This week’s post comes from Meghanne Flynn, a third-year Phd student here. She researches supernatural teen romance, which means yes, she’s examining Twilight. And she loves it.
So after a fantastic week in Orlando, Florida at the International Conference for the Fantastic in the Arts with the hilarious and brilliant Cambridge contingent (see previous post), I set off on my own for another conference stop.
Welcome to the national Popular Culture Association/American Culture Association conference in Seattle, Washington!
Everything about Seattle was a shock when I arrived: the weather, the city, the lack of gator wrestling (oh Gatorland, how I loved you….), but most particularly jarring was walking into an environment where I knew NO ONE.
Conferences can be incredible for making social connections outside of your particular program. This, of course, is also what can be unsettling about them—trying to connect with complete strangers. For people who are typically quite reserved and work in isolation, this kind of social interaction leads to awkwardness to the point of panic.
But when you get past that a little, conferences are healthily humbling.
In your research it’s easy to feel isolated, even in your own program. Beyond the social interaction, your topic of research can feel isolating. The point is that you are doing something new, and sometimes in your research what you’re doing feels so different from what it seems like anyone around you is doing that your research takes on a kind of pressure in its newness. You start thinking that you are the only one doing research on this topic, and so you think it needs to be fantastic. There is a great deal of egoism, thinking that if you are going to be the only one talking about this, then you have to do it incredibly well.
In, what can be an incredibly healthy way, conferences disabuse you of this.
You find other people are researching similar ideas in different books, or are using some of the books in different ways, or are speaking on something entirely different which is somehow still exactly what you want to say. You get the feeling that you aren’t going to be the first to say these things. That as much as you thought this was revolutionary, you are not alone. Your research is still original—this doesn’t decrease the value of it—but you don’t have the entire weight of its posterity on your shoulders. You are not the sole advocate for your research.
And the pressure lifts.
Because it reaffirms your place in a larger community.
So you don’t have to be fantastic.
You just have to do your research.
And then sometimes you get to hang out in a former mortuary.
Because that’s what happens at conferences.