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 old 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

2017 Redux: A Busy, Productive Year

It’s December 31; time for a “Year In Review” post! Here’s what I managed to accomplish professionally this year:


Essay Collection: Melusine’s Footprint: Tracing the Legacy of a Medieval Myth (edited with Misty Urban and Deva Kemmis). Leiden: Brill, 2017.

Chapter: “The Alchemical Transformation of Melusine,” pp. 94-105.

Article: “He Dreams of Dragons: Alchemical Imagery in the Medieval Dream Visions of King Arthur.” Arthuriana 27.1 (Spring 2017). 73-94.

Signed Encyclopedia Entry: “Melusine.” Encyclopedia of British Medieval Literature. Ed. Sian Echard and Robert Rouse. New York: Wiley-Blackwell, 2017. 1316-1318.

Book review: Medieval Science Fiction, Ed. Carl Kears and James Pas. The Heroic Age 17 (September 2017).

Book review: Simple Forms: Essays on Medieval English Popular Culture, by Douglas Gray. Reviews From the Greenwood. The International Association of Robin Hood Studies. 27 July 2017.

Conference Presentations

 Invited presentation: “Collaborative Assessment Design: A Hands-On Practicum,” for “Collaborative Teaching and the Lone Medievalist” (roundtable) Southeastern Medieval Association Conference, Charleston, SC, November.

 “Guinevere’s Guilt and Gawain’s Gallantry,” (Paper) at the Southeastern Medieval Association Conference, Charleston, SC, November.

“Textual Archaeology: A Linguistic Transformation of the Giant of Mont-St-Michel,” (paper) Midwest British Studies Conference, Saint Louis, MO, September.

 “Feasting and the Characterization of Sir Gawain,” (paper) The Saint Louis University Symposium on Medieval and Renaissance Studies, Saint Louis, MO, June.

“Compassion and Benignytee: A Reassessment of the Relationship Between Canacee and the Falcon in Chaucer’s Squire’s Tale,” (roundtable) at the International Congress on Medieval Studies at Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo, MI, May.

 “Female Friendship in Medieval British Romance,” (paper) at the International Congress on Medieval Studies at Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo, MI, May.

 “Fear and Loathing in Camelot,” (paper) Modern Language Association Convention, Philadelphia, PA, January.

“Radical Pedagogy: A Hypothetical Sketch of the Twenty-First Century Medievalist in the Classroom,” (roundtable) the Modern Language Association Convention, Philadelphia, PA, January.

Teaching (courses marked with an asterisk are new or fully revised preparations this year)

This year, I taught a 4-1-5 load from Spring through Fall.



Research and Argumentation (2 sections)

World Literature (3 sections)

History of the English Language*

The Global Arthurian Legend*


British Literature to 1500*

Medieval Afterlives: Modern Receptions of the Medieval*


to the Profession

Elected Vice-President of the Society for Medieval Feminist Scholarship

Book reviews editor, Medieval Feminist Forum

Member, MLA CLCS Forum on Celtic Studies

Organized and/or chaired 8 panels at ICMS/Kalamazoo and the Southeaster Medieval Association Conference

at Lindenwood

Co-chair, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion task force

Co-chair, Lindenwood Faculty Learning Community on “Accessibility”

Faculty sponsor, Sigma Tau Delta

Humanities blog administrator

And although that’s certainly not all I did professionally this past year, it’s all that can be recorded on the CV. I guess I do deserve that nap I plan to take this afternoon……? 🙂

Looking ahead, I expect 2018 to bring about the completion of several ongoing projects, including the fully revised first draft of my monograph on violence at the feast in medieval texts, one (possibly 2) edited collections, two guest-edited journal volumes, and several articles currently under revision, many from conference presentations given last year or this year. I’ll be teaching some exciting new courses, including Violence and Trauma: Beowulf to Malory, Women in Medieval Literature and Culture, and Mythology and Folklore, and I’m slated to serve as a respondent for the “Mewn Dau Gae” panel at MLA and to give papers at the Medieval Academy, Indiana Bloomington, and Kalamazoo.

