Shameless Plug ….

I got a shout-out from MLA on Twitter featuring a piece I wrote on two of my favorite subjects: Beowulf, and feasting-hall violence. It’s available for reading in its conference paper form in the CORE repository and if you’ve got some time to kill and like Beowulf, you should check it out!


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To the Introvert, on the First Day of Teaching

I have been teaching in various educational settings since 1997–that’s 21 years of face-to-face classroom experience–and one thing that never ceases to amaze me is how hard it still is for me, as an introvert, to get up in front of classes. Maybe other introverts have gotten better at it with age and experience, but for me the first day of classes, especially, is still equal parts anxiety, excitement, consternation, anticipation, discomposure, desire, dread,  cautious optimism…. well, you get the idea. It’s just plain HARD.

This is not because I don’t love teaching, but because I do. I love teaching enough to haul my introverted butt up in front of a room of people knowing that by the end of the day I will need a nap, a glass of wine, chocolate, a binky, my blankie (okay, okay, I’m exaggerating, but not by much….) I am passionate about my subject matter and about helping students access the skills and knowledge I can help them acquire. And, I am deeply passionate and enthusiastic about discussing medieval literature and culture. Once I am engaging with substantial matters that are interesting and meaningful to me and I know I am doing so with others who share at least part of that interest, it’s hard to get me to stop, and so once we actually get into the substance of a course and I get to know my students a little, I’m generally good, if in danger of burning myself out. But–that first week or so….. even now, 21 years into this gig, it’s still just plain HARD.

The general public may understandably assume that anyone going into the teaching profession must enjoy interacting with other people and, generally speaking, that’s true. But enjoying being around other people does not automatically equate to extroversion and, in fact, academia tends to attract introverts at least in equal measure to, if not far more so, than extroverts–they do call it “the life of the mind,” after all. However, and especially in today’s academic world, the price of that life spent reading and thinking and writing about a particular subject is teaching it. And even if you are a very, very good teacher, and even if you are a very, very experienced teacher, doing that job well means you’re going to be tired, and doubly-so if you’re an introvert. There are, however, a few tricks and tips I’ve picked up through my own experiences that might help those newer to the profession who also identify as introverts to get through that first week with somewhat less a struggle:

First, visit your classroom(s) by yourself prior to the start of the term, especially if it is a room you have not taught in before. Not only is this good pedagogical practice, allowing you to make sure you will have the space and technology you need to conduct your planned lessons, but it also gives you a chance to examine the room and how you might interact with in and the students in it–is there a technology station? Is there a podium or lectern to stand behind? Is there a table or desk near the front for you to sit at? Where might you be able to walk/pace during class? How close will you be in proximity to your students? Advance awareness of the room you’ll be teaching in gives you a chance to rehearse mentally how you will use that space for your class, which can help ease the first-day jitters.

Don’t wear a suit or new, unfamiliar clothing on the first day, unless you are super comfortable in it. Your first day of class clothing choice needs to be something that makes you feel awesome and at-ease in your skin, since as a first-time teacher and an introvert, perhaps with some Imposter Syndrome thrown into the mix, you are likely to feel a little uneasy. If that’s only ever ripped jeans and a t-shirt you’ll have to make some accommodations–you do need to look professional (ish). But if you have only ever worn a suit to your job interview, this is soooooo not the time to bust out the suit again, especially if you are already feeling nervous and anxious. Wear something you are comfortable in, maybe that gives the students a hint at your personality. (Of course, if you feel like you really need the suit to convey authority, you should go ahead and wear it. The point is, don’t wear anything you don’t actually want to wear out of some idea of “what a professor should look like.”)

On the first day of the term, get to campus at least an hour, preferably more, before your first class. If you are feeling nervous or anxious to begin with, getting to campus fifteen minutes before class starts is going to leave you feeling more rushed and panicked which, in turn, is going to have an effect on your demeanor in the classroom. Give yourself the chance to go to your office, have a cup of coffee or a tea or some other refreshment, and be alone with your materials to charge up for the class, so you feel prepared and as relaxed as possible.

Along those same lines, get to your classroom ten minutes or so before class begins. It’s far less intimidating to be there welcoming the students, than for them to be sitting there waiting for you. You don’t have to stand at the door and greet each of them as they come in–although, if you can swing it, that’s a really good practice to engage in. But at least being in the room when they come in gives you the chance to look around and see them before you have to interact with them, and it also makes you seem prepared, which instills confidence in your students.

Make sure you have a clear plan of action for the first day, and it should not just be going over the syllabus. A lot of experienced, senior scholars will just hold an abbreviated class, during which they introduce themselves, say a bit about the class, have the students introduce themselves, briefly go over a few points in the syllabus, and then dismiss, even if it’s only ten or twenty minutes into the scheduled class session. This is not a good practice for any teacher (in my opinion) but it is definitely not a good practice for first-time teachers or introverts. The first day is going to set the tone for the term. This is your chance to show the students what they can expect from you as an instructor, from the class, and from themselves as students in it, so don’t squander it. I typically start by introducing myself, talking a little about the class and my objectives in developing it, and taking attendance (required at my institution). Then, I go over the syllabus. I follow that by having the students complete a 6-question writing activity: Why are you taking this class? What do you expect to get out of taking the class? After going over the syllabus, what are you most excited about? What are you least excited about? What are you concerned about? What question(s) do you have about the course? I give them about ten to fifteen minutes or so to answer these questions. While they are writing, I look over the attendance sheet and match names to faces, observing their approach to the assignment, and just familiarizing myself with them visually, which makes me feel more comfortable talking with them later. Then, I complete the class by having them ask their questions out loud and answering them, and collecting their papers, which I read later to learn a little about each of them before the second class, and if there is time left over, we begin the first reading or I offer an initial, brief lecture on the first reading. This makes for a low-key, low-stakes, but effective first-day introduction to the course for them, and introduction to them for me.

