Academic Conferences

20 March 2014

My sweat glands are tired.

At some point in your university career you might speak at an academic conference. I had the honor of being invited to speak at the 9th Annual Law & Legal Studies Conference at Carleton yesterday. It was by far one of my favorite scholarly moments.

The day began with some welcome remarks and a breakfast buffet. As an undergraduate student speaking at a graduate conference, I didn’t recognize anyone in attendance. Over fresh fruit and coffee, I was introduced to the Masters students in the Law and Legal studies program. When I told them I was in the Humanities program, they were skeptical but excited to see a new face.

The first three panels of the day were fabulous. Each speaker was eloquent and impressive. The questions were respectful and thoughtful. One got the feeling that they were amongst the elite.

I was scheduled to present first of four other students, in the last panel of the day. The title of my talk was “Walter Benjamin’s Hebrew Anarchy.” I adapted the latter half of a paper I had written for my Modern Legal Theory class to fit the theme of the conference, Legal Exclusions. In short, I argued that an essay by Walter Benjamin, while it seems to create barriers of exclusion because he uses theology in his arguments, actually is inclusionary.

The talk was about 15 minutes long, and I got through it without showing my nerves too much. Every time I looked up from my script I saw attentive listeners, some of whom told me later that they thoroughly enjoyed my talk. I also saw three of my Humanities colleagues in the front row there to support me—familiar faces put me at ease for sure.

I handled question period as best I could. I had two questions directed at me, the first from a graduate student and the second from a professor. To the second question, after a bit of pondering, I admitted I did not know the answer. There were no chuckles or smirks, and we carried on with the day. Question period was a scary but very valuable experience. It is a chance for people to point things out about your work that you never would have considered, and I left with some food for thought.

I can say that without a doubt, the Bachelor of Humanities program was the best preparation I could have had for the conference. A colleague told me that my talk was the perfect combination of a sophisticated argument and verbal clarity. The professor who quizzed me during question period came to me after the day had ended and told me he was shocked that I could make such a brilliant observation at my young age and formulate it so well. I know that without a doubt, it is the Bachelor of Humanities that got me here. The program fosters originality of ideas and clarity of thought, and I know that I will use these skills for years to come.

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