I will, of course, also continue my work as a proponent of and activist for the Humanities generally and medieval studies particularly, and for equity and inclusion in the Academy at all levels, both individually and in my capacity as the Vice-President of the Society for Medieval Feminist Scholarship and a member of the MLA CLCS Celtic Studies forum. I know we say it a lot, but it certainly bears repeating after this past year: “We still have a lot of work to do.” I am very grateful to have the opportunity to participate in working towards a better future for the profession, one in which people are valued beyond mere numbers, statistics, and publications for the wealth of knowledge, wisdom, and talent they bring to bear on our work: one in which the humane is emphasized.

I hope you have a safe and enjoyable New Year’s Eve, and see you in 2018.

A Toast to Melusine


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How To Succeed In Academia By Really, Truly Trying: Advice from Professors, for Students

This past Fall, I found that many more of my students than is usually the case were struggling–struggling with work/life balance, struggling with extra-academic issues affecting their work, struggling to keep up with their coursework, struggling to pay attention in class, struggling to do the bare minimum, struggling to master concepts, struggling to do quality research, struggling to write a decent paper, struggling to earn a passing grade–the term, across the board, was A Struggle.

As I often do, I turned to the Academic Hivemind (AKA Twitter and Facebook) to reflect on why this might be, and what I might do to support my students with good advice and counsel. And as is most often the case, many colleagues responded with thoughtful suggestions. Here are the responses professors gave a fellow professor when asked simply: What is the one piece of advice you would offer your students?


The NUMBER ONE response, from Dr. Natalie Grinnell, Wofford College; Dr. Saskia Beranek; Dr. Elizabeth Rambo, Campbell University; Professor Brian Croteau, Thomas Nelson Community College; Dr. Kat Tracy, Longwood University; Dr. Kara McShane, Ursinus College; and Dr. Richard Newhauser, Arizona State University, is a twinned piece of advice: Read and follow the directions, and Read the Syllabus.


…from Professor Michael Smith, Allamance Community College: When I speak, listen. You don’t have to agree but at least listen because I often answer questions in class that you are going to ask later…like, you know…thirty minutes before the paper is due.

…from Dr. Calliope Schnell, Lindenwood University: Remember it’s YOUR education; it is wise to invest yourself in it. Professors are not your enemies.

… from Dr. Mary Valante, Appalachian State University: Be an active learner and participant in your classes, your education, your life.

… from Sharrieff De’Johnette, formerly at Virginia State University: Practice self-care; get plenty of rest, eat 3 meals, talk with friends in person, listen to music, don’t try to follow every trend.

…from Dr. Daniel O’Sullivan, University of Mississippi: Read all assignments out loud to yourself before submitting. Spellcheck is not enough!

… from Heather Frost, Santa Catalina School: Keep perspective. A long view will keep you on the path you have chosen.

… from Dr. Emily Steiner, University of Pennsylvania: There is no need to double major.

…from Dr. Carissa Harris, Temple University: Self-care and what that entails: get sleep, move your body, get fresh air, eat things that come from the earth, drink water, be kind to yourselves and to others.

…from Dr. Alan Baragona, James Madison University: Don’t try to guess what your professor wants and then try to tailor your response to that. Start with your own reaction to a piece of literature, then examine the text to see what triggered that response and whether you can defend it with the preponderance of textual or historical evidence.

Also, a rule of thumb to balance correctness with finding your own voice: don’t write just anything you would say, but never write anything you wouldn’t say in your normal speech. Read what you write out loud. If it sounds like you, it’s your voice. That also makes it harder to try to spout what you don’t believe but think will get you an A.

…from Dr. Michele Scott James, MiraCosta College: Pay attention: due dates, instructions, and thesis creation!

As far as I can tell, based on the answers I received and the discussions that ensued, what we are all trying to say to you, our students, is this:

Above All: SLOW DOWN. While learning to selectively read and to skim for important information is an important skill, don’t skim everything, and while learning to complete tasks and assignments efficiently is likewise an important skill, don’t dash through every assignment. Leave yourself the time you need to be thorough, especially when beginning (read the syllabus, and all descriptions and directions for each assignment) and completing (double-check everything you submit for completion, for errors in formatting, mechanics, and usage, and to ensure it has uploaded to Canvas, where applicable). The number-one and the costliest error students make in terms of their grades, is carelessness and lack of attention to detail. Cultivate care and attention to detail in your work, particularly at the beginning and end stages of each assignment, and you will reap the best possible outcome.