INTROVERT FIRST-DAY PRO-TIP: Many professors will disagree with me, but I find it helpful to save the icebreaker and introduction activities for later in the first week. Every interaction you have is a little of your energy used, and superficial interactions are draining, especially when you are already a little anxious. In the past, I have taken most of the first day of class doing introductions and trying to get to know my students right away, found myself investing a lot of extra energy into some students who seemed reluctant or not really interested in the course, and then they dropped the class anyway–so, I was anxious, tired from expending the energy,  and my efforts at engaging them were not appreciated or reciprocated, which is a triple-whammy for introverts. PLUS, then there were new students who needed to be folded into the mix because they added after the first day, and doing initial introductions several times can be construed by students as a waste of class time (and is also hard on those of your students who share your introversion). Because of those experiences, I do NOT ask my students to introduce themselves and give one interesting fact, etc. on the first day. On the first day, they want to know about the professor and the class, and typically the first week or so of a new term is a revolving door of students dropping and adding classes for a variety of reasons that may or may not have anything to do with you or your class. I wait until the last class session of the first week, when enrollment has more or less stabilized,  to have students introduce themselves to me and to each other, because that’s more likely to be the group I’ll be investing in for the term, and therefore, that’s time well-spent. (As you become more established and start having repeat students in your courses, this all gets a bit easier, because you can count on a familiar and/or friendly face in the crowd to turn to if needs be.)

Finally, just understand and make peace with the fact that you are going to be exhausted during the first week no matter how well it goes. You know yourself well enough to know how you respond when you are tired and stressed out, and you should rally all of your forces to support yourself during the first week of classes. At a bare minimum, do not schedule any outside appointments, meetings, or events beyond your teaching and office hours schedule and committee requirements, make sure you eat (some) healthy foods, and get enough sleep. My routine for the first week of classes is to work out at least 40 minutes each day BEFORE teaching (because it is soooo not happening after) because working-out makes me feel less stressed, to give myself the luxury of a face mask and a glass of wine each night, and to schedule something low-key as a reward that I can look forward to at the end of the week, like a movie night with my family, or shopping for a new pair of shoes, or stopping by a bakery for something particularly delicious. I also do not schedule ANYTHING for that first weekend, unless it is absolutely unavoidable.

I would love to hear from other introverts (and even extroverts!) about how they handle the first-day-of-class jitters. Join the discussion in the comments below!


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Another Call for Papers: IMC Leeds 2019

For folks who would prefer to give a paper on Arthurian animals on the other side of the pond, here’s one more CFP, this time for Leeds IMC 2019!

Animals and Materiality in the Arthurian Tradition
Proposed session for the 2019 IMC (Leeds)
Sponsoring organization: The Centre for Arthurian Studies at Bangor University
Organizers: Melissa Ridley Elmes and Renée Ward

We seek papers to compose a session of 3 or 4 papers to the 2019 International Medieval Congress at Leeds. The Congress theme is “Materialities.” This session will consider the materiality of animals in the Arthurian legend.

While scholarship on animals in medieval literature continues to grow, especially considerations of animals in medieval French and English encyclopediae, bestiaries, and romances, relatively little critical work exists on animals in the Arthurian legend, particularly so when we look beyond the mythical White Hart, the Questing Beast, and the dragons. Yet, animals real and imagined abound throughout the pages of Arthurian narratives, appear in related artefacts (art, architecture, stained glass, paintings, and tapestries, for example), and are present in the very production of the manuscripts that preserve the legend. Moreover, recent trends in critical animal studies demand that we expand our understandings of such animal appearances to consider them for their animality—for the qualities that make them beings unto themselves rather than as analogies for humans and their environs.

This proposed session seeks to explore animals and materiality within Arthurian traditions, to serve as the beginning of a continued scholarly discussion of the place of animals within the Arthurian realm, especially of their animality or materiality. We are particularly interested in the ways in which animals and their bodies figure as objects of veneration and/or consumption within the legend, or how, as objects themselves, they contribute to the legend’s production, preservation and perpetuation into post-medieval periods. Do animals within Arthuriana have agency beyond their symbolic functions? How might animals be considered a part of the material landscape of the legend both within and outside of the narratives? In what ways have they carried the legend itself across space and time from the medieval period to the present?

We invite papers from all disciplines and national traditions, and interdisciplinary projects are especially welcome. Please send abstracts of no more than 250 words together with a brief bio to session organizers Melissa Ridley Elmes ( and Renée Ward ( by 31 August 2018. Please include your name, title, and affiliation/status on the abstract itself. Dependent upon the number and quality of abstracts submitted, we will submit one or more full session proposals to the Congress organizers mid-September 2018.

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Calls for Papers: Animal Studies sessions at the International Congress on Medieval Studies 2019!

Hello, all! I hope you are having a restful and productive summer. Below please find two CFPs for sessions on animal studies at next year’s ‘Zoo, and please share widely and/or consider submitting an abstract if you have anything that fits!

