As a first year doctoral student in English and Education, this year marked the first opportunity I'd had to attend a national conference, and in November I attended the NCTE Conference in Detroit. Before attending a conference such as this, I admit that I would have shuddered at the thought of having to present material at a national conference. Terms like "abstract submission," "panel presentation," and "calls for papers" struck fear into my tentative academic's heart. I fully expected to find an intensely competitive space in which well-known academics jockeyed for scholarly position and the work of graduate students like myself was neither valued nor welcomed. What I found instead was an incredible surprise . . . a welcoming place where academics came together to share ideas and experiences, to discuss problems, and to seek solutions to those problems. Graduate students and tenured faculty members from all walks of academic life, from technical schools to kindergartens to Ivy League institutions, had gathered to learn from one another. It was quite a revelation, for in it I saw a glimpse of what I might be able to do, too.
Perhaps one of the most satisfying panels I attended was that entitled "Voice Construction and Moral Presence in African American and Asian American Literature." The presenters were thoughtful and articulate, and the material they shared with us was both interesting and challenging. These were not, however, the reasons that I found this panel noteworthy. What was noteworthy, to this inexperienced conference attendee, was the fact that one of the papers was presented jointly by a tenured faculty member and a graduate student with whom she was working. Together Shirley Geok-Lin Lim and John Inouye of the University of California at Santa Barbara presented their work on Asian American literature in the classroom. Together. Perhaps it was naive of me, but I hadn't expected to see graduate students working so closely, particularly in such a public space, with more senior faculty. And this was not an anomaly; there were numerous panels composed of graduate students and their mentors. It was an important moment, for in it I realized that national conferences need not be intimidating or antagonistic spaces; rather, they could provide rich opportunities for scholars of all degrees to teach and learn together.
In showcasing the work of graduate student scholars, NCTE offers an opportunity for those of us who have not yet fully entered the world of academics to participate in it nonetheless. Conferences such as this allow us to begin to see ourselves as members of a larger scholarly community, a community which values our work and our ideas, a community which will have a place for us when we have completed the rigors of our graduate education. It seems that graduate students often feel as though they are fledgling scholars with little voice in their fields; national conferences, and their commitment to including graduate student work, however, demonstrate that they do indeed have a voice, and that there are others waiting to listen. Perhaps I'll submit an abstract after all . . .