“Congratulations, you are now a scholar,” my friend told me after we drove away from Providence College in Rhode Island.
A scholar? I had never thought of myself as one before, but I liked the sound of it. Of course, I hadn’t thought I would be presenting a paper at an academic conference either.
Last spring, I took a research-writing course, during which I read, analyzed, and researched Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. When it came time to choose a paper topic, I focused on the use of weather and environmental nature in the novel and how they reflect the monster’s character. Making all the connections and writing the essay was tedious to say the least. But when I lamented the process to my friend, she thought my topic was interesting and was the first to suggest that I present my work.
When I signed up for the Northeast Popular/American Culture Association conference, the research assignment took on new meaning. I was preparing it for life beyond the classroom. And here I thought I was just getting through another course requirement. Fast forward a few months, and there I was in Rhode Island at Providence College with a 15-page paper in my shaking hands.
Approaching the registration table, I couldn’t help but think that I had entered a grown-up version of the Speech Meets and Math Olympics I attended in high school. Everywhere I looked, there were students and professors pacing around nervously rehearsing their presentations or wandering lost with a map clutched in their hands. I had to smile: I guess high school does prepare you for something.
My friend and I grabbed our packets and looked at the schedule to see what was on deck for other panels. I stopped into a few classrooms to watch others present, so I could get a feel for how I might present my own work later. I was glad to see the relaxed atmosphere in each room. No one was out to get the presented. They were there to listen.
One of my friends spoke about the evolution of women in video games, while another person spoke about The Walking Dead. When someone gave a boring presentation, I saw it as an opportunity to give myself encouragement (“Man, mine has got to be more interesting than this.”). Even so, I still worried about how I was going to speak for 15 minutes straight without getting glazed-over looks.
I finally stepped up to the podium and flipped to my first slide: an animated GIF of Frankenstein yelling, “It’s alive!” over and over again. The moment I heard laughter I gave a sigh of relief and smiled to myself. Here I was, the center of attention, making a room full of academics laugh. It was surreal to say the least, but I took the vote of confidence and continued on with my paper. It was encouraging that, even though I was one of the youngest in the room, everyone listened to what I had to say and was respectful.