CFP 1: “Animal Crime” at the ICMS 2019 “Kalamazoo”

The International Association of Robin Hood Studies is sponsoring a session on “Animal Crime” at the 2019 International Congress on Medieval Studies at Kalamazoo:

Outlaws and outlawry are commonly associated with the human; yet, throughout the medieval period, animals were both the subject of crime, as when they were stolen, maimed, or killed, and its perpetrator; for example, the sow and piglets put on trial for murder for killing a 5-year old boy in Savigny, France in 1457. Documented legal trials from a variety of cultures featuring pigs, goats, horses, dogs and cows suggest that medieval understandings of the moral agency, ethics, and politics of outlaws and outlawry was decidedly not simply a human affair, but extended to our animal counterparts. Papers might consider the historically-documented or literary or textual (re)imagining of a trial or set of trials featuring an animal or animals; how animals interact with outlaw humans; the moral agency of animals on trial; the ethics of putting animals on trial; the ethics of outlawing animals; how animals can be constructed as outlaws philosophically, legally, or by other means, how and where animals appear in laws, the treatment of animal outlaws, animal exiles, and similar.

Send abstracts and a completed PIF form to Melissa Ridley Elmes at by 15 September, 2018.


CFP 2: “Arthurian Animals” at the ICMS 2019 “Kalamazoo”

The International Arthurian Society–North American Branch is sponsoring a session on “Arthurian Animals” at the 2019 International Congress on Medieval Studies at Kalamazoo:

Ecocritical approaches to medieval literature have enjoyed a robust and wide-ranging development in recent years, fueled by the work of scholars including Jeffrey Jerome Cohen, Heide Estes, Gillian Rudd, Alfred Siewers, and Vin Nardizzi. Similarly, over the past decade in particular, scholars including Karl Steel, Susan Crane, Peggy McCracken, Lesley Kordecki, and Lynn Van Dyke have proven critical animal studies to be an important means of interrogating ethical, political, and epistemological understandings of the medieval world, and modern receptions of that world. The interdisciplinary theoretical paradigms offered by ecocriticism and animal studies have greatly enriched traditional approaches to and interpretations of medieval texts, opening up new lines of inquiry that establish medieval literature’s place and ensure its continued relevance within the larger theoretical conversations in literary and cultural studies.

While there is now a great deal of scholarship on animals in medieval literature, particularly the animals of medieval French and English encyclopediae, bestiaries, and romances, there has been relatively little critical attention paid specifically to animals in the Arthurian legend, particularly so when we look beyond the mythical White Hart, the Questing Beast, and the dragons. Yet, animals real and imagined abound throughout the pages of Arthurian narratives; one need only examine Kara McShane’s Arthurian Bestiary (…/mcshane-arthurian-bestiary-int…) for a starting point from which to begin looking for them.

This proposed session provides a forum for scholars to consider the presence, narrative function, and critical significance of animals within the entirety of the Arthurian oeuvre, in order to bring Arthurian literary studies into conversation with animal studies generally, and animal studies in medieval literature and culture more explicitly. We intend this session to serve as the beginning of a continued scholarly discussion of the place of animals within the Arthurian realm. Questions that may be considered in this session: what animals are and are not present in these texts, and to what extent can that presence (or lack thereof) be explained by genre, geography, cultural transmission, adaptation, or by other means? Which animals interact with humans, and in what ways? Are there moments in which animals interact with one another, rather than with humans, and if so how does this shift attention from the human to the natural world? Are there unexpected or, perhaps, unintended narrative functions for animals in these texts? What medieval theories of the natural world might be profitably applied to the examination of animals in Arthurian texts? Is there an essential distinction between mythic and real animals in Arthurian texts? Is there any sort of a discernible ethics involved in human interactions with animals? Is there value in examining Arthurian tales through an animal studies critical lens?

Send abstracts of 250-300 words and a completed PIF form to Melissa Ridley Elmes at by 15 September, 2018.

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Once an editor, always an editor….

Thus far in my academic career, I have edited Lenses, the literary textbook used by graduate teaching assistants at University of North Carolina Greensboro, edited Hortulus: The Online Graduate Journal in Medieval Studies, and served as book reviews editor for Medieval Feminist Forum. I am also currently entering into a two-year period as book reviews editor for College Literature. It’s a good thing I happen to enjoy editing, because ….

I am very happy to announce that I have accepted the offer to join the editorial board of The Heroic Age: A Journal of Early Medieval Northwestern Europe as Associate Editor. The Heroic Age was one of the first open-access digital scholarly journals in medieval studies, and we are working on initiatives to update the interface and bring it into line with contemporary journal appearances and functionality. Meanwhile, we are also looking for your excellent scholarship on medieval Europe c. 4th-13th centuries, in any subject field for our general issues. Don’t forget as well the special issue on “New Feminist Voices in the Heroic Age” that is accepting submissions through early Fall! Send me your work, people!  🙂

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Special Journal Issue: New Feminist Voices in the Heroic Age–Call for Papers

This is a reminder that The Heroic Age special issue: “New Feminist Voices in the Heroic Age,” is still accepting submissions!

We are accepting submissions from graduate students, postdoctoral, and junior or early-stage scholars (pre-tenure or equivalent NTT faculty experience) working in any discipline with a focus on Northwestern Europe in the period covered by the journal, c. 300–1200 CE.; we will also very happily consider comparative approaches that examine a Northwestern European topic against another geographical area. We welcome articles of 7,000 words (inclusive of bibliography and endnotes) and essays of 3,000 words. Submissions do not necessarily have to focus on feminist issues, although they should demonstrate a feminist approach (women’s studies, gender/queer studies, etc.) to the question(s) being addressed.

