Packing for a Convention

I take trains or planes to 3 to 5 conventions per year, traveling across time zones and multiple states to get to them all with as little weight and difficulty as possible. I attend many of these conventions because I work in administration–including organization, management, marketing, and promotion–and I attend others as a presenter or just for fun.

I want to share advice for how to best pack luggage to make the most of your convention for your professional and leisure purposes, as well as to keep down weight, prices, and airplane and train hassle. Based on my 10 years experience presenting, managing, promoting, and organizing at annual conventions, I can advise how to prepare for your traveling experience!

This advice is directed to people traveling alone to attend conventions as speakers or attendees. While this advice may be helpful to vendors, the amount of materials to transport will require additional considerations, including whether it is more productive to have materials shipped in advance to be received at the convention’s location or a nearby office and mailing store. Please share in the comments below or tweet @dereksmcgrath additional travel advice, especially for how to travel with children and families.

An earlier version of this post appeared at the Japanese, Anime, and Manga Studies Association. While this post still applies to fan conventions, its revisions are directed to those attending academic conventions. 


My upcoming cons: Presenting at and reporting from #AX2017–teaching, melancholia, nostalgia, and more!

Anime Expo will take place June 30 to July 4 at the Los Angeles Convention Center. I’m happy to return to AX as a presenter once again–and now also as both a special guest contributor and an on-site reporter for the new site JAMS Anime. Anime Expo is the perfect opportunity for me to continue my work in scholarship, news, and analysis at a location that brings together different elements of the anime community–journalists, industry leaders, scholars, and fans all around–for discussion about Japanese popular culture, in the United States and elsewhere.

My schedule includes:

  • July 1, 8 PM Pacific: Presenting ” ‘Ha Ha! Boring’: Nostalgia and Melancholia in Servamp and Anime Fan Communities,” Live Programming 4 (LP4 / Room 411)
  • July 4, 2:30 PM Pacific: Participating in the special guest panel, “Teaching Happiness: Using Anime and Manga as Educational Tools,” Live Programming 4 (LP4 / Room 411)
  • Reporting all updates and announcements about upcoming anime and manga on Twitter @JAMS_ Anime.

More information is below about these presentations, JAMS, and a conference panel CFP for scholars interested in talking about how they teach anime and manga.


Proposing a Conference Session

In the last five years, I have had the pleasure to organize or chair more than 12 sessions on literature, language, and culture, most at the Northeast Modern Language Association (NeMLA) but also including three sessions at the Modern Language Association and a talk at New York University’s Edgar Allan Poe Showcase. I have worked in all capacities of conference organizing–behind the scenes, behind the podium, in the audience. Outside my capacity as Administrative and Marketing Coordinator of NeMLA, I want to share some advice for organizing a conference session, from inception to completion to follow-up, not only to help you with developing your own conferences, but also to help those who are submitting session proposals to NeMLA’s Pittsburgh convention before its April 29, 2017, deadline.

Some content below borrows from my earlier instructions for writing an abstract and for presenting at a conference. And I start below with the bureaucratic parameters, paperwork, and easier tasks before focusing on how to actually brainstorm a topic for a session. I appreciate any feedback or additional advice: 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?  Email, tweet, or comment below what you do to develop successful session proposals!

Updated April 23, 2017, with additional advice from my colleagues. 


Conferences: Attending Them, Presenting at Them, Networking at Them

I have organized and chaired 11 conference sessions on literature, language, and culture between 2012 and 2017, and I have presented 19 papers at 9 different conventions, including six sessions at the Modern Language Association, between 2006 and 2017. I want to share advice for when you’re stuck with writing a conference paper, how to practice the presentation, how to prep for the gauntlet that can be the conference networking scene, and how to followup when a convention is over. This tutorial will be updated whenever possible, with the date of revisions at the top.


Dudes Need Blush Stickers, Too: Incorporating Anime and Manga into Gender Studies Courses

During July 4th weekend in 2016, I presented at the Anime and Manga Studies Symposium, part of the Society for the Promotion of Japanese Animation’s Anime Expo. Below is the copy of the presentation as I wrote it. As this was a discussion about fanservice in anime and manga, some content below is not safe for work (but censored).


Good Luck on the Job Search!


Today, the Modern Language Association has posted its job listings. As with every year, the job market is competitive and challenging, professionally and personally. Self-care is vital because you likely will be stressed: there are always fewer jobs than you hope there would be in your field, and the range of advice you’ll receive from colleagues and mentors will seem to contradict itself.

So here is some general advice that will probably contradict something you already heard!

Do you have additional advice to share for the job market? (I could certainly use some.) Message me here or on Twitter @dereksmcgrath.


