calculation—as contractual. Do not make exceptions to your own rules. Every exception on anything to do with grading will take 20 minutes or more out of your life per student, will potentially generate another line of students at your door asking for the same treatment, and can still leave you open to the toxic perception of unfairness.

An ancillary issue is one of student crises. In a class with 200 students, it is inevitable that a few people will be hit hard by life, or imagine that they have been, in the course of the semester. It important to set clear expectations for the accommodations you can make. I tell my students on the first day of class that we all know that life is not fair, but that I do not have the wisdom or the energy to try to compensate for the bad hand that life may deal to 200 unique and precious individuals. The best I can do is to treat every student the same, regardless of their circumstances. I call this the “fairness doctrine.”

Students understand equal treatment, and most of them value it. When plaintive emails come (“If I don’t get a passing grade, I won’t graduate and the wedding will be off!” etc.), they can regularly be met with sympathetic replies noting that your hands are tied by the fairness doctrine.

One of the pieces of information that the syllabus should provide is the policy for make-up exams. My own make-up policy is No Make-ups. What that looks like in practice is that I tell them to call or email me beforehand if they have to miss a test because of a death in the family (which God forbid!) or some other horrific life event. Again, in a large class, these events are going to happen. When they do, I will work with students to the extent of counting the next test grade for the grade of the test missed. This works with the fairness doctrine because I treat all students who have lost a loved one the same. There is of course the notorious problem of the student who claims to lose a dozen grandparents in the course of a semester. For this reason, after the bereaved student returns, I do ask for a copy of the obituary or the funeral order of service for the course file. When a student is grieving, a teacher’s natural instinct is to protect that young person. So this is hard. If it is presented as a mechanical formality, the student does not take it in bad part.

Other large class essentials are very intuitive.

II.3 Return papers and tests as soon as possible after they are taken, and let students know when to expect them. This is especially important to them where tests are concerned. With a class of 25, you can have a cloud of uncertainty hanging over them for a week and the personal relationship will still carry you through. With a class of 200, that uncertainty becomes an enormous distraction. Students have told me that they lose respect for a teacher who sits on their tests. It’s that big a deal.

II.4 Use the web to post everything that people would otherwise ask you for. This includes study guides, handouts, powerpoints, last year’s tests (which the fraternity and sorority members have in their files anyway, so everyone should have them as a matter of fairness). Powerpoint presentations should be used because they are easy to do, and the eye candy is really important to them. I am not visually sensitive, but students have told me that a lecture without pictures is like a day without sunshine. (Their similes are actually a bit more vigorous.) I also post my own lecture notes online after each lecture. I do this so that people will have their heads up and pay attention to what is being said, rather than being three sentences behind and asking me to spell “Hippolytus” again. Anything that you can put online will save you from 10 or more separate email exchanges about it. Making information available in this way is key to having time for your research and to having a life. And the fact that everything is online reinforces your reputation both for helpfulness and for fairness.

II.5 Articulate a clear and enforceable policy about use of digital devices. Regarding student use of digital devices in class, you must know that they are not using them to fact check your lecture. They are checking Facebook. So their screen also becomes a distraction to every student behind the facebooker who is now watching that screen rather than paying attention. Smart phones do not have that broader effect, or at least not so much, but they still take a student out. Letting them do this does them a disservice in my view. I have convinced myself that the exercise of trying to pay attention in a digital-free environment for 50 minutes will be a valuable life skill. In twenty years, the attention span they develop here will be a rare and powerful attribute. So, as a kindness to them, I allow no digital devices in any of my classrooms without prior permission. And I tell them that on the first day of class, emphasizing that my policy is born of concern for their future success.

II.6 Make and follow closely a lesson plan for every class.
The old nostrum of “tell ’em what you’re going to tell ’em, tell ’em, then tell ’em what you told ’em” is not without merit. At a minimum, tell them what you plan to accomplish in this lecture and provide a powerpoint outline if that’s your taste. In a smaller class, you have the flexibility to go in with one lesson plan, encounter the Muse, and follow where she leads into an area that is infinitely more exciting and satisfying for your students. For a larger class, make a mental note to get back to the Muse later. Else you risk taking your entire syllabus off the rails and muddying their expectations for the material for which they are responsible. If you do find yourself winging it in class, label explicitly what part of what you have said will be fair game for testing.