What about you? What advice would you give to college students heading into a new term?


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Melusine’s Footprint: Reflections on the Publication of a First Book

A Toast to Melusine

A toast to Melusine!

I am very pleased (okay, okay, wildly jumping up and down and screaming in joy like a child) to announce the publication of Melusine’s Footprint: Tracing the Legacy of a Medieval Myth, which is now available from Brill Publishing. This is a collection of twenty interdisciplinary scholarly essays on the Melusine figure, spanning her English, French, German, Dutch, Spanish, and Chinese iterations.

I’d like to take just a moment here to thank my co-editors, Misty Urban and Deva Kemmis, to whom I send virtual celebratory hugs: “We did it!” Since this is a blog about learning to be a professional scholar, I feel it might be interesting and useful for me to share some of the history of this project. The story of the volume begins with our chance encounter at the International Congress on Medieval Studies at Kalamazoo in 2014. Deva and I were co-presenting a paper on the German and French Melusines in a MEARCSTAPA-sponsored session on monsters, and Misty was presenting on the Middle English Melusine in another session. My then-dissertation director Amy Vines introduced me to Misty, whom I had not known previously, and we commiserated on the fragmented nature of Melusine studies, how bound by discipline and language most resources for the study of this fairy figure are. What the world needs, we concluded, is more interdisciplinary Melusine. I blurted impulsively: Why don’t we write an edited volume of essays that brings all of these traditions together?  Amy was encouraging, but firm: Yes, this is a very good idea, but Dissertation First! Misty and Deva agreed to that stipulation and I complied (mostly…. the CFP and initial set of essays happened before I completed the first full draft of the dissertation, but I was done with it before the final essays came in for last proofing. That’s more or less what she said, right?) Three years later, the initial idea is a concrete reality. I could not have asked for better colleagues with whom to travel down this path, and I treasure our work together.

I’d also like to take a moment to reflect a little on my own trajectory towards this moment. Writing books has always come fairly easily to me–well, at least, writing towards completed books has done. I wrote my first book at the age of eight; a handwritten, eighty-page “novel” with illustrations of its alien protagonists who crash-landed on Earth and started a new community, called The Fuzzy Wuzzies. That book landed me a spot at the National Young Author’s Conference. Heady with this early success at authorship and certain I was just one good idea away from publication, I wrote a book a year from then until high school, when my ideas got too big, my attention span too small, and my workload too all-encompassing, to actually finish anything I started. Since high school, most of my writing has been nonfiction and scholarly in nature; I have written many article-length works, and begun many book-length works. I have even published several article-length works, and completed several book-length works, one or two of which may work their way through revision and into print. But actually publishing a book–that goal has been daunting up until now. It took all of that writing, and rewriting, and writing with others, and rewriting with others, to get to a point where I could produce and publish something like Melusine’s Footprint. My eight-year old self is geeking out that I have my name on a book cover; and also, she is a little aghast that it took so long to accomplish it. Well, maybe it could have happened sooner, but I’m glad it did not. I’m relatively certain what we have accomplished with this volume would not have been possible with me at its helm before this point; I needed to grow into the writer who could do this kind of scholarship at this level of expertise. That writer was developed through collaborating with Misty and Deva, and our series editor, Kat Tracy, on this project; and through advanced training in scholarly writing with my  doctoral committee: Amy Vines, Denise Baker and Jennifer Feather. I am so grateful to them all for the many lessons I have learned throughout this experience.

I am excited now, rather than daunted, by the prospect of revising and submitting my first solo-authored book for publication. There is a book in the world with my name on the cover. I can do this, and do it well. Knowing that, rather than simply believing it, is the best outcome of this experience for me, personally. I hope that my success after many, many years of work towards this goal inspires others to hold on to their faith in themselves and their work, and to keep on working towards publication.