Regarding Safe Spaces and Trigger Warnings

provThe University of Chicago has sent a letter to incoming students for the Fall 2016 semester, notifying them that:

“Civility and mutual respect are vital to all of us, and freedom of expression does not mean the freedom to harass or threaten others. You will find that we expect members of our community to be engaged in rigorous debate, discussion, and even disagreement. At times this may challenge you and even cause discomfort.

“Our commitment to academic freedom means that we do not support so-called ‘trigger warnings,’ we do not cancel invited speakers because their topics might prove controversial, and we do not condone the creation of intellectual ‘safe spaces’ where individuals can retreat from ideas and perspectives at odds with their own.”

I think this letter defines many terms poorly.

“Trigger warnings” are not at odds with academic freedom. They are an acknowledgment to students that content encountered may be difficult, and that it is better to acknowledge that potential and discuss it, rather than ignore such a variety of experiences provoked by the texts we read.

Invited speakers are frequently cancelled due to the peaceful, ethical, and evidence-based protests by faculty and students. This kind of action has the potential to occur at any college campus. There are speakers whose arguments, when they are based on lies and unethical practices, deserve condemnation in peaceful and ethical ways; students and faculty will continue to protest such speakers, and should a college decide to rescind an invitation, it is by their own decision, not by anything peaceful protesters accomplish.

Finally, the use of “safe spaces” is limited, referring to it as a space for ignorance and monolithic thought, which is hardly its proper definition and hardly how many of us have used those spaces on campus in our work.

I have had some discussions the last two days about this letter from the University of Chicago, which I would like to share here.


Anime Expo 2016 recap: “Using Anime and Manga in Education” (AUDIO)

I was at Anime Expo in Los Angeles this week, participating in a successful panel on options for using Japanese animation and comics in the classroom.

I recorded the following, which you can listen to here.

This was my first out-of-town fan convention, and my first academic presentation at a fan convention. I want to start by first thanking Mikhail Koulikov and Brent Allison with the Society for the Promotion of Japanese Animation for organizing our panel, “Using Anime and Manga in Education.”

Anime Expo was a packed convention, with more than 100,000 attendees at panels, workshops, and events happening almost back-to-back from morning to night. Our panel, as part of the Anime Symposium educational series, had almost a full audience throughout our 50-minute or so running time, with more than 100 people in attendance, all of which demonstrates how well all three of us who presented did to inform an audience of teachers and students about options for using Japanese animation and comics in classrooms–and also managing to accomplish so much when about a quarter of our panel’s time was cut.


Contrasting Teaching Practices: All Might and Eraserhead in My Hero Academia

It’s apparent that I can write about My Hero Academia for years to come. And one reason is because I’m trying to figure out what kind of a teacher All Might is.

I wrote a bit last week how helpful My Hero Academia has been in showing different teaching approaches, especially in educating students with various personalities and skill sets. That is important with Izuku, who only recently gained a phenomenal superpower but whose body, mind, and emotions are not yet adapted to such abilities. With All Might and Shouta as foils to each other, with different lessons to impart to Izuku, it’s important to me that My Hero Academia continue to emphasize that education really is about learning through multiple teaching strategies rather than only one.

In college, there were semesters where I had a Monday through Thursday class schedule, which meant a lot of Thursdays nights went very late watching anime. When I started graduate school, the last anime I watched was the start of Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, which was only then being broadcast in Japan–and then I had to stop after the first season because coursework and teaching demanded more time. When I got back to watching anime towards the end of graduate school, I had a shift in with whom I identified in anime. Before, it would have been the students: Edward Elric, Naruto Uzumaki, Maka Albarn. After teaching classes as a graduate assistant and an instructor, now it is the teachers: Izumi Curtis, Kakashi Hatake…not so much Franken Stein because good God no

And the last two episodes I reviewed of My Hero Academia has me looking closely at the contrasts between the educational practices of two teachers.


Northeast Modern Language Association releases a statement regarding Public Higher Education in Wisconsin

There are times when you feel even better about where you work.

One of my bosses at the Northeast Modern Language Association, Benjamin Railton, the organization’s president, released a statement on behalf of its Board Members:

In its recently passed budget bill, the state of Wisconsin has significantly eroded all of those elements. A state renowned for its public higher education system, a system that has been a model for the nation for nearly two centuries, has taken steps that will greatly weaken its public universities’ faculty and staff, departments and programs, and academic and scholarly communities. Moreover, and most importantly, these actions will likewise negatively impact the education and experiences of the tens of thousands of students served by Wisconsin’s public education system.

If you have not already, read the full statement at the NeMLA web site.