 

III. A persona for students who will never know you personally

III.1 You belong in front of this class. Show confidence in your role and in your subject matter. In a large class, your audience will be enormously varied. And you are there to teach all of them, not just the 20% who come in the door already engaged. The only thing that you can assume about all of them is that they want a good grade in the course, that you are at first simply a part of the landscape through which they are traveling, like a steep hill or a traffic light, and that what they want most is aid for their journey. Many of your students will not care about classics, but will be there because of some requirement to take humanities (“Whatever that is.”). They are still open to learning what you have to teach them. They want to be interested rather than bored. But at the end of the day the one thing they have in common is that they all want to get their ticket punched. Some are happy to be there, and will like you instantly because you know this stuff. Some do not want to be there and will be predisposed to loathe you as their tormentor. None of this has anything to do with you personally. It is, as the young people say, “so not about you.” That can be deflating, but it can also be liberating.

In fact, this is the paradox of teaching, and it is amplified in a large lecture environment. Even though it is not about you, it is essential to be your best self, to go in firmly believing that you have something to teach all of them that is worth learning, and that is going to have a positive effect on their lives. It may take a lot of contemplation to get to that point. If you have been spending your intellectual time with quantitative metathesis, or with ante- consonantal atque, you must ask yourself if sharing those things is the best use of the time of a twenty-year-old who may or may not ever have another classics course. (The answer, by the way, is “no.”) This time of contemplation, of convincing yourself that what you have to teach will make a positive difference in their lives, is time well invested. It is the foundation of your classroom ethos.

III.2 Make your highest priority sharing with them information that is important, and that is going to help them do well on the next test. If you are an introvert, or just insecure in your own powers, you may be concerned that they doubt your authority. Whether you think they do or not, you are right. To avoid falling into that, dress professionally (a good idea in any case). As you speak, if you are diffident that they trust your knowledge, just write something in Greek on the board, say “oops,” erase it, write the Roman alphabet equivalent, and keep going. You don’t need to do more. If you are an extrovert, there may be a temptation to be funny or mildly shocking for its own sake, just to enjoy your audience’s reaction. But you already know to harness that for their learning or to avoid it.

It is essential to make clear that you want them to do well, and to be available to them to help at need. Our rule of thumb is at least three office hours per week, but we also meet students at other times, and we answer emails all the time. If you have designed the mechanical piece properly, the students who meet with you will genuinely need to meet with you. They will be grateful for your care.

III.3 Because you are in an unequal power relationship, you are constrained to a kind of ersatz saintliness. If you show meanness, anger, or sarcasm to any student, every student in the class will feel threatened. Never make a joke at a student’s expense. Never betray impatience. Never be unkind. Strive for the patience of Job and the kindness of St. Francis of Assisi. They will love you for it. More important, they will learn better. (This takes some getting used to. A beer in the evening may help.)

III.4 Delivery is key. To read a paper at a scholarly meeting without looking up is an odd stylistic choice. To read a lecture without looking up is a death wish for everything you are trying to accomplish with them. If you can handle eye contact (and some people are so shy that this is Mt. Everest for them), make eye contact with someone in each quadrant of the room as you proceed. To make the obvious explicit: Smiling doesn’t hurt. Scowling does. Keep sufficient engagement in your voice so that it does not become a monotone. If you are relying on powerpoint (or a handout) to reinforce what you are saying, have something to say, or some emphasis to bring, that goes beyond reading to them what is on the powerpoint slide. Else, they either zone out completely or become mechanical note takers, and neither of those things is helpful.

To the extent that you can have a little interaction in each lecture, whether through the use of clickers or singling out of individuals, it helps everyone to stay alert. Teachers vary enormously in the kinds of interaction they can get away with. So much depends on your own comfort level. Personally, I single out two or three individuals in every class, but that may not work for you. When I was a teaching assistant at Chapel Hill for Kenneth Reckford’s epic journey course, Professor Reckford, a true master teacher, punctuated his lecture on Dante’s Paradiso by throwing handfuls of candy from the stage to set the joyous tone. It worked superbly for him. It would not work for me.

III.5 Finally, measure your performance in a constructive way. James Redfield long ago wrote (a little wickedly) that classicists are socialized into our profession by translating while our teachers correct us. Our teacher, the perfect classicist, is one who is free from error, and who corrects error in others. At some level, that teacher is who we aspire to be. And that socialization has real plusses. But one minus is that we all want to be free from error, and our course evaluations tell us otherwise. One standard question on such evaluations at my institution is “What aspects of this class contributed most to your learning.” If you have such a question on your student course evaluations, the good news is that just about every term you will get evaluations that say you are the best teacher a student has had in college, that your passion for the material and your genuine care that students learn made this the best course ever. They will say that you are amazing or AWESOME in capital letters. Take heart from that. You’ve earned it. I trust that you will never get evaluations that look like others of mine. On our narrative evaluations, we also ask what detracted most from your learning in this course. Here’s a very select sample from a large mythology lecture I taught last fall:

• “Make it an online class because this semester you detracted from my learning the material from online.”
• “Everything in class was a waste of my time.”
• “Do everyone a favor and get rid of this teacher and this class.”