This issue is being edited on a rolling submissions basis, and we are accepting submissions through the early Fall.

The Heroic Age is a peer-reviewed, open-access journal. This special issue is being edited by Melissa Ridley Elmes and Carla María Thomas.

Submission guidelines and style requirements for The Heroic Age can be found under “Submission Instructions”:

Send submissions to Melissa Ridley Elmes at

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Hitting My Stride: a System for Developing a Research Agenda beyond the Dissertation / Book Project

With the academic year ended and our seniors graduated and feted, many, if not most, scholars are now turning their attention to their summer writing projects. This is especially true of those of us with heavy teaching loads, who often struggle to find the time to make progress on their scholarship while classes are in session.

In my case, I did manage to finish and send off for review three articles this spring, but a.) those were all projects that had been begun the previous year and b.) you do not want to see my current living conditions as a result. It’s possible to teach a 5-4-1 load and write and stay married and keep the kids alive, or to teach a 5-4-1 load and keep a reasonably tidy household and stay married and keep the kids alive, but you cannot have it all….

So far, I’ve heard back on one of those articles (acceptance! Yay!) and, while I await word on the other two, I’m moving on to three other active projects–two in media res, and the third a new WIP. I’m working on revisions to the Welsh and Old English and cannibalism sections of my dissertation, now a book project; I’m completing the full draft of an article on female friendship; and I’m drafting the Introduction and my contributed chapter for a collection of essays on food and feast in premodern outlaw tales.

Besides these active writing projects, I have one revise-and-resubmit that needs more attention than I was able to afford it during the academic term, and I am also developing a project on teaching Celtic materials in the generalist classroom with my colleague, Matthieu Boyd, although at present my contribution is primarily editorial in nature. And that’s my summer scholarship, all planned out. Plus four book reviews, and a possible 2 further revise-and-resubmits, dependent upon the responses to the articles currently out.

Looking ahead, during this summer I am also seeding a few new projects–doing the prep work to make them happen in the next few years. That is, I am thinking about them, reflecting on them, maybe reading a little towards them, developing conference sessions on them and reaching out to others for possible contributions (in the case of edited collections) but not actively working on drafting until the current works are submitted. This is, essentially, how I am developing my research agenda beyond my book project.

As graduate students, we are trained to focus on our thesis or dissertation and get it done and graduate. Then, we are supposed to turn that material into articles or a book. And then…. we are supposed to do it again, and again, and again, but without the benefit of a director’s or supervisor’s experience, advice, coaching, and encouragement. Where we have been directed to complete one major project before beginning another, now suddenly we are expected to regularly publish new material.

So, how do you get from “I finished my dissertation and got my PhD! Yay!” to developing a research agenda with multiple works at various stages of progress in this academic publishing pipeline that is so essential to building your career? There are a lot of resources out there with great advice about writing and publishing articles and books. In what remains of this blog post, I am just going to share how my research agenda has developed since I completed the PhD in 2016, and how I strategize to juggle projects.

I graduated having already published a few items–articles on various aspects of the Arthurian legend and Chaucer’s birds–and each of those projects had left at least one question mark leading into another possible project that I needed to set aside in order to focus on completing the dissertation. Before that, I also had a master’s thesis which included material I was keen to turn back to. The dissertation itself, as it is supposed to do, led to new lines of inquiry that could not possibly be covered in that single project. So, upon graduating, I had several possible avenues for research and publication, and it was primarily a question of how to manage everything. Conferences are a good start.

In my MA and early PhD program years as a graduate student, I tended to see a CFP for a conference that looked interesting, have some work I did for a course that would fit one of the sessions, and propose a paper. It might or might not actually have anything to do with my current research or future research plans; it was just “hey, I want to go to this conference so I need to get a paper or talk accepted.” With the encouragement of my PhD advisor, I adopted a more strategic approach, in which I returned to projects I knew I wanted to develop and turned those into conference papers, instead of just submitting anything. So, for example, I went back into my MA thesis, cut out the part I wanted to expand in a new direction, and gave that as a paper at the International Congress on Medieval Studies in 2013. Two full revisions later, it became my article “He Dreams of Dragons: Alchemical Imagery in the Medieval Dream Visions of King Arthur,” published in Arthuriana 27.1 (Spring 2017). In 2014, I gave a paper at the ICMS with my colleague Deva Kemmis on the Melusine legend, and together with Misty Urban, who also gave a paper on Melusine that year, we developed an interdisciplinary, edited collection, which was published with Brill in 2017. In 2015, working more specifically on my dissertation materials, I gave papers on women and the feast–now part of the third chapter of my book–and on the Geste of Robyn Hode, now an article in Medieval Perspectives 31.

Since graduating, I have continued to find using conference papers and sessions as the basis for work I want to develop to be the best means of getting it done despite my heavy teaching load. In 2017, I spoke on the “Gender and Species: Ecofeminist Intersections” roundtable at the ICMS, in which I doubled-back to Chaucer’s birds, the subject of one of my first articles. That talk, expanded and refined into an article, will be published in Medieval Feminist Forum sometime in the next year. The paper I gave in the “Female Friendship I” session that same Congress, is one of my revision pieces this summer, and will (I hope) be included in an edited collection expected to come out sometime in the next year or two. I also gave a paper at the 2017 Southeastern Medieval Association that was derived from the Arthurian materials in my dissertation, which was immediately snapped up by the editor of a forthcoming collection of essays on that subject.

