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EGSA hosts spring conference and plenary speakers

TAMPA, Fla. – Co-organized by Chrissy Connor and Kristin Gocinski, the English Graduate Student Association hosted its annual spring conference April 1-2, 2016. The first day of the conference featured plenary speaker Kathryn Duncan, Ph.D., whose paper was entitled “Dead Bodies and Dying Minds: Theory of Mind, Dementia, and Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.” Following the plenary, 18 graduate students presented papers relevant to this year’s theme, “Time, Space, and Writing the Body.” This year’s conference also included creative readings and a Florida Photo Essay Contest. Carmella Guiol, M.F.A. student, and Emmilee Wyatt and Nyrin Odisha, English undergraduate students, received prizes for their outstanding submissions.

The second day of the conference featured plenary speaker Jennifer Polk, Ph.D., who presented and conducted workshops on “Finding Success after Graduate School.” Polk runs the blog and works at coaching Ph.D.s to achieve meaningful life and career goals. Her experience with the post-graduate market gives her a unique perspective for helping students who are considering alt-ac careers, and she has worked with more than 100 clients since 2013.

“I do what I do because I care about people with Ph.D.s, not about their research or teaching or publications or ‘the field’ or time to completion or even whether they finish graduate school in the first place. I don’t care whether they launch careers within or far from the Ivory Tower — or somewhere in between — as long as it’s what’s right for them,” Polk explains.

In her keynote address, Polk encouraged graduate students to “take charge of and build work habits that work for them, manage professional relationships, [and to] get past internal and external criticism that keeps them stuck.” She emphasized how to avoid one of the most problematic aspects of transitioning from a Ph.D. to life: dealing with the guilt and shame that sometimes accompany choosing a career outside of academe. She encouraged students and graduates to consider options beyond the classroom and research, but ultimately to choose career options that fit with their long-term goals.

Following her address, Polk conducted two workshops that included graduate students from multiple departments and were attended by Graduate Director of English John Lennon , Ph.D. and Undergraduate Director of English Ylce Irizarry, Ph.D. The workshop themes focused on creating goal outlines, using key terms to help establish individual skills that graduate students have developed over the course of their studies. Attendees considered how these skills might be applicable to alt-ac careers. They also weighed the benefits of pursuing careers within their research areas. One critical recommendation Polk gave was to begin including professionalization techniques, such as mock interviews and curriculum vitae preparation, either in graduate coursework or separate workshops throughout the academic year.

Polk’s website, From Ph.D. to Life, provides further resources for negotiating the transition between academia and life-based decisions ( Also, for more advice, you can follow her on Twitter.

The EGSA thanks the many organizers and participants who helped to make this conference a success.

Megan Mandell, doctoral candidate in English literature, and Kimber Wiggs, doctoral student in English literature, contributed to this article. They can be reached at and

Filed under:Arts and Sciences English Student Success