Originally posted: 4 August, 2020
The joy of being wrong: a love letter to BritGrad
I count myself in nothing else so happy As in a soul remembering my good friends.
Richard II, 2.3
When I look back on my first BritGrad conference in 2018, I still struggle to put into words what a profound and lasting effect the entire experience had on me both professionally and personally. BritGrad was, without doubt or hyperbole, a defining moment in my academic journey. If this is your first time in attendance, I hope that this year’s event – an online spectacular! – proves to be every bit as joyful and memorable for you as mine was for me.
Before BritGrad, I hadn’t really “done” academic conferences. I had desperately wanted to, of course, but for one reason or another – time, energy, finances and so on – opportunities for presenting papers and networking had been few and far between. (Here, perhaps, you may feel a pang of familiarity; postgraduate programmes are hard work at the very best of times…!) As a result, I hadn’t had much chance to experience the kind of wholesome and supportive community I now know characterises BritGrad. What is more, my lack of experience meant that any conference that I could find the resources to attend took on new and daunting significance. When my abstract was accepted by that year’s BritGrad committee, my initial excitement was supplanted almost immediately by the deep-seated dread of Imposter Syndrome. I was scared that I wouldn’t fit in; that my untested ideas wouldn’t be good enough; that I’d fail.
Fortunately, I couldn’t have been more wrong.
Here’s the thing: BritGrad is, above all else, a celebration of academic growth, of shared interests and of scholarly community. The aim of every BritGrad conference is to forge connections between diverse ideas and backgrounds in order to move existing discourse forwards and spark new conversations altogether. Every year therefore brings together a vibrant cross-section of early-career researchers, teachers, poets, actors and lecturers – and whether it’s your first conference or your fiftieth, everybody is welcome. It doesn’t matter if your paper isn’t yet perfect or published or polished, and your research needn’t be world-leading or paradigm-shifting (although the conference presents its fair share of both every year); it’s fine to be a bit experimental and to try out new ideas – and even new modes of presenting! All that truly matters is that you feel comfortable sharing your ideas in a safe and supportive space.
I’m lucky that all of this is and was the case, because my first paper back in 2018 could, I freely admit, have gone a bit better than it did. I was unsure of myself, stapled my pages in the wrong order, and my essay (a study of Shakespeare and student mental health) was so heartfelt (which is good!) that I ended it in floods of tears (which is LESS good!). And yet the support I received afterwards absolutely blew me away. Thanks to the contacts I made that day and the discussions that arose from my presentation, that same paper was published in an academic journal earlier this year – a fact that I’m still getting my head around. I’m forever grateful then, not only for my confidence and platform that my first BritGrad gave me, but also for the opportunity it gave me to learn from others and make lasting friendships.
A glimpse at the attendees of any given BritGrad is a glimpse into the exciting future of early modern studies. You’re part of that future, and I can’t wait to see where your BritGrad experience takes you.
Dr. James Alsop