By our perfectionist standard, this eloquent view, although very much a minority opinion, can be disquieting. Don’t let it be. Whether students say that you are the Second Coming or Hitler’s love child (as one of my superb teaching colleagues in history was once described), or anything in between, focus on the specifics, and ferret out the concrete suggestions for change that are worth considering to make the class better next time. Remember that what’s past is prologue. One tactic that you may find impossibly cheesy, but that has helped shield me from both arrogance and despair for many years, is this: I keep a small sign on the office wall, placed so that I always see it on the way out the door with lecture or lesson plan in hand. It says, simply, “You are only as good as your next class.”

 

 

APPENDIX

The foregoing observations are all keyed to the only model for large lecture classes that I know well, the so-called “sage on the stage” model. There are other ways to negotiate the large lecture classroom dynamic, and there is much new thinking on the use of technology in this environment. At the University of Tennessee- Knoxville, we are fortunate to have a Teaching and Learning Center that offers expert guidance in this arena. My colleague Dr. Taimi Olsen, Associate Director of our Teaching and Learning Center (http://tenntlc.utk.edu/), has graciously provided the following bibliography:

I read Professor Craig’s remarks with pleasure. He aptly describes the shift that you will experience from small to large classes and provides excellent advice on how to proceed with a large class. The relationships you develop with students in small classes will bring you joy. You can, though, reach some of that sense of personal fulfillment even in a large lecture hall. No matter what you else you do, use student names. You will not memorize all those names, but refer to people by name and they will feel welcomed. Use a seating chart or “table tents” and call on people by name—even if it is a random “Alexi, where are you? What is your opinion of…?” And, if you are truly fortunate, your school can accommodate you with a “flat and flexible” room for large classes. These rooms, like many now being installed across the country, hold large round tables with multiple screens on the walls—so students can see your slides while you talk or turn to each other when asked to interact. However, even in fixed rows, students can turn to each other and discuss. Research shows that for every 15–20 minutes of lecture, a 3-minute activity break at the least to think and process ideas is extremely important for learning. Finally, I fully agree with Professor Craig—“teachers vary enormously in the kinds of interaction they can get away with. So much depends on your own comfort level.” I believe, though, that even the most introverted of us become more extroverted in the classroom, as we develop our classroom persona. At least, I’ve seen it happen with my fellow Humanities professors! Below are some resources for ideas on how to create anything from a more interactive lecture designed to support student learning to a fully “flipped” class in which your lectures are recorded for evening consumption and your class is devoted to discussion and problem- solving. It’s your choice. Go with your strengths.

Web Resources

The following web links provide short resources giving advice and strategies. Davis is noted for her work on collaborative learning. Craig and others introduce methods of formative feedback (also referred to as CATS: Classroom Assessment Techniques, as introduced by Angelo and Cross). CATS are extremely helpful in taking the measure of your class, of getting some information on what is working and what is not. “Lecture Capture” is a catch- all term for various software used to record and post lectures for students to view outside of class. Research shows that students who are provided with recorded lectures (which they heard in class or watched individually out of class) will return to that lecture for review multiple times. “Deep learning” refers to the more cognitively complex and lasting learning that students do, as opposed to surface learning for test-taking purposes (see Bloom’s taxonomy for a list of cognitive levels of learning). “Active learning” and “engagement” are similar terms for any activity that gets students out of a passive, receptive type of “learning.” Active learning by students is linked to higher cognitive levels of learning, better transfer of knowledge from class to class, and higher college retention rates.

• “Innovative Teaching Showcase: Planning for Large Classes.” Center for Instructional Innovation and Assessment, Western Washington University, 2012. 25 July, 2012. http://pandora.cii.wwu.edu/showcase2009.

• Cooper, James L., Pamela Robinson, and David A. Ball. “The Interactive Lecture: Reconciling Group and Active Learning Strategies with Traditional Instructional Formats.” Exchanges: The Online Journal of Teaching and Learning in the CSU. http://www.exchangesjournal.org/print/print_1161.html.

• Craig, James. “Minute Papers in a Large Class.” NTLF: National Teaching and Learning Forum, 1995. 25 July, 2012. http://www.ntlf.com/html/lib/bib/minute.htm.

• Crumly, Hugh. “Lecture Busters: Keeping Students Engaged.” Duke University Center for Instructional Technology, n.d. 25 July, 2012. http://cit.duke.edu/pdf/events/lecturebusters.pdf.

• Davis, Barbara Gross. “Preparing to Teach the Large Lecture Course.” Tools for Teaching. University of California, Berkeley, 2002. 25 July, 2012. http://teaching.berkeley.edu/bgd/largelecture.html.

