Ideas for Campus Activities

For Graduate Students in Religious Studies

How to Arrange a Conference Proposal Workshop

by Kristy Slominski

A Proposal Workshop is a meeting in which graduate students comment on one another’s paper proposals for an upcoming Call for Papers. It is an opportunity to hear about the projects that other graduate students are engaged in, and to share and receive valuable proposal writing tips. Proposal Workshops are useful for beginners who are writing their first proposals, as well as seasoned presenters. All participants will benefit from having extra pairs of critical eyes on their work. These meetings are relatively simple to arrange, so don’t miss another opportunity to build the academic community in your department through this simple exercise.

  1. Identify the conferences in which graduate students in your department are interested in participating. Schedule your conference proposal workshop one or two weeks prior to the Call for Papers deadline. (Your department or campus library should be able to assist in securing a room for your approximately two hour meeting).
  2. (Optional) Invite a faculty member, or a graduate student who has served on a committee for proposal selection for a conference, to attend your workshop and share tips on what they think distinguishes a successful proposal from a not so successful proposal.
  3. Advertise your workshop through your department email list and by posting flyers in your department. Inviting your peers via a “Facebook Event” may also be effective. Indicate that the proposal workshop is for beginning and advanced proposers, and that participants should bring with them three or four copies of their proposal drafts and a willingness to read and comment on other proposals.
  4. Be sure to bring any information regarding the Call for Papers to the proposal workshop for people to reference.
  5. During the workshop, have your invited faculty member or graduate student begin by sharing tips on proposal writing. Next, go around the room and have students share a one-line description of their proposed papers, whether or not they’ve written the paper yet that they are proposing, and what they would like the reviewers to help them with. Next they will exchange their proposal drafts. Depending on how many students attend the workshop (this can work with as few as two participants), you may want students to read four or five different proposal drafts. Encourage them to write extensive comments on the proposals. It is also useful to discuss each proposal in the second half of the meeting, particularly focusing on what could be done to improve each proposal. (This is a great exercise for learning how to critique academic work without offending people.)
  6. Don’t forget to remind graduate students that proposals are accepted based on a number of criteria, including quality of the proposal, “fit” of the proposal with the goals of the conference or section that particular year, compatibility with other proposals submitted that year, and possibly how well the selection committee thinks your paper will draw a crowd. Just because one proposal is accepted and another is not does not mean that it was necessarily a better proposal.
  7. If more than one person gets accepted to a conference, arrange practice presentations for them a week or two before the conference so that they can practice their delivery, receive feedback, and have an opportunity to share their work with those who will not be able to attend the conference.

(printable PDF)

Organizing a "PhD Programs" Workshop

by Elissa McCormack

While I was a M.A. student, I organized two workshops for my school, the Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology (DSPT), to help those students who were interested in pursuing their PhDs understand how to navigate the admissions process.

1) PhD Admissions Panel (sample flyer)

This was the easiest workshop to organize because it didn’t involve much planning on my part, beyond searching for and bringing representatives of the admissions office.  In this case, the proximity of DSPT to UC-Berkeley and its membership in the Graduate Theological Union (GTU) were great assets.  I contacted:

  • The Dean of UC-Berkeley’s Graduate School (as a general admissions representative)
  • The Dean and Head of Admissions for the GTU (as a theology/religious studies representative)
  • The Head of the UC-Berkeley Philosophy Department Graduate Program (as a philosophy representative)

All of the planning, in terms of scheduling, asking the speakers how much time they’d want, etc. was done via e-mail.  I asked DSPT’s Academic Dean to introduce the panel, and then each speaker took 10-20 minutes to talk, followed by time for questions.  This received a very positive response from students.

2) PhD Programs Workshop (sample flyer)

This workshop focused, like the panel, on tips for applying to PhD programs.  It was based on a survey that I asked the school to send out to alumni who had gone on for their PhD and reading that I had done in the book Getting What You Came For by Robert Peters.  Using all this information, I put together a PowerPoint presentation giving students tips and advice about how to best find their way through the application process.  The good thing about this workshop, unlike the Admissions Panel, is that once the background work of putting the PowerPoint together was completed, I was able to run the workshop twice, using the same information.  I also created a handout to be used as I presented the PowerPoint, in case anyone wanted to take notes on it.

I asked the DSPT’s Academic Dean to introduce the workshop and, with his assistance, invited an alumnus/a who had successfully gone through the PhD admissions process to come and give their own perspective.  (The difficulty is in finding a good example in an alumnus/a; the person we had come to our first workshop was studying art and religion, so only had applied to the GTU.)  After the introduction from the Academic Dean, I presented my research into the admissions process, which was followed by the perspective of the alum, and an opportunity to ask questions.

(printable PDF)