An early review of Melusine’s Footprint from Gillian Alban (author of Melusine the Serpent Goddess in A. S. Byatt’s Possession and in Mythology and The Medusa Gaze in Contemporary Women’s Fiction: Petrifying, Maternal and Redemptive) is highly favorable: “This magnificent book combines the research of twenty interdisciplinary scholars who meticulously investigate the eponymous footprint of Melusine from a wide variety of literary as well as artistic approaches. It illustrates how richly this theriomorphic monstrous snake woman has contributed to the culture of so many European countries, and extends as far afield as China, in a study that clearly indicates the continuing fascination of this most enchanting and threatening figure. Melusine is here variously discussed as an instructive exemplar of Christian piety, a powerful mother who desires to humanize herself through marriage into the chivalric, religious order of her age, a transformative figure unifying humanity with nature, an abject object of the gaze, a fairy who functions as a monstrous Other in the mirror of romance, and a metaphor for transgressive feminine prowess. This enthralling work contributes extensively to Melusinia, reading the fairy serpentine hybrid as a symbolic force who never remains contained within any boundaries that may attempt to inscribe her.”

I look forward to seeing how other scholars respond to this volume, and to the future critical studies it inspires. And now…. on to page proofs for an article on the Robin Hood legend, and revisions on that current book project… !


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Preliminary Survey for an exciting new initiative: “Teaching Celtic Literature in the Generalist Classroom!”

Hello, all!

I am very excited to announce that Dr. Matthieu Boyd (Fairleigh Dickinson University) and I are embarking upon a new collaborative project on “Teaching Celtic Literature in the General Education Classroom.”

This project will culminate in two volumes of materials–one focused on Celtic Literature up until 1800, and one focusing on post-1800 Celtic literature. Each volume will include cultural overviews and essays on various subjects of note related to particular texts written by Celtic specialists, teaching essays written by instructors who regularly incorporate Celtic materials into one or more of their courses, sample syllabi from general education courses that include Celtic texts, and appendices of resources such as available editions and facing-page translations of texts and electronic resources. The volumes are intended to work both together as a set, and separately, for those who would like to focus more on earlier or on later texts.

We are currently in the preliminary stages of this project, and are looking for input from those who might be interested in contributing to or in using such a resource. If you regularly teach one or more Celtic texts in any of your literature or humanities courses, or you would be interested in doing so, please fill out the following survey, which will help us develop the books around practical advice and insight on what will be most beneficial in this resource:

If you know of others who might be interested in filling out this survey, please direct them to the link as well. All those who respond to the survey will be acknowledged in the books, and there is an opportunity as well for those who propose ideas and teaching suggestions to contribute an essay, and/or sample materials.


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Wordless Wednesday: This month in mugs…..

This gallery contains 8 photos.

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Progress … doesn’t always look like progress (a post [mostly] on research and publication)

I imagine that everyone who reads this blog has at least a passing familiarity with academia–perhaps you are a student, or the parent of a student, in college or graduate school, or a fellow professor or other member of the university world. At the very least, you probably know that professors are required to engage in the “three pillars” of academic labor: teaching, research, and service. Whereas teaching and service are immediately visible, sometimes–especially in the modern academy–progress in terms of research and publication looks decidedly invisible, until you sit down to examine it.

Traditionally, the typical tenure-track professor teaches what’s called a 2-2 or a 2-3/ 3-2 or even 3-3 course load–meaning, 2 or 3 courses per academic term, or a total of 4-6 courses per academic year. In universities with graduate programs, at least one of those courses will be at the graduate level. Within the “teaching” category,  professors are also responsible for advising students and serving on honors and graduate thesis and doctoral dissertation committees. As I have noted elsewhere in this blog, in my experience first as a secondary/high school teacher and now as a college professor, putting together college-level courses takes more time and effort and requires more planning; online courses, even more than that (which, if you had told me was the case when I taught high school, I would have dismissed as Not Even Possible, because high school English teachers work their butts off.) The reason professors, particularly at research institutions, historically have had 2-2 or 3-2 or 3-3 teaching loads rather than the 6-10 courses per year we often see at the high school level,  is to ensure they have the time to produce and write up research for publication. It’s still a significant chunk of time teaching, but there is room in the work-week for research and writing, especially if you were smart and took on just enough service activity–a committee or task force or two–to show you were a team player and a good citizen.