• Millis, Barbara. “Promoting Deep Learning.” IDEA Center, 2010. 25 July, 2012. http://www.theideacenter.org/sites/default/files/IDEA_Paper_47.pdf.

• Sarkisian, Ellen. “Twenty Ways to Make Lectures More Participatory.” Adapted from Participatory Lectures, Derek Bok Center for Teaching and Learning, 2010. 25 July, 2012. http://isites.harvard.edu/fs/html/icb.topic58474/TFTlectures.html.

• Zhu, Erping and Inger Bergom. “Lecture Capture: A Guide for Effective Use.” CRLT Occasional Paper No. 27. Center for Research on Teaching and Learning, University of Michigan, 2010. 25 July, 2012. http://www.crlt.umich.edu/publinks/CRLT_no27.pdf.

Books

The following is certainly not an exhaustive list and does not include the many, many research articles published each year on active learning.

• Bligh, Donald. What’s the Use of Lectures? San Francisco: Jossey- Bass, 2000. Bligh’s book outlines the argument against lectures as accomplishing either higher levels of cognitive learning for students (analysis, application, evaluation) or transfer of knowledge. In terms of lower-levels of learning (memorizing and understanding), lectures are no better or worse than other types of transfer of knowledge, such as reading text.

• Bonwell, Charles, and James Eison. Active Learning: Creating Excitement in the Classroom. Ashe-ERIC Higher Education Report No. 1 Washington D.C.: The George Washington University, School of Education and Human Development, 1991. A classic— and a short, readable and imminently helpful—book on active learning, which includes a chapter on active lecturing.

• Bruff, Derek. Teaching with Classroom Response Systems: Creating Active Learning Environments. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2009. Bruff specializes in the use of “clickers” in the classroom.

• Heppner, Frank. Teaching the Large College Class: A Guidebook for Instructors with Multitudes. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2007. A sound resource for all sorts of questions about creating and running a large class.

• Mazur, Eric. Peer Instruction: A User’s Manual. NJ: Pearson, 1997. Mazur is well-known for creating concept questions to use during lectures. As stated on his webpage, “Lectures are interspersed with conceptual questions, called ConcepTests, designed to expose common difficulties in understanding the material. The students are given one to two minutes to think about the question …then spend two to three minutes discussing their answers in groups of three to four, attempting to reach consensus on the correct answer.” There is a guidebook and online resources for peer instruction as well.

• National Research Council. How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience, and School. Expanded Edition. Washington, D. C.: National Academies Press, 2000. An excellent, general resource based on research findings about student learning. Not only does it address the importance of active learning and engagement for students, it also emphasizes the importance of “metacognition” or a student’s awareness and understanding of his or her own learning processes.

• Simkins, Scott, and Mark Maier, eds. Just In Time Teaching: Across the Disciplines, and Across the Academy. Sterling, VA: Stylus, 2009. “JITT” is the method of getting students to be prepared and assessing how well students are prepared for class through short quizzes “just” before class, thus enabling the professor to include more discussion and conceptual activities in class.

• Stanley, Christine, and M. Erin Porter. Engaging Large Classes: Strategies and Techniques for College Faculty. San Francisco: Jossey- Bass, 2002. Another good, overall resource for the teacher of large classes.

 

Productivity in Graduate School: Four Steps for a Time-Management Tune-up

By: Laura Takakjy, Doctoral candidate in Classical Languages at the University of Texas at Austin

ltakakjy@utexas.edu

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The summer is a great time to reflect on the past year and what has and hasn’t worked for your study habits. The slower pace presents an opportunity to try new apps and time management techniques in a lower pressure setting.

Here are four steps for taking inventory of your time management and for implementing new work patterns that will set you on a path for a successful fall semester.

 

1) Figure out what you are doing and when you are doing it

Step number one is simply informative: learn what you do when you sit at your desk. This sounds simple—you are working, right? Probably not as much as you’d like to think. Mindless email checking, reading over news headlines, organizing desks or desktops, or even obsessively grading can distract from working on the projects that matter the most to academic progress.

The easiest way to check what you are doing is to track your time. I have found toggl to be a user friendly resource for measuring my work. The app lets you create ongoing “projects” that you can tap into every time you begin a task and tap out of when you end it. At the end of the week, toggl sends you a report of the total number of hours worked on each project.

If an app doesn’t work for you, excel or a notebook can be handy. Don’t be discouraged if you find you are engaging in active work a lot less of the time than you imagined—remember that developing increased awareness of your productivity is the first step to improving your productivity.

 

2) Understand the roots of your procrastination and address them

Once you understand your study habits, figure out when you are procrastinating and why. Making the perfect schedule only works if you are confident you will complete your tasks.