This year, I gave a paper at the Medieval Academy which is the seed thinking for the cannibal feasts chapter I am drafting this summer, and a paper at the Indiana-Bloomington symposium on the Welsh materials in my book project, which I am also revising this summer. In June, I will be presenting some of the work in my Old English chapter at SLU-CMRS, before revising that material as well over the summer.

Besides using conference papers as a means of presenting and  refining my own works-in-progress, I also find organizing conference sessions to be an effective means of jump-starting edited collections. My colleague Evelyn Meyer and I are in the beginning stages of an edited collection on Arthurian Ethics, so we organized sessions on the subject for this year’s ICMS and SLU-CMRS to begin gathering possible contributors and seeing what and how people are thinking on this subject, in advance of launching into the full project in late 2018/ early 2019. My colleague Matt Carter and I are in the earliest planning stages of similar work on “violence and gender on the premodern stage,” and my colleague Renee Ward and I are similarly planning sessions on animals in medieval romance for a collaboration on that topic. I am in early talks with another colleague to develop a collection of essays on Beowulf penned solely by women scholars.

I have a wide range of interests, which means I am never lacking for a project. However, I also have a plan; I am not just haphazardly publishing on anything and everything. At any given time I am working on probably 4-5 scholarly projects, according to a rough formula as follows: one piece that returns to something I have already worked on; one piece related to my dissertation/ book project (s); one piece that takes that dissertation/ book material in a different direction; one piece that moves into a new area of study entirely; one or two collaborations. I build on my own intellectual foundation with some projects, and then extend it with others, in an ongoing, circuitous fashion. This approach makes good sense for me, because I am not great about just focusing on one subject or project at a time. My mind is inherently interdisciplinary, and so is my scholarship.

I am certain as certain can be, that this system of using conferences to jumpstart publications is self-evident and that established scholars and even many graduate students are probably thinking “well, duh, of course” in response to this blog post. But if there are others out there struggling under heavy workloads and unsure of how to develop a research agenda that permits them to publish regularly, I hope my experience is helpful and gives you ideas for how you might go about it with a little less anxiety.



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CFP: Celtic/ Old English Studies at MLA 2019

Greetings and salutations! Apologies for the radio-silence this month; it’s been a February, and someone forgot that two sections of Research and Argumentation means 40 students instead of 20 students to work on multiple drafts of multiple essays and hold individual conferences with; that plus teaching my other two (new) courses  (But, at least they’re glorious fun–Mythology and Folklore! Violence and Trauma in medieval lit!) and scrambling to finish revisions on a conference paper and three articles and draft a book proposal has had me a wee bit in over my head….. but March is coming!

In the meanwhile, here is a gift for you, Dear Readers–a call for papers for two Celtic Studies panels at the MLA 2019 convention in Chicago! See details below, and if you are working on anything that might pertain, consider submitting an abstract!

MLA Celtic Studies Forum panel 1.
Digesting Violence: Feasting and Feuding in Celtic Narrative

Feasts in Celtic literatures and lore tend to be extravagant and symbolically rich
cultural, political, and social affairs–and they are often intricately linked with violence. Beyond the inherent violence of slaughtering, dismembering, and cooking the animals to be eaten, feasting halls also provide both explicit and implicit opportunities for violence by collecting many people together, each for individual reasons and bringing his or her emotions into the space to interact with those of others. A banquet that takes place in a royal, chiefly, or fairy hall is thus likely to be as fraught with tension as it is lavish. It may mark the resolution of a feud, or be the vehicle for commencing one. The ever-present danger of violence at the feast may also be Otherworldly, requiring the guarding of the senses as carefully as the body.

We invite proposals for 20-minute presentations that explore the concepts of food and violence, and the interconnectivity of these concepts, in texts ranging from the medieval period to modern folklore. Proposals of 250 words should be submitted to Natasha Sumner ( and Amy Mulligan ( by March 22, 2018.

MLA Celtic Studies Forum panel 2.
Panel co-sponsored by the Celtic and Old English CLCS forums
Transformative Encounters: Models for Teaching a Multilingual Middle Ages

We warmly invite proposals for presentations from teacher-scholars working in any time -period for a dynamic panel on practical approaches to teaching medieval Celtic, Norse and English texts in the British literature survey. Our goal is to expand options for instructors beyond the small clusters of non-English-language texts sometimes offered in anthologies. The 3-4 participants selected for this panel will each speak (ca. 10-12 minutes) on one specific text they teach, offering a focused discussion of how they situate the text in the context of the overall survey; how they handle problems of language barrier, translation/edition availability, and student lack of familiarity with the text; and any particular insights they can offer about the specific text chosen in terms of its literary and cultural significance, themes it might be used to explore, etc. Though all strong proposals will be considered, preference will be afforded to those whose proposals relate to the broad theme of texts about literature and language: they might reflect on some aspect of the art of writing (in manuscripts, on monuments, etc.), storytelling or narrative construction (oral and written) and audience consumption, the talismanic power of a book, poem, the restorative or transformative effect of a verbal utterance, etc.

