There’s nothing like a conference to get your academic brain working again. Ever since I started teaching at my university, I’ve had a bit of impostor syndrome. Everyone called me Dr. C., but I wasn’t doing what for years had defined my academic life. Instead of immersing myself in medieval research, I was teaching grammar and rhetoric to students who have trouble understanding what “criteria” were or the difference between summary and analysis. Although it appears that I am succeeding as a composition instructor, I still haven’t felt like I’m really being an academic.
Enter the Texas Medieval Association conference. The president of TEMA (and convener of the conference) suggested that I present a paper based on my PhD research as an introduction to this new network of colleagues, which I am. I’m presenting an updated version of the Avalon paper I presented at the International Arthurian Society — British Branch conference last year. Rereading my Avalon chapter was like drinking a fine red wine after six weeks of my students’ essays. I’d finally had enough distance to see that my supervisors and examiners were right: I can write damn good prose.
My paper isn’t until the last session tomorrow afternoon, but that hasn’t kept me from mingling with colleagues. The first person came up to me after I asked a question during a panel’s Q&A. Five years of attending conferences in the UK, and I was never able to get a question in during the Q&A sessions (though I did talk to many people during the tea breaks) — and at the first session at the first American academic conference I attend, I ask a question, with a follow-up question. I surprised even myself. Perhaps it was the environment — Americans are known for being more extroverted than the British, and this is evident at conferences — and perhaps it was because the paper dovetailed with my own. But I also think that teaching outside of my field and making a place for myself in a new institution’s department has given me the confidence to speak out publicly in academic settings. I spend at least nine hours a week speaking in front of groups of twenty after all.
I’ve started to settle into a rhythm with teaching and I hope that by doing so I can begin to carve time out for my own research. This conference has woken up the research part of my brain and I have a list of books and articles that I’m itching to read.