Last year, I had the pleasure of taking a summer writing workshop with Trish Roberts-Miller, Professor of Rhetoric and Writing at The University of Texas at Austin. She proposed that we procrastinate for three main reasons; first, because we don’t know where to begin (decisional procrastination); second, because we are bored by our work; and third, because we are anxious and (all) suffer from “imposter syndrome” or the idea that we are not up to the task to complete our own work.

When I realize I am procrastinating I identify which of these three statements (and it could be all) is true:

A) “I don’t know where to begin”

As David Allen says in Getting Things Done, “If you’re not totally sure what your job is, it will always feel overwhelming” (pg. 204). In other words, a blank screen sparks anxiety. Allen recommends that people “work from the bottom up” rather than focus on the big picture too soon. When I feel overwhelmed by my project, I do something very small that might lead me to more clarity later. For example, reading one article that sounds interesting and writing a summary of it might spark an idea for a seminar paper.

Another way to help with decisional procrastination is to seek help. A logical source of help might be your professor, advisor, or a trusted graduate school colleague. A professor, for example, can help pare down big topics into more manageable bites. Coming to a firm decision means working toward a concrete goal rather than working adrift.

B) “I am bored”

Having a self-reward system can help alleviate boredom. You can promise yourself something small (“a piece of chocolate if I work for an hour”) or something bigger (“a massage if I work 10 hours this week”).

Logging in hours (with toggl or whatever works) as suggested above can be a reward in itself. Tracking progress increases our awareness of our goal and has been shown to correlate with success; John Norcross calls this phenomenon “reactivity” in Changeology (pg. 57).

I combine tracking my time with a simple reward system (e.g. “If I log in 4 hours today, I get a piece of chocolate”). The only trick to using rewards effectively is to reward yourself only when you complete your intended task. For example, if you know you will eat the chocolate no matter what, then think of another reward. Likewise, don’t promise yourself something you should be doing anyway. Promising yourself sleep for 8 hours sounds more like avoiding punishment rather than working toward a reward.

C) “I am a phony!”

Finally, there is the type of procrastination that is the most pernicious of all: “imposter syndrome.” This is the hardest to overcome because its purpose is to keep us inert to delay facing the judgment of others or of ourselves.

Keep in mind this important point: studies have shown that there is no correlation between low intelligence and procrastination (David Allen has a section called “Why Bright People Procrastinate the Most” in his book, pgs. 240-244).

Learning about “imposter syndrome” is the first step to overcoming it. When I identify my own “imposter syndrome,” I recall past times of persevering through difficult academic challenges. I also remind myself that everyone feels this way from time to time either by talking to others or reading blogs like this one.

Furthermore, you can free write your way out of “writer’s block” by writing about “writer’s block.” Joan Bolker’s chapter “Getting Started Writing” in her book Writing your Dissertation in Fifteen Minutes a Day (which is a useful resource for any kind of writing project) has some useful tips on different types of free writing ideas.

 

3) Set realistic goals both great and small

Tackling procrastination can help jumpstart projects, but following through requires manageable and realistic timetables.

The trick is to create reasonable to-do lists. For example, if you give yourself an hour to read an article and then you realize the article will take you at least 3 hours to digest, at the end of the hour you might feel demoralized and be more prone to procrastinate next time.

You can use the data collected in section one (above) to analyze how long different tasks take you. For example, you might determine you are capable of reading 20 pages/hour and writing 1 page/hour and then use that information later when you are planning how long it might take you to write a paper.

As for planning when to work, this is matter of preference. If you find Tuesdays are when you are most creative, then it might be best to schedule paper writing rather than holding office hours.

 

4) Prioritize

If you realize that you don’t have the time to read an article for 3 hours, then it’s necessary to rethink the significance of that task. Instead of adding more hours to the day, figure out what tasks are absolutely essential and work from there. In other words, could you get away with skimming a long article? If no, you might need to rethink and reorganize your other projects in order to accomplish the most important projects to your academic progress.

Incorporating prioritization into your schedule could simply be a matter of rearranging your to-do list to reflect what is most pressing (writing your thesis) verses your dream list (organizing your office supplies). Priority Matrix is an app that lets you create a four quadrant list of your to-do list (one quadrant might be “important and urgent”; another “important and not urgent,” etc.). The premise of the app is based on a pen and paper method.

I’ve found Remember the Milk to be a helpful way to organize my to-do lists. You can have the app send you email reminders. Google calendar and a host of other services do this do this as well.

 

 

Understanding procrastination and then prioritizing your academic progress frees time for success. By using these methods, I must admit that I haven’t accomplished everything I would have dreamed. Instead, I have accomplished what is most important to me and my academic success thus far.