After the panelists are selected and the session is approved by MLA, our speakers’ texts (and potentially lesson plans, syllabi, or other materials panelists would like to circulate) will be made available to MLA members through the Celtic and Old English forums on the MLA Commons for pre-circulation purposes, so that audience members who wish to can read and familiarize themselves with the session texts ahead of time, to facilitate a robust Q&A and richer discussion of how the chosen texts can be profitably incorporated into a survey course either together or individually. As with the 2018 roundtable on “a Better Brit Lit Survey”, it is our hope that speakers and audience participants will include both those with some background in English, Celtic and Norse literatures, languages, and/or culture, as well as teacher-scholars who have little or no formal training in these areas but who are invested in a multicultural North Atlantic and have (or want to) include Celtic and Norse materials in a Brit Lit course, including K-12 educators. The goal is that all those who attend this panel leave with materials, and practical teaching support for those materials, that they can immediately put to use in their own classes.

Please submit a proposal of 250 words for a presentation of 10-12 minutes to Amy Mulligan ( and Renée Trilling ( by March 22, 2018.

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Five Ways to Stay Motivated

In my last post, I tackled five ways to stay productive despite heavy teaching and service loads. This post follows up with, perhaps, the harder task: staying motivated to work on and complete your own research and writing projects when you have a heavy teaching and service load. Because let’s face it: when your research counts towards tenure and job retention, but not as much as your teaching; when you’re expected to research and publish but your university doesn’t have the resources to support your work; when there’s no funding for conference travel; when you’re managing 4 courses a term, 5 courses a term, up to 6 courses a term–it’s very hard to muster the energy and enthusiasm to sit down and do several hours of research, or revise (or, frankly, even open) an article sitting on your hard drive waiting for attention. Maybe, you’re tired, you’re frustrated, you’re burned out, you’re demotivated–and who can blame you?

But, then again, you’ve got this research degree. You have, or have had at some point, ideas worth pursuing, worth researching, worth writing about–if you just had the time or the motivation or both, to do it. I talked about ways to free up some time in my last post; now let’s look at ways to get, or stay, motivated to push through the hurdles and get something into print.

1. Take a page out of the writer’s playbook: submit, submit, submit!

Many scholars, especially early career scholars, especially early career scholars worried about their scholarly reputation and critical reception, make the mistake of not submitting their work to journals or edited collections “because it’s not ready” or “because they’re not sure it’s good enough.” Really, though, if you are just sitting on a completed, article-length piece, or a conference paper that was well-received and just needs some expansion and editing, you are doing yourself a disservice. Revise it for obvious errors and written expression, and send it out. The worst thing that can happen is a rejection, often accompanied by reader’s reports that can help you figure out what it needs in order to be publishable. You might also get a revise and resubmit, or a revise and publish. None of these will happen if you don’t send it out at all. Here’s where, as scholars, we can learn from (successful, publishing) non-academic writers: they write regularly, they send their stuff out regularly, they do not agonize over whether or not it is good enough, when it is rejected they revise and send it back out immediately or replace it with another piece–they perform the work of writers. Now, I’m not advocating sending everything you have out–if it needs work, then you need to do the work. Don’t send half-conceived scholarship or partially-revised work out for review, because that really will ultimately hurt your reputation. But really, if you have a complete, revised article that is reasonably-argued and solidly-researched, send it out. Sometimes, the act of having something in the pipeline is enough to spur you to want another one, and another, and another…. productivity tends to breed productivity.

2. Don’t agree to work on something you aren’t really invested in.

Sometimes, especially as early career researchers, we eagerly jump on every opportunity offered to us, because it will be a publication and we need those. In my experience, yes, it’s a publication, but is it how you want to be spending your time and energy? There’s nothing harder than forcing yourself to sit down to work on something you don’t actually care about, just because it needs to get done because you said you would do it, when you are exhausted from teaching and committee meetings and all of the regular duties of academia. Those projects will often languish, dragging out, making you feel a little guilty, even, as the deadline comes and goes…. But, on the reverse, when you have a project you are super invested in, there’s nothing you would rather be doing than working on that whenever you have the chance. Make it a point to say “yes” to the things that are truly meaningful to you, and let your enthusiasm for the work see you through when you are feeling unmotivated.

3. Never underestimate the power of carrots.

I mean, yes, the orange vegetables, which are a great source of vitamins A and K, Potassium, and B-6. But also, the carrots you dangle in front of yourself for working on or completing a project. I routinely dangle something I want over my head when I’m feeling lazy or unmotivated–a book I want, a pair of shoes I’m lusting over, a hike in the woods, a face mask, an item of clothing–and even though “If I do x, then I can have y” seems pretty juvenile and basic, it works just as well for me as an adult as it did when I was a kid.

4. If you are stuck, crowdsource.

When I am feeling particularly stuck, or unmotivated for research reasons–my library doesn’t have the resources I need, or I don’t have the time to hunt down a citation or reference, or I can’t think of a text I read a while ago and need to find again, or I can’t think of texts to read or assign to my students, or I have a sort-of, kind-of interesting idea but I am not sure if it is a thing, or if it could be a thing, or if it has any merit as a potential thing–I’ve long since stopped relying on just myself, because that usually means the idea goes gently into the dark night, never to be recalled again. Instead, I turn to social media–most often, my Facebook page, but also sometimes Twitter–and ask the Hivemind for advice, suggestions, and general support. It never fails that the dozen or so minds that come together are better than my one, and I never fail to end up with what I need and ask for. Sometimes, we feel overwhelmed and alone; we’re not, at least not when it comes to resources. Reach out and make use of your academic community online, as well as in person.