I, and most of the professors I know, do not teach a 2-2 or a 3-2 courseload. It’s becoming more typical, particularly at schools with less funding and schools that brand themselves as teaching universities, to teach a 4-4. I have taught a 5-4 for the past two years. I am not complaining about teaching so many classes; I think it’s clear even with a passing glance through this blog that I love teaching, I consider it the highest form of service to the nation and the global community, and there are few things I’d rather do than stand in front of a group of students who want to be there and watch their minds at work on some interpretive problem or line of inquiry I’ve posed them to grapple with.

What I will say, however, is that when you teach that heavy a courseload, it takes it out of you physically, mentally, and emotionally. I go home some nights and just fall into bed. It’s rare for me to accept an invitation to do something extra during the week, even rarer on weekends. I need that time to recharge myself, to grade student work, and to prepare for the next round of classes. I am most certainly not alone in this. If you know professors, or are related to them, you have probably noticed that they tend to go more or less radio-silent on you from the end of August through December; to have a little burst of social activity from December through the first week of January, and then to disappear almost entirely from your life from about late February through May. They’re “in the trenches”–teaching, grading, advising, mentoring, writing recommendations, serving on committees and task forces, presenting their research at conferences ….. and …. writing and publishing (?)

Maybe professors with less-heavy teaching loads don’t question that last bit; maybe their scholarly productivity is more visible to them, but I swear, sometimes it seems like I am not doing any research and writing. I sneak it in, here and there, a few hours a week, or even a whole morning or afternoon, if I am very, very lucky; no hours some weeks; sometimes, no research or writing happens for ten days or more. I see my students learning, I see the progress in their thinking and writing, I see their grades amassing in the gradbook; I attend the committee meetings and see the minutes written up, sometimes see the product of that service being put to use–teaching and service are concrete and visible to me. But research and publication–sometimes they’re just so invisible in the bigger scheme of things. And it’s frustrating. But … is it real? Or is the relative invisibility of my research and publication work more a product of my imagination than a reality?

I recently took stock of my research agenda, trying to figure out why I haven’t gotten very far. A senior scholar with whom I am friends was surprised: “You are hugely productive for someone who just got her PhD LAST YEAR!”

Really? Then why does it feel like I’m not producing anything?

So, I reflected on it a bit, and I came up with some points that I need to bear in mind, and that I thought it might be helpful for other junior scholars struggling with balancing teaching/research/service to think about as well.

First: you are actually doing so much more than you think that you are. To prove this to myself, I made a list of the publishing projects I am actively working on or have committed to working on. At the present time, in various stages of actual development, I have two monographs, four edited collections, and five articles and book chapters, with two further articles currently under review.

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That’s a lot.

Why doesn’t it feel like very much?

There are a few reasons, I think, that I didn’t notice how productive I actually have been and am being in terms of research and publication. First, of course, is that I’m fitting these projects in here and there, as I can, because on my teaching load I can’t give them large or even regular chunks of time–so, it doesn’t feel like I’m getting very far. But, as Paul Silvia notes in How To Write a Lot, doing a little bit here and there on a regular basis actually produces a lot of scholarship–if you just wrote one page per day, you’d have 365 pages of manuscript in a year. That’s progress!

Second, I’m always thinking about one or more of these projects–so it always feels like I’m not working on them because I am thinking about working on them–yet, by thinking about them, I am actually working on them; they’re on the “back burner” getting some intellectual attention, if not actual, physical butt-in-the-chair writing attention. When I do sit down to work on something, I typically find I’ve resolved a problem I was having in the writing up of an idea, and that resolution paves the way for a better and more productive writing session when it does happen. That is, I’m working out the logistics of an argument or project regularly, leaving the writing time for actual drafting and revision. That’s progress.

