Diary of a Visiting Assistant Professor: week 6, an article and a conference

This past weekend I attended the North American Victorian Studies Association conference, where I presented about my current project. I was at the NASSR conference literally the weekend before I started my current position, but this was the first conference I attended since I started teaching. So this is the first time I’ve really felt like I had an answer to the question, “what’s it like to go to a conference when your a VAP?”

There was, at first, a bit of an identity crisis. When meeting someone new at a conference the first question is always a version of “where are you from?/where do you teach?” (followed closely by, “what are you working on?”). I kept giving responses like “I just finished my PhD at Virginia but now I’m a visiting assistant professor at a liberal arts college in Florida,” which felt like too long. I eventually made the switch to just mentioning my current position, partly because it is easier, and partly because I’m starting to distance myself from my graduate student identity (which aligns with the advice people seem to give).

The conference itself was fantastic. Since I started teaching I’ve done little else. My conversations with colleagues tend to center on teaching, so I haven’t had many recent discussions about scholarly issues — let alone discussions about my specific field (the other professor of nineteenth-century British literature is on sabbatical, which is why they needed a VAP in the first place). Tonight I went to the first meeting of a faculty reading group, so I look forward to more of those, but the conference was a welcome reentry into scholarly discourse.

In addition to hearing some great presentations and meeting lots of interesting people — which is what I’ve come to expect from (good) conferences — I was able to have conversations about teaching in ways that differ substantially from those I’ve had in the past. I taught a lot as a graduate student, but only certain kinds of classes: first-year composition and introductory literature classes, with a couple discussion sections of literature surveys along the way. But now that I’m designing and teaching more literature courses, and for different student demographics, I had more to contribute to the many conversations about teaching loads and syllabus construction. I ended up talking a lot about my Dickens class. I had lunch with a group of Dickensian scholars, few of whom teach undergraduate courses on Dickens — the reading load is just too much. I’m feeling that, too, and while I’m very happy with the way the course is going, when I teach a similar class again I think I’ll cut the reading load substantially.

The existence of this blog probably reveals my commitment to digital channels of scholarly communication, and Twitter was a big part of the conference. I tweeted those papers I could follow and parts of which I felt I could summarize fairly; the conference hashtag was #navsa12 if you’re interested. I also came home to discover #twittergate trending. I come down very much on the “if you’re presenting your work at a conference you should expect (and want) people to tweet it” side of that debate.

By coincidence, I also had an article published right at the beginning of the conference. I knew it was coming out this fall, but wasn’t sure when. Given that the article is about a relatively obscure Victorian periodical, I was surprised to see another professor presenting at the conference about the magazine. She had chaired a panel at the MLA a few years ago, at which I gave the paper that eventually became this article, and she did say she’s been using my edition of the magazine. It’s nice to know at least some of my work has at least some impact.

[The events of the weekend have once again usurped my plans to discuss my teaching observations. But since this is already a longer-than-usual post, I’ll put that off until next week.]

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