A special thanks to Dr. Trish Roberts-Miller (Professor in the Department of Rhetoric and Writing at The University of Texas at Austin) whose workshop I attended in 2014 inspired me to implement so many of the changes I described above.

 

Works Cited:

Allen, David. 2003 [2001]. Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity. New York: Penguin.

Boker, Joan. 1998. Writing your Dissertation in Fifteen Minutes a Day: A Guide to Starting, Revising, and Finishing your Doctoral Thesis. New York: H. Holt.

Burka, Jane B. and Lenora M. Yuen. 2007 [1983]. Procrastination: Why You Do It, What to Do About It Now. Cambridge, Mass.: Da Capo Press.

Norcross, John C. 2012. Changeology: 5 Steps to Realizing Your Goals and Resolutions. New York: Simon & Schuster.

 

Other resources:

http://thesiswhisperer.com

http://sites.utexas.edu/dissertationbootcamp/resources/

Work-life Balance: Tips for Keeping your Sanity and Identity in Graduate School

By: Elizabeth Deacon, PhD student in Classics at the University of Colorado Boulder
elizabeth.deacon@colorado.edu

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Graduate school can swallow up your whole life. Faced with the large increase in workload compared to undergrad, new grad students often respond by pouring more time into their studies, letting schoolwork eat up their evenings, weekends, and any other scrap of spare time. This is hard on mental health, though, and in my opinion is a big part of why grad school has such a reputation for being bad for mental health. It’s also less effective at getting work done. Yes! You may be able to get more done by allotting less time to work.

Work-life balance is hugely beneficial. When work is your top priority twenty-four hours a day, everything else you care about becomes second priority at best and gets neglected as such. Carving some time for yourself out of your work schedule can leave you wondering if you’re dedicated enough to your field or if you’ll have time to finish your work once the carving is done, but taking time for yourself will in fact make you more successful in your studies. When parts of the day are dedicated to eating properly, exercising, and relaxing, you get a chance to recharge and keep yourself in the best shape mentally and physically, which allows you to work harder and better in those time periods that you do allot to work.

And make no mistake, graduate school is work, as in a job. For undergraduates, college can be a whole-life activity; students may live in dorms, eat meals in the dining hall, and meet most of the people they know in classes or college-sponsored clubs. There is no separate home life away from school. Bringing these habits into graduate school is not a recipe for success. The work is more intense and exhausting, so a break from it becomes critical, and the all-encompassing support networks colleges build for undergraduates do not apply as well to graduate students. Grad school can appear a lot like undergrad, but it functions much more like a job. Graduate students must build their own support networks outside of school, and are well-served by the break from study.

So how do you achieve work-life balance when your job is so eager to eat up your whole life? There’s no easy answer there, but here are a few techniques that have worked for me and other graduate students I know:

  • Build a distinction between home and work: Make home feel like home. Take some time to make your apartment a pleasant place to live in, with things like comfortable living room furniture, art you like on the walls, or a pet to come home to, whatever makes you feel happy and at home. Try to keep work-related books and other materials in a confined area. If you’re going to spend some time not feeling “at work,” you need a space that is clearly not work to do it in, and it should be one you find pleasant.
  • Get to know people who aren’t in your department: As an undergraduate you can meet all your friends and romantic interests in class, but graduate students are better off branching out. It’s great to be friends with people in your department, but they can’t be your everything. People who don’t know anything about your field of research are the friend equivalents of parts of your home that don’t have textbooks all over them. They give you a social space to spend time in that is a break from work. And dating in the department works about as well as sleeping with someone in the office at any other job, with the added issue that it can sometimes be difficult for two people in the same field to get jobs close to each other, if the relationship does work out. Find people who share your hobbies, religion, or favorite exercise, or just join a local group that meets at the bar every Friday at happy hour. You are more than your passion for your work; call back to mind the other things you cared about and liked to do before grad school took up all your time, and find other people to do those things with.
  • Take care of your body: Exercise, get enough sleep, and eat good, nourishing food. A healthier body will make you happier and give you more energy to tackle your studies. Sometimes when you look at a busy schedule it’s tempting to cut down that big, empty, eight hour block allotted to sleep, but a person who has gotten enough sleep works significantly faster and better than an exhausted one. Exercise and food have similar effects. Cutting into time scheduled for these things to find more time to study is a false economy.
  • Take care of your mind: Much like your body, your mind needs rest and nourishment to work well. Pursue interests you have unrelated to your degree, meditate or attend church, listen to music, and read books for fun so you don’t forget you like reading after a few hours wading through dense academic jargon. Spend some time with those friends mentioned two bullet points back. Find time for your hobbies; they can be fantastic sources of stress relief, places for successes when you’re not having any at work, and a way to meet new people.
  • Schedule: Scheduling is critical for me. If I don’t schedule a time in the day to go out for a run, my run will forever be planned for “after I finish reading one more article.” All of these non-work things need a defined time slot on your calendar or you will never get around to them. Work also needs to be scheduled for a clear time in your day, lest it be shoved out of the way for your new non-work pursuits. This can help get more work done as well; when the whole day is allotted to work, it becomes easier to decide to read an article later and watch one more YouTube cat video first, which can lead you down a rabbit hole of procrastination. When you have to stop working in an hour because you’re meeting some friends for soccer afterward, now becomes the only possible time to finish that article.