5. Another way to use the Hivemind: accountability

I’m a person who does not like to let other people down. So, if I think or imagine that someone, somewhere, is counting on or expecting me to do something, I will make that thing happen. I have taken to posting my “to-do” list or a statement of what I’m currently working on from time to time to my Facebook page, where all those “like” and Gif posts that come from my friends and acquaintances are sure to spur me on to complete the things I posted. And the “likes” and Gifs are motivating, but it is even more motivating when someone posts a comment like, “that sounds awesome, I can’t wait to read it!” or similar. Sometimes, it’s just the act of committing your intention to writing that you need to spur you to do it.

What about you? What are some of the ways you stay motivated when you’re feeling overwhelmed?

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Five Easy(ish) Ways To Be More Productive In Your Scholarship With Less Time In Your Schedule

Let me lay all of my cards on the table from the start: I taught for ten years at a year-round private boarding school where I was responsible for developing and implementing the curriculum for three programs (French, English, and AP Art History) and taught 6 courses per term, 5 terms a year. While I was teaching at that school, I also got married, had two children, completed my Master’s degree, and was accepted to a PhD program. During the PhD program I was Wifing and parenting, commuting 40 minutes each direction, taking full-time coursework and teaching 2 classes a term, but still managed to write an award-winning dissertation, publish a few articles, and graduate in four years. I got an Assistant Professorship the same month I earned my PhD. Why did I get that job? Because I had proven I was a multi-tasking workhorse who could literally take on anything I was assigned and deliver on time, with clear results. I needed to be. In my current position I have taught a 5-4-1 load both years–all new preps, two of them online–while also serving on several committees and performing other service duties (and still Wifing, and still parenting….) and also still managed to publish two articles and an edited collection, make good progress towards my monograph, score a couple of revise-and-resubmits, start a couple of new research projects, and maintain a decent conference presentations schedule.

I don’t write all of this out to humblebrag, or to court praise for my accomplishments, but to show that when it comes to milking every bit of time out of a day, I have learned a thing or two over the years. Things that might be helpful to others who find themselves at a teaching university, or in a teaching position, but who still want to be productive scholars (and, you know, have a life.) The reality is, a tiny percentage of us is going to start (or even end up) in a research university during our careers, if indeed we manage to stay in academia at all. Without the resources and support of a research university, the reality is that many of us fall by the wayside in our research and publication agendas. But for me, such an outcome was untenable–I didn’t go back to school to get my PhD just to teach, I could do that already. I went back to school to get the credentials to be a researcher, to conduct that research, and to write and publish that research.

So, that is what I do. And the question people constantly ask me is, “How do you get so much done?” –to which the truthful response is: sometimes, it is just dumb, blind luck; and sometimes, it is sheer desperation because I said I would do a thing; and sometimes, I have no idea how it worked out; and sometimes, I really shouldn’t get it done but somehow do; and sometimes, I actually don’t get it done (I’m also asked variations of that question, like “Do you ever sleep” — to which the response, sadly, is not nearly so much as I would like to.) But I do sleep, and I do spend time with my family, and I do have activities I enjoy outside of work, and I do still publish and present research at conferences. How do I do that, teaching a 5-4-1 course load? THAT question, I have a real, concrete answer to, and I’m happy to share it here for those who might benefit from it.

So, without further ado, here are five ways I stay productive with my scholarship while also managing a heavy teaching and service load:

1. Have a teaching template that you start with for every type of course you teach.

This is, truly, my biggest time-saving device. I teach a wide variety of courses–research and argumentation, World Literature to 1500, the first part of the British Literature survey, specialized courses in my field, History of the English language (you can find a list of all of my courses here.) I do not reinvent the wheel in terms of course development. I have some activities that I know are effective ways of getting students involved in their learning and letting me assess where they are in that learning, and I use those means in pretty much every course I teach. So when I sit down to create a course, I know I am going to be using 3-2-1 preps, and/or Canvas discussion boards, and/or weekly response or reflection papers; I know my students are doing a research presentation either individually or as a group; I know my students are doing some kind of creative assignment that synthesizes their learning with their personal interests; and I know my students are writing some longer document, the form and function of which varies dependent upon the level and nature of the course. That frees me up to think more about what materials I’m using, than what assessment tools I’m using.  I have four essential course structures–one for the research and argumentation course, one for lower-division literature courses, one for upper-division seminars, and one for online courses. Once I have the essential structure set up, it’s just a question of plugging in the specific materials and assignments for a given class, and tweaking as needed. The value of this approach once you’re through your first semester or year of teaching is that it allows you to know what your term is going to look like structurally from a teaching perspective, because you have taught these course structures before. So you know, for example, when the lulls are in your assignment due dates, when you are teaching texts you have taught before and can ease up a little on course prep, when you are doing more student-focused work and don’t need to prep lectures and such–and those are the spaces in which you can use your time for your own research and writing.

