Conference Beat: FSU’s 33rd Annual Graduate Symposium

What: A conference which brings together graduate students from programs around the country for presentation and discussion of their research.
Where: Florida State University, Tallahassee, Florida
When: October 2-3, 2015
How: a 12-hour travel day during which I repeatedly asked myself why on earth I chose to fly out of Akron, OH.

FSU Symposium

So, I study art, right? Sometimes, it’s a good idea to share all that research I do with my peers. Despite the terror these presentations engender, they get my work out there for both feedback and recognition. As a burgeoning professional in the art field, those are two invaluable things.

My Alma mater, Florida State University, hosts a Graduate Symposium every October. During this 2 day conference, 12 student participants are chosen to present their research in the format of a 20-minute presentation, each followed by critical discussion with students and faculty.  They also invite a keynote speaker from the field, as part of the Thursby Distinguished Scholars Lecture Series. This year we heard from Claire Farago, Professor of Art History at the University of Colorado Boulder.

Back in May, I submitted an abstract on a paper I completed while I was a student there. Woohoo, it was accepted! The initial giddy feeling of accomplishment soon evaporated, and nervous tingles took its place as I set about re-familiarizing myself with the material, revamping my powerpoint, and condensing and re-writing sections of my paper. After all, hearing someone’s argument is an entirely different experience than reading it, so I needed to make sure the information I conveyed was clear, easy to understand and digest.

I think the biggest misconception I had about graduate school was about the actual content of the curriculum. Undergraduate degrees in art history (as least in my experience) center around the lecture hall, the dimly lit room with slide after slide projection. The bulk of your time is spent filling the corners of your brain with the basics of the canon, occasionally sprinkling it with loosely defined “non-western” art. But graduate school? I didn’t realize how rhetoric-based it was. Granted, I learned about art and stuff too, but I got to choose the direction of those studies. I had the freedom to learn about what I wanted (within the confines of a course structure), but what my professors sought to teach me were the fundamentals of how to craft an effective argument, how to utilize evidence, and how to relay that evidence in a coherent manner. When that trifecta comes together, you get at least halfway decent papers, that then become the base for a thesis, a dissertation, or a future book!

And so, with the presentation of that halfway decent paper, my rhetorical skills were put to the test. I can tell you I was more nervous than I have been in a long while, but I got through it, stumble-free! Though I didn’t do as well in the following Q & A as I would have liked, I got a lot of great feedback to expand my research of this particular topic further, and a lot of positive comments on the work I had to date. (Oh, I never told you about my topic! I wrote a paper on one of the first Renaissance cookbooks to include pedagogical illustrations, and how that inclusion elevated the cookbook from archival document to instructional manual!)


Oh my, that was terrifying, but worth it!

The other bonus of presenting at conferences? You get to engage with your peers in an admittedly small field. It’s a great networking opportunity. (Let’s be honest, all networking really means is socializing, and that can be pretty fun when you’re surrounded by likeminded nerds!)

If you wanna know more about, oh I don’t know, conferences/graduate school/internships in museums, feel free to contact me! I’m still learning the ins and outs of my field, but I can at least give you some insight into my experience, especially if you’re an undergraduate considering an art historical field-related career and want some more information/advice/cautionary tales.

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