Grad school can be an extremely difficult job, but it is still just a job. You can come home from it. Make a home to come to, make time for other things and people you love, and make time to take care of yourself. A balanced life makes you healthier, and when you’re healthier you work faster and better, and withstand the stresses of graduate school better. And aside from the benefits to your work, it improves your quality of life. Even when you’re a graduate student, you deserve to make your own happiness a priority.

The Process Of Developing A Publishable Paper In Classics: An Illustrative Example And Some Suggestions

By: William Race, University Of North Carolina-Chapel Hill
Originally delivered at: CAMWS, St. Louis, April 16, 2004
https://camws.org/gsic/race.html

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Remarks adapted from a presentation at “Preparing to Publish,” a panel on scholarly publishing organized by The Graduate Students Issues Committee. A version of this paper appears in Classical Journal 100.3 (2005) 301-305.  Permission to display this version has been granted by the author, outgoing CJ Forum Editor Nita Krevans, outgoing Editor-in-Chief Peter Knox, incoming Editor-in-Chief S. Douglas Olson, and CAMWS Secretary-Treasurer Anne Groton.

I first wish to thank Bob Holschuh Simmons and the other organizers for putting together this panel on scholarly publishing in Classics and for kindly inviting me to participate in it. I shall begin by presenting an example from my own experience of turning an idea into an eventual publication and end by offering 10 general observations and suggestions for those intending to publish in this field.

Published articles arise from many sources and take many forms. I want to relate my own experience with one publication, which arose from my teaching about ten years ago and culminated in an article entitled “First Appearances in the Odyssey.” For several years I had taught the Odyssey in a general Greek Civilization course of 40 students. Each time I introduced the epic by pointing out that the first time we see the suitors and Telemachos through the eyes of Athena, we learn a great deal about their characters just by noticing what they are doing and how they react to the appearance of the goddess. I would then add that they should be alert each time a new character is introduced to see what could be discerned about his or her character.

Nothing exceptional in this—merely a common-sensical way of reading narratives. I have always approached literature from the point of view of the writer (I suppose because I always wanted to be one), by constantly asking: why has “the author” introduced this person or topic at this juncture and in this particular way? Then, one semester, almost as if listening to my own words, I began to pay attention to the various ways in which the poet introduced new characters.

Such musings rattled around in the back of my mind until an opportunity (καιρός) arose—and a deadline approached. I was invited to the University of Kentucky and one facet of my visit was to meet with a graduate seminar on Homer. Here was the chance to try out my ideas, so I quickly wrote up about twenty pages and sent them off two weeks before my visit.

Many ideas crowded my mind as I wrote up this draft. One was Aristotle’s observation that the Odyssey was an epic of θος and his prescription that character should be consistent—after all, I was exploring how θος was revealed with our first view of each character and this entailed asking whether or not the subsequent actions of the character were consistent with our first impression. Another was the issue of remembering: I had noticed that memory of the past was an important characteristic of the good characters in the Odyssey, whereas bad ones were forgetful. I also noticed that there were significant absences in several first appearances: Zeus and Athene (with Poseidon absent); Kalypso (with Odysseus absent); Eumaios and Laertes (with their servants absent). Hospitality was also prominent in delineating good and bad characters. I was also interested in the technique of the narrator: were there consistent motifs, patterns, typologies? I noticed that we often “found” people (the operative verb was ερίσκω) engaged in revealing activities when we first saw them.

I tried to incorporate as many of these ideas as I could in my draft. Since, somewhat surprisingly, I had never before published a word on Homer, I struggled like anyone working in a new field. I knew (as most Hellenists do) something of Homeric scholarship, but was, frankly, taking a risk. The students in the seminar were asked to write referee reports, as if for a journal. Far from containing the pronouncements of an expert, this exercise was my request for help. One student’s critique astutely remarked that there were really four papers here. It was clear that all my ideas were not cohering.

