Month: September 2014


And speaking of writing abstracts for conferences–don’t forget that abstracts for sessions of the Northeast Modern Language Association are due tomorrow, Tuesday, September 30.

So why not submit to my CFP regarding the use of humor in comics and superhero narratives?

“Writing Your Abstract for Conferences,” continued

Thanks to people writing in with the productive feedback regarding my earlier tutorial on how to write a conference abstract:  I have received helpful feedback online from scholars based on their own experiences at a number of conferences, identifying key components they incorporate into their abstracts and also their presentations.

One conversation in particular identified a clarification necessary in the earlier post, and which will be incorporated into the document still in development: when it is appropriate to cite other scholars in your abstract and in your presentation.  Are you identifying yourself as part of the larger critical debate, or are you at risk of name-dropping?


Writing Your Abstract for Conferences in Literature, Language, and the Humanities

For the most recent draft of this tutorial, please refer to the Google Document. TL; DR:  Conference abstracts are a challenge, and one that almost any scholar can meet.  Based on my extensive experience presenting at and organizing panels at a number of regional and national conferences on numerous topics, I wanted to share some of the lessons I’ve learned in how to put together a conference abstract.  I outline the steps below, but here are the major points:

  • Find your conference by knowing where you want to present, what you want to present, and what goal you have at this stage in your professional career. 
  • Cast a wide net–getting onto the panel you want is a numbers game, so the more panels for which you apply, the more likely you will get on at least one panel per year.
  • Write your abstract as you would write a lesson plan:  you must summarize an argument that is significant but within 15 minutes.
  • Don’t let the CFP dictate your topic:  the panel that is meant for you is one that has a wide enough range that will fit your topic. 
  • Adhere to the following template–the conference abstract has four major parts. (1)  Identify your topic, (2) identify the author or authors you will discuss, (3) relate your presentation to the larger critical debate (name major scholars whose theories you definitely understand), and (4) state what is significant about your argument.
  • If the CFP doesn’t prohibit attaching your CV, do so–make it relate to the panel’s topic, and let yourself stand out in it.

I have been fortunate to have extensive experience presenting at numerous conferences at a variety of levels in my studies–undergraduate to graduate to doctoral–at quite a number of regions throughout the United States, on a range of topics, and in a range of methodologies.  My first conference presentation as a graduate student was at the Modern Language Association, the national conference for studies of literature and language; by January 2015, I will have given my fifth presentation at the MLA. In addition to standing behind the podium, I also have worked behind the scenes:  I have led my own conference sessions, writing and re-writing calls for papers, choosing panelists, and working alongside co-organizers and co-chairs.  All of this work led to my administrative work for the MLA’s regional division, the Northeast Modern Language Association, where as marketing coordinator I see the qualities that session panels have to gain approval by the organization, to attract well-written abstracts, and to develop into panels that speak to the concerns of both researchers and teachers in many topics and methodologies.

Based on my successes as presenter and organizer, I want to share some advice for how to draft an abstract in response to a conference CFP.  I have broken down the process into a number of stages–how to pick your topic, whether you should write an abstract from scratch or develop one from a previous seminar paper, where to learn about local conferences and major ones in your field, how to make your abstract attractive to session organizers while sticking to your own approach and interests, and finally how to follow-up with organizers following rejection or, I hope, acceptance.

This document will be a work in progress—with updates made more frequently at Google Documents.  To motivate updates, I depend on feedback from you readers.  Based on your experiences at academic conferences, which qualities have made for successful abstracts?  Which presentations came out the best?  Which conferences were most satisfying?

Leave a comment at my WordPress, or feel free to email or tweet at me.

Creative Commons License Writing Your Abstract for Conferences in Literature, Languages, and the Humanities by Derek McGrath is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. Based on a work at Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at (more…)

Regarding Crichton’s “Putting Smartphone Zombies in Their Place”

Now possessing a new smartphone, I found my attention caught by Danny Crichton’s TechCrunch article, “Putting Smartphone Zombies In Their Place.”  Crichton approaches the potentially cliche topic–those goshdarn kids with their Androids and iPhones–and even the cliche of again going back to zombies for metaphor (’cause I’m oh-so-above that in my own course content).  Yet these cliches serve Crichton to extrapolate insights first from the recent development of smartphone walking lanes in Chongqing, China, before addressing the ethics of technology and interpersonal contact:

But loneliness is only one facet of today’s smartphone user. You can be lonely at home with your device, which is why a smartphone sidewalk seems strange until you realize that what people actually fear is the appearance of loneliness. When you really think about what these sidewalks are, its much more about seeming important and above the crowd than it is about efficient movement of pedestrians. Much like movie stars being guided down the red carpet, we don’t have to pay attention to where we are walking on our special sidewalk. Our notifications lather us in attention, and for a little while, we can feel that the whole world thinks that we are much more important than we actually are.


Human agency is a wonderful thing. We have more power today to shape our world than at any time in the past. We can choose to live lives that are more engaged, and use technology as a tool to build our friendships and seek out companionship. Or we can be distracted and notified every five minutes. The choice is now just a sidewalk away.

Crichton puts himself into the argument, not shying away from speaking directly to readers, citing theorists regarding civil engineering built around smartphones, and as in the above passages lending pathos to how isolating technology can make us feel.

In other words, I’m expecting Bedford or another major publisher to use Crichton’s essay for a rhetorical textbook reader.

CFP: Comics Read But Seldom Seen–Diversity and Representation in Comics and Related Media

The University of Florida is hosting an exciting conference on representations of diversity in comics, graphic novels, and related media. Please consider submitting proposals by January 1, 2015—and please forward this CFP to anyone who you think would be interested.

[CFP] 2015 UF Comics Conference

Comics Read But Seldom Seen: Diversity and Representation in Comics and Related Media.

The Graduate Comics Organization at the University of Florida invites applicants to submit proposals to the 12th UF Conference on Comics and Graphic Novels, “Comics Read But Seldom Seen: Diversity and Representation in Comics and Related Media.” The conference will be held from Friday, April 10th, 2015 to Sunday, April 12th, 2015.  Proposals are due January 1st, 2015.

Proposals should be between 200 and 300 words. All proposals should be submitted to Najwa Al-Tabaa at


Teaching and gender in the nineteenth-century United States: Dana Goldstein’s The Teacher Wars

The Teacher Wars: A History of America’s Most Embattled Profession is a new book from journalist Dana Goldstein, focused on the history of education in the United States, with attention to twenty-first-century politics surrounding improvements to education, and professionalization and financial support of teachers.

Her thesis also touches upon education in the nineteenth-century United States, with attention to what Goldstein refers to as the feminization of education as a profession.  Therefore Goldstein’s book brings attention to Catharine Beecher and the Cult of True Womanhood, and her book may serve as a potentially productive complement to Ann Douglas’s The Feminization of American Culture and subsequent work to dismantle this separate spheres argument.

The New York Times offers a review here; Goldstein is interviewed by Sam Seder here.