Third–academic publishing moves slowly. A typical article’s trajectory is submit, wait 3-6 months for editorial response, revise and resubmit, wait another 3-6 months for another response — it takes on average a year from initial submission to press to publish an article in the humanities, with some journals taking 2-3 years dependent upon their backlog–and that is if the article is accepted as a revise-and-resubmit. Some articles take longer than that. Some articles require substantial rewriting. Some articles are scrapped and begun over again from scratch. Some articles are abandoned entirely because they just aren’t going to work. So, once you have submitted an article for review, suddenly you’re not doing anything with it; suddenly, you’re just sitting around waiting, and nothing happens (or, it feels that way, even though you’re still teaching, working on other research things, doing service….) Article limbo makes it hard to feel like you are getting anywhere. So, this past summer I revised and submitted two articles for review. That’s a productive summer. But it doesn’t feel productive because I’ve not had a response on them yet, because nothing is budging on my CV, they’re just “under review.” I need to learn that that is completely okay, and that “under review” is progress.

And if articles move slowly–books can move even more slowly. The edited collection I started working on in late 2014 is just coming out this November, and it was a smooth process with no bumps in the road during production. It just takes time to publish a scholarly book, and there’s nothing to be done about it. There’s a reason people on the tenure track get 6 (7, but really 6) years to get their first book under contract and in press. Typically, your dissertation is the seed of your first book, but sometimes that isn’t as straightforward a transformation as it was supposed to be, sometimes you have to conduct a lot more research and rewrite substantial portions of it, sometimes you scrap the dissertation, taking out an article or two and starting over on a different project, entirely. If it took you between 1-3 years to write the dissertation as a graduate student possibly teaching 1-2 courses a term, it’s going to take at least that long to prepare a monograph for submission as a professor teaching 2-4 (in my case, 5) courses a term. And in my case, my dissertation is turning out to be two books, so I had to begin by dismantling it entirely and planning and beginning work on an entirely new chapter for the first one. On the plus side, I have a lot of good work to do; but of course, it doesn’t feel like I have any time. Yet, in the year since I graduated, (after taking the first six months off entirely to get some distance from the project) I’ve separated the seeds of Book One from the seeds of Book Two, identified the materials I need to consult to expand and develop both books, revised Book One’s introduction and first chapter, and begun work on the new chapter to be added to it. That’s a substantial amount of work to have completed on a book project. That’s progress.

Could I be doing more? Sure. If I taught a 2-2 or a 3-2, or had a course release or a semester sabbatical for research, if I had more time to devote to it, I might get more research done; more of my work might be polished and sent off sooner to publishers and journal editors. But I would still run into the pipeline issue described above, and it would still sometimes feel like I wasn’t getting anywhere. What does progress look like, when it comes to research and publishing? It’s most visible when you are holding the published material in your hands, when you move an entry from “under review” into a publishing category on your CV–but sometimes, you have to look harder. Sometimes progress doesn’t look (or feel) like progress–but that doesn’t mean it isn’t there.

What about you? How do you handle concerns that you might not be productive enough as a scholar, especially if you teach heavier courseloads? What are your strategies for maintaining scholarly productivity?


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AY 2017-2018 Begins: Here Are Some Behind-the-Scenes Glimpses into the Making of an Online Course.

I’ve been radio-silent on this blog for over a month now, and that’s because I became an Auntie for the first time at the end of July (yay!!!), we got the page proofs for Melusine’s Footprint (yay!!!), and I was putting together my 15-week online course on “Medieval Afterlives: Modern Receptions of the Medieval,” an upper-division literature and culture course that looks at representative medieval texts, traces their afterlives into the popular cultural imagination, and then considers how they influence modern high fantasy by reading J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings.

I’ve written before about things to consider when designing an online course for the first time. The last pointer I gave in that post was to have some videos, so your students could get an idea of the person behind the course they are taking. Of course, even though we regularly perform in front of classes, most professors are not used to being filmed. It took me several takes to get usable footage to post to the course site; here are a few of the bloopers, for your amusement.

All in all, it took me forty hours to load the course onto our Canvas platform, and probably about 20 more hours to film and get the videos uploaded to Youtube to link to the course, and to complete the Powerpoints and reference lists. It was definitely a labor of love, and all I can do now that I’ve hit “Publish” on the course is to hope my students enjoy taking it as much as I (mostly) enjoyed putting it together. Fingers crossed!

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