Abby Goode is a PhD candidate in English and the Center for the Study of Women, Gender, and Sexuality at Rice University. She specializes in nineteenth-century American literature, sustainability studies, and transnational American studies. She is writing a dissertation entitled “Democratic Demographics: A Literary Genealogy of American Sustainability,” and her essay “Gothic Fertility in Leonora Sansay’s Secret History (1808)” is forthcoming in Early American Literature. She has presented on a range of topics such as eugenics and sustainability, U.S. reproductive politics, early American fertility, sex and comedy, biopolitics, and hemispheric American studies.
Abby used MLA Commons to garner interest in the special sessions she organized for the last two MLA conventions: “Homo-reproductions,” in Chicago, and “Sustainability and Population in American Literary History,” in Vancouver. Abby talked to us about how she has found the Commons invaluable when it comes to networking as a graduate student, and, below, we share her experience.
Abby’s aim in creating a page on the Commons for her 2014 “Homo-reproductions” session was simply to publicize her session and get the site’s URL published in the convention program. But the networking capabilities of the Commons soon became apparent to her when a scholar who saw her “Homo-reproductions” site invited her to give a paper at another conference. “As a graduate student,” Abby said, “it was great to receive an invitation like that from people whose work I admire.” Indeed, Abby has become particularly enthusiastic about the potential of the Commons as a platform to expose graduate student work. She sees the members who might come across her site as “a network of potential readers” and has found the platform to be “a great way to get an audience” and also for graduate students’ work “to come to the attention of potential interlocutors.”
This year, while building her “Sustainability and Population in American Literary History” site, she decided to take it a little further. “I realized that the Commons is extremely powerful when paired with Twitter,” she says. “It was great to be able to include a link in those 140 characters and build interest in my topic. The Commons gave me a place I could easily point to, and let me do it with one click. Even better, the responses I got made me realize how many people are interested in sustainability in American literature—something that really surprised me, since it remains largely unexplored.” She hopes to use the Commons to continue and expand interest in the topic in 2015, adding links to relevant publications and other resources to the site she created for her special session.
Of course, Abby appreciates that maintaining a digital presence on multiple platforms requires time—the very thing that graduate students often feel they don’t have. “It can be hard to keep up with everything when you’re doing a dissertation,” Abby observes, “especially when everyone tells you that you should be turning the Internet off.” She acknowledges that many MLA members may already be using social networks, and, while she understands the reticence to adopt another platform, she believes spending time on professional social networks to be an essential facet of getting your name and your work out there. “It’s a way to point others to what you are doing—why wouldn’t you use it?” The answer, she believes, is in ceasing to think about social networking as procrastination (although it certainly can be just that) and starting to see it as outreach and self-promotion. “I think you have to see it as a different kind of work, a different use of your time.”
In fact, Abby has found the work of publishing on the Commons to be of enormous professional value. “The MLA special session proposal requires justification for special sessions,” she explains, “and coming up with that justification requires significant research. Substantial intellectual work goes into creating and curating a special session, then, and as a graduate student, I wanted somewhere to put that scholarly work. It’s not the same thing as a scholarly publication, but given that those can take a couple of years and graduate students tend to have a sensitive timeline, it’s still good to have it out there as a supplement to other scholarly endeavors.”
And while the Commons provides Abby and other scholars, both emerging and well established, with a venue to publish and publicize more marginal forms of scholarly communication, the act of writing a special session proposal she would be willing to publish was also invaluable. “Writing the proposal provided me with a way to zoom out of my dissertation and think about how my work is applicable to American literature writ large. The MLA is really good in that you have to articulate the relationships between the papers on your panel—so often at conferences they are not connected—and so writing the session proposal forced me to define why I was focusing on this period and on these texts and on American literature.” Thinking about the large-scale implications and connection of her work will not only serve her well in the dissertation defense but also will be invaluable when she goes on the academic job market next fall. “I’ll need to be able to zoom out and see my dissertation as an object, something I can define and justify. Working on the proposal definitely helped with that.”