It was my good fortune that Robert Rabel was on hand to give me very helpful advice and relevant bibliography, especially regarding narratology, one area of his expertise. I also contacted a former teacher just to see if he knew if anything had been done on this topic. Finally, I happened to meet Steve Reece, who had recently finished his dissertation on what would become The Stranger’s Welcome, one of the best books on Homer in recent years. He kindly read the draft and offered many suggestions, especially additional bibliography. At this point I was encouraged to take it a step further. I submitted it as a talk at the APA in New Orleans in 1992 and it was accepted. The very process of boiling it down to an abstract really helped clarify the essential argument, while preparing the handout brought into focus the most important examples. Then, after letting it sit for an additional few months, I returned to it at the beginning of summer and finally sent off the result to TAPA.

After three months, the reports came back. Referee A rejected it for cogent reasons: I offered no rationale for including some examples and excluding others; I had not clearly defined what constituted a “first appearance” rather than, say, an introduction. Referee B was guardedly optimistic. She or he liked the overall idea, but found the execution inadequate. I was, of course, devastated.

The editor, Sander Goldberg, however, made a crucial—and generous—decision. He offered me the chance to revise it. The prospect of having to re-think so much of the article was far too daunting to face immediately, so, once again, I let it sit for a couple of months. The referees had made me realize that I needed to be both more precise and more thorough. I had originally excluded the first appearances of characters in Odysseus’s narrative in books 9-12 because they did not seem to conform to the patterns I was finding, so I had to figure out why that was happening. In so doing, I came to realize that a different narrative pattern was operating in Odysseus’s narrative from that of the main narrator. That in itself was a minor breakthrough, letting me treat the problem in an appendix so as not to distract from the main arguments.

When I had completely rethought and rewritten it, I sent it off to the editor with a list of all the ways in which I had changed it to meet the objections of the two readers. He then made another sound editorial decision. He sent it back to the favorable referee for yet another evaluation. This occasioned another rewrite, with another letter detailing how I had adjusted the article to conform to the second round of criticisms. Finally, the editor suggested some minor changes of his own and I eventually received the proofs.

Here are 10 general suggestions I recommend on the basis of this and similar experiences (I pass over in silence the times my submissions were rejected by both referees and were accompanied with a polite note of agreement by the editor).

1. Start with primary material and trust your instincts. This is the origin of your original contribution. If you jump too quickly into the secondary literature, it is easy to get lost in a sea of δόξα.

2. Make lists and folders of possible topics based on these insights, observations, and questions that arise in your reading and teaching. You never know when your καιρός will come.

3. Make commitments. Submit abstracts. Give talks. As I mentioned, abstracts and handouts are wonderful tools to sharpen thinking. In fact, for some topics, I begin with the handout, which, like arranging images for an archaeology lecture, provides a clear outline of the subject.

4. Summon up all of your fortitude and faith when facing the initial write-up. It takes guts, but there is no better means to clarify your ideas and insights than presenting them in writing. It takes nothing less than a leap of faith to believe that a convincing argument will eventually result.

5. Don’t try to get everything exactly right the first time; it is impossible and may bring on self-defeating perfectionism. Don’t try to paint a Sistine Chapel; you cannot create a vast masterpiece. Just get as many of your relevant ideas down in writing as best you can.

6. Get help. Check with knowledgeable people to make sure you are not inadvertently duplicating what has been done and to help you locate your work in the wider scholarship. They also can help you focus and cut—or delegate to footnotes—distracting material, however brilliant it may seem to you.

7. Submit your best effort, not the last word. Make sure, however, that the copy is clean, with absolutely no typos, misspelled titles, garbled references, or incorrect Greek or Latin. Whatever else we may be, we are also philologists, responsible for accurate knowledge of these languages.  If you can, get proofreading from two sources: 1) a good general reader to check its readability; 2) an expert to catch the inevitable technical slips.

8. Be grateful for the feedback of referees and editors. In the 25 years I have been publishing, I have been treated very strictly, but fairly, by referees and editors. Sure, there have been (from my perspective) mistakes, misunderstandings, and certainly hurt feelings. Occasionally, a referee was harsher than necessary or simply dyspeptic. But, overall, this system of blind refereeing has done more than any other thing to sharpen my work, clarify my thought, and challenge me to do better.

9. If an editor gives you the opportunity to revise, take it! Meet the referees at least half way. Say no when you have to, but explain why. Provide a full bill of particulars to the editor. If the door is opened, go through it. I have never regretted following referees’ advice as far as I could and have been very well served by their hours of hard work, difficult as it was to face their often dispiriting critiques. Many times I have found that the solution to a criticism simply involved dropping a point or stating it more clearly.

10. The path to publication is long. There are many setbacks and revisions. Do not be discouraged. Even a full professor submitting an article to a refereed journal risks the same rejection you do and, believe me, takes rejection hard.

In conclusion, modify these observations to fit your own work. Seek advice from your professors and trusted colleagues—yes, and from a friend or partner who likes to read good prose. It takes a scholarly village to educate a classicist.

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