Saturday, October 15, 2011


There have been a number of stressful occasions over the course of my academic life. I would say about three of them qualify as having been especially stressful: taking the GRE, taking my senior comprehensive exam in undergrad, and my MA thesis defense (to list them in chronological order). The presentation I gave yesterday at the October installment of our department's colloquia series can officially be added to that list. The actual presentation itself wasn't very stressful (all I had to do was read what was in front of me), but given that I had 20 minutes to present and the colloquium itself was to run for an hour and a half, even with a brief introduction I was potentially facing an hour of questions. I was assured this would not be the case, but the colloquium went the full time, and I had to deal with my hour of questions.

After I'd finished reading, there was a moment of calm, and it seemed like I might end up with only a few token questions. Thankfully, it was just a moment, and then the questions started. I felt a little flustered by some, and it always seemed to me that I wasn't doing a very good job of answering questions or making my answers coherent, but a number of people said that they thought I handled the Q and A well, which was a relief (here's hoping they weren't just being polite...). Actually, there were a number of times when I was tempted to pull up my blog on the computer at the podium and just start reading from a few posts.

Overall, it was a good experience. I didn't have to deal with a hostile crowd by any stretch of the imagination, but it was a very smart one, and I'm glad to have had the experience of fielding questions from a very smart crowd that was not hostile (in case I have to face questions from a smart, hostile crowd sometime in the future).  I tried to enjoy the experience as much as I could. When else am I going to get a chance to present my work to the entire department (almost) and have them pay attention, offer feedback, ask questions, etc.? It certainly felt nice to offer a piece of work that I think is representative of my best abilities as a scholar--kind of show off-y, but in a good way. One of the most satisfying bits of feedback I've received is that the presentation was very easy to follow for people who haven't read Giovanni's Room. It's always a drag when you're unfamiliar with a text, so that is something I tried to be very conscious of as I finished up my presentation.

I woke up this morning to a nice message in my inbox from the professor whose class I'd originally written the paper for (and with whom I'd been discussing some of the issues I brought up in my paper over the past few months). Now, a few more revisions of the full version (to go along with the fifteen or so of the short version I presented) and it should be ready to go out. Not a bad way to end the week, I guess.

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