2. Teach texts you are working with, or need to work with, in your research.

Granted, in some cases we do not teach in our own areas of expertise, but you can almost always slip at least one of the texts you need to engage in your own research into a course schedule. If you teach an upper-division course, develop it around a current project. I am currently working on my monograph, which is about violence at the feast in medieval British texts. My medieval literature survey course this term is therefore themed “violence and trauma from Beowulf to Malory” and we are reading many of the core texts for my study. Every time I sit down to conduct course prep for that class, I am also working on my own research towards revision of my monograph draft chapters. Every time I’m in class with my students, we’re engaging with the material I need to engage with for my research. Last spring, I taught both the Canterbury Tales and the dream visions in my Chaucer class, which allowed me to re-read and prep for two articles I was revising for publication. Even in a Brit Lit  or World Lit survey or similar lower-division, general education course, you can generally manage to include one or two of the texts you need to read for your own purposes. The more you do this kind of multi-tasking, the easier it is to get both course prep and teaching and research done without extra time and energy. (Don’t forget to add a note of thanks to your class(es) for their contributions in the acknowledgments when you publish the book.)

3. Don’t be in charge of your courses all of the time.

We are the subject experts, and it is our job to impart our knowledge to our students–but that doesn’t mean we have to walk in at 8:00 a.m., start lecturing, and stop right at 9:15 a.m., and repeat the performance ad nauseam. Remember, every lecture you prepare takes an hour or more of your time; that can add up quickly. While many professors complain that today’s students do not want to work, in fact in my experience more do, than do not–they just are often afraid of disappointing you, not performing to your standards, letting you down, or failing. Millennials are deeply generous students, on the whole. They are also typically pretty self-aware in terms of their own strengths and interests. If you, as the professor, give them a chance to use their particular skills in pursuit of knowledge that is interesting to them, amazing things tend to happen. In every on-the-ground course I teach, each of my students is responsible for either leading the discussion on a text, or presenting research related to the subject matter (or, in my upper-division courses, sometimes both) once per semester. I set aside several days in the course calendar for them to sign up for such activities, and give them clear guidelines for my expectations; I also encourage them to visit me during my office hours to go over what they’re going to present, and encourage them to make use of any aids or skills they have that are particular to them, such as graphic design, artwork, and similar. Some of these presentations are the bare basics; some of them aren’t even adequate; but in some cases, they’re the best thing we engage with all term, and in every case, it is a chance for the students to have some ownership of the course, to be invested in it, however minimally, and to see what others besides the professor are engaging with in thinking through course materials–all very valuable outcomes. As I tell my students, “I already know what I think of these texts. I’m far more interested in what you think of them.” This structure of lectures interspersed with student presentations creates an active-learning, student-centered, inquiry-based course, wherein I use my expertise to elaborate on or fill in the gaps in their research, rather than just delivering mine to them all of the time. That frees up some of my prep time as well, to allow me to conduct some research or do some writing for publication, not just for course lectures.

4. On that note–use course lectures as trial runs and drafts!

I don’t know why more scholars do not use their classes to refine their thinking, and their scholarship to enhance their classes, but really, at their best teaching and researching are synergistic practices. My job talk, which focused on the violence at the feast in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, doubled as a course lecture in my first Brit Lit I survey when we read that text; then I used the feedback from my students in that course to revise that talk for a conference paper, and that conference paper is now on its way to becoming a publication. I have used other portions of my dissertation as lectures in other courses when they have been apt and aligned with the texts or subjects we were covering, and I have used close readings and bits of research for other projects here and there, and that practice never fails to yield some important insight into what needs to happen in the development of that material towards publication. It’s also more interesting to students when you engage them with your own research interests; first, because they can see your investment in what you are doing and second, because you are modeling for them how you read a text, and what the kinds of scholarship you are asking them to engage in can produce. In my book, that is a win-win.

5. Work closely with your department chair concerning your teaching schedule.

I need at least one day per week that is free and clear from teaching responsibilities; preferably two, in order to recharge, to have the time to prep, and to get research, reading, or writing done. That’s in addition to weekends, which I need for both catch-up and family time. So, when it comes time to schedule my classes for the next term, I respond to my chair’s email on the matter immediately, letting him know the range of days and times I am hoping to work within. Thus far, he has been able to accommodate my requests without issue. If you are a tenure-track or full-time professor or lecturer, unless you are completely inept, a total jerk, or too lazy to carry your own weight in department responsibilities, your department wants to keep you around. As long as you are making reasonable scheduling requests, you are likely to find them honored. Full disclosure: my requests are to teach any time between 9:00-4:00, preferably either on a MWF, MW, or T/R schedule, except in the Fall term, when I am automatically teaching History of the English Language from 4:00-5:15 to accommodate teachers who need the course for their graduate work. This allows me to be certain that I will have at least Friday, possibly MWF, possibly T/R, free and clear of courses. I may need to schedule office hours, or attend committee meetings or perform other service responsibilities, but otherwise those days can be used to research, write, grade, or prep as needed. I am aware that my chair is more generous than some in his accommodations, and I am aware that, particularly for adjuncts working at multiple institutions, this kind of scheduling may not be feasible. But if it IS feasible, you should seriously consider it. It’s true that teaching 4, or even 5, classes straight through on MWF or T/R is a long workday, but the payoff is a large chunk of unscheduled time you can turn to your own needs. The key at that point, is to make sure you do not use the entire day prepping for classes or grading student work. It’s fine to take an hour or two for that work, but otherwise you need to commit the time to your own research and writing.

There’s no easy, one-size-fits all answer to how to free up more time for your research and scholarship. But as I hope I have shown here, it is possible to multi-task and to combine your teaching and research productively and profitably, both for you and for your students.

What about you? What are your tricks and tips for managing a scholarly research agenda alongside a heavy teaching and service load?



Posted in Academia, New Faculty Experiences, Research and Scholarship, Teaching, Time Management, work-life balance | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment