Conference Idea: Small Sessions for Grad Students & Keynote Speakers (guest post)

In the following guest post,* Carlota Salvador Megias, a recent graduate from the MA program in philosophy at the University of Bergen, shares an interesting idea for helping graduate students get more out of philosophy conferences.

[Sol LeWitt, “161”]

Small Sessions for Graduate Students & Keynote Speakers
by Carlota Salvador Megias

Since 2019, the Bergen Network for Women in Philosophy (BNWP) has hosted annual conference-workshops for women and members of other marginalized gender identities who are currently enrolled in a graduate program or have recently completed a graduate degree. These conference-workshops sort participants into small cohorts of 3 – 4 students, each supervised by one of the conference’s keynote speakers. All students receive an hour’s worth of discussion on a pre-circulated paper they authored, structured around questions about its content, organization, argumentative and descriptive rigor, and style. Participants may also apply for the opportunity to present their work in a public talk.

We thought that this event format might interest graduate student organizations and philosophy departments at other universities and have put together a packet of resources to assist you in holding your own versions.

This event was inspired by the sense of camaraderie and semi-carnivalesque atmosphere of the International Wittgenstein Symposium and Summer School (ILWS) put on each year by the Austrian Ludwig Wittgenstein Society. The summer school brings graduate students from around the world together to discuss specific aspects of Wittgenstein’s work with some of the field’s foremost professionals, in light of their latest research; and the symposium combines plenary lectures by invited speakers with short parallel sessions by persons at diverse stages of their philosophical careers, either on the topic of that year’s symposium or about Wittgenstein’s work more broadly.

For me, the most exciting part of each symposium is attending my summer school friends’ talks and discussing our work in the company of philosophers we admire. I wanted to bring the spirit of this event to my own university and—with a friend from the first ILWS I attended, Jasmin Trächtler—organized the BNWP’s first conference-workshop in January 2019 on imagination, society, and culture.

We all know how lonely work in philosophy can be. It’s difficult to form lasting relationships beyond our departments; to learn how to articulate our thoughts such that they’re accessible to peers outside of our areas of specialization; and to formulate our curiosities about others’ research in a way that genuinely engages all parties. At the risk of putting too fine a Wittgensteinian point on it, it is only through consistent practice, good mentorship, and diverse conversations that we develop the skills to make this field a bit more homely for ourselves and our colleagues. The more opportunities we create for these, the better.

Small workshops like this one—where discussions turn on precise questions about participants’ drafts as pieces that might someday make real contributions—can be great jumping-off points. As one of our first workshop’s keynotes, Dr. Sabina Lovibond, reflected: “I have enjoyed reconnecting with it through the notes and abstracts still in my possession, and I have been struck by the way ‘imagination’ provides a gateway to new lines of thought in so many areas of philosophy. The theme of the workshop made room for a remarkable (though not random) breadth of reference: from Plato and Aristotle, through Kant, Fichte and Wittgenstein, to Cora Diamond and Virginia Woolf. Meanwhile, with ‘society’ and ‘culture’ in view, what could be more urgent for the 2020s than a question I have recorded from one of the workshop presentations: ‘How do we get each other to listen to what we have to say?’ It was a privilege to meet some of the women colleagues, present and future, who are carrying these discussions forward.”

The resources hyperlinked above include a sample call for papers, sample application, sample budget, and a single-page checklist/organizational timeline. We expect to update them periodically and to add more files in the future. We’ve written them with a one-time physical event in mind, but all can be modified to accommodate virtual events (ex., on Zoom, Discord, Microsoft Teams, etc.) or an on-going, semesterly workshop series internal to your university. It’s entirely possible to host these events for free and to make them interdisciplinary! If you would like to organize one of these yourself and have any questions or concerns, would like to bounce your ideas off of someone, or simply need advice, please feel free to contact me at carlota.salvador.megias [at] gmail [dot] com.

We would also like to encourage the Daily Nous’ readers to apply to a conference-workshop on Wittgenstein and Feminism co-hosted by the BNWP and the Sorbonne in Paris (or, if necessary, online) this coming March, and for which we’ve recently extended our deadlines. Please see our PhilEvent listing for more information.

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