Aoife Laughlin 2013-14 RPWC Fellow

Reflections on Vanderbilt by 2013-14 Robert Penn Warren Centre Graduate Student Aoife Laughlin (July 2014)

It’s now almost exactly one year since I packed my bags and moved to Nashville to take up my post as a visiting graduate fellow at the Robert Penn Warren Centre for the Humanities. In many ways, I can’t believe my time at Vanderbilt is over. The year passed in an exciting whirlwind of activity. I can honestly say that my time at Vanderbilt ranks as one of the most rewarding experiences of my PhD studies.

Graduate fellows at the Warren Centre spend the year participating in a rigorous and highly collaborative seminar programme. Fellows have the opportunity to learn from each other at intensive weekly meetings. As Mona Frederick, the Director of the Warren Centre, likes to say at the beginning of the programme: by the end of the year the fellows find themselves as familiar with each other’s work as they are with their own. The opportunity to engage with myriad different fields of research really is one of the greatest benefits of the fellowship programme. It opens your mind to new ideas, new ways of thinking, and new possibilities for your own research.

One of the many highlights of the fellowship programme takes place during the second semester when the graduate fellows deliver public lectures based on their research. The public lecture is an opportunity to present your research in a very supportive environment to a much larger, more diverse audience. It is an excellent capstone to not only the fellowship programme but also the entire PhD experience.

Stepping beyond the bounds of Vanderbilt for a moment, it should be noted that Nashville is a very beautiful and incredibly friendly city. Although most famous as a country music mecca, the city also boasts a thriving and diverse cultural scene. Between art crawls on the first Saturday of every month, Marx Brothers marathons at the Belcourt art-house cinema, and innumerable karaoke bars, restaurants, and concerts, I wasn’t bored for a second during my year there. It’s a mere three hour drive from Memphis and the fantastically inexpensive megabus service operates between Nashville and Chicago. For those who prefer hiking and camping to city breaks a weekend in the nearby Smoky Mountains is the perfect opportunity to take in the lush, rolling Tennessee countryside.

The fellowship programme, then, is a chance to broaden your mind and build on your skills as a researcher in an exciting, bustling city. It’s also a chance to make some truly fantastic friends. It’s a truism that when you spend a lot of time working with a group of people they inevitably become your good friends. The fellowship programme at the Warren Centre is no exception to that rule. One of the really exciting things about the partnership between Queen’s and Vanderbilt is that one of Vanderbilt fellows will take up a postdoctoral fellowship at the ICRH at Queen’s following their graduation.

All in all, the Queen’s – Vanderbilt connection is a really positive, exciting partnership for both institutions. The visiting graduate fellowship is a truly fantastic opportunity for any researcher who wants to build on their skills at a top American university in an exciting, bustling city.

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Aoife Laughlin is named as 2013-2014 RPWC Fellow

‌I am a postgraduate student in the School of History and Anthropology and I’m delighted to have been named as the 2013-14 visiting graduate fellow at Vanderbilt University’s Robert Penn Warren Center for the Humanities. As my predecessor, Paddy McQueen, explained in an overview of his year at Vanderbilt the Robert Penn Warren Center is a highly collaborative institution which promotes interdisciplinary research in the humanities. Each year the Center selects eight final year PhD students – seven from Vanderbilt and one from Queen’s – to join the Center as graduate student fellows. Graduate fellows at the Center spend the year writing and refining their PhD theses, attend weekly seminars with the other fellows and visiting speakers, and present their research in a public lecture in the spring semester. The programme promises to be an excellent capstone to the PhD experience.

I was made aware of the Robert Penn Warren fellowship at the beginning of my first year as a research student. I thought it sounded like a fantastic opportunity and tucked that knowledge away, always intending to apply for the programme when I reached the final year of my PhD. I was thrilled to be told that I’d been selected as the 2013-14 Queen’s fellow. At the time of writing this piece it’s only a week until I leave, my bags are (sort of) packed, my notes have been scanned and backed up to every external hard drive I can lay my hands on, and I’m just counting down the days until I leave for Nashville.

I was attracted to the fellowship for lots of reasons. It offers the chance to live in a new city and experience a different culture while studying at a top American university. It’s also an opportunity to conduct research and refine the PhD thesis in a truly interdisciplinary environment. The Center is structured around weekly seminars at which graduate fellows take turns presenting their research and seeking feedback from the other fellows. It’s an incredible opportunity to present your research, to learn from people outside your research cluster, and to hone your speaking and writing skills. It promises to be a rigorous, intensive, and extremely valuable year.

I’m really excited about my upcoming year at the Warren Center. I think it’s going to make me a better writer, a better researcher, and a better public speaker. And I’m thrilled at the opportunity to share my ideas with new people and spend some time in a new city. I’d highly encourage any PhD students entering their final year to keep the fellowship in mind and consider applying in the upcoming round of applications.

Aoife's Account of Vanderbilt University After Two Months

I am currently two months into my fellowship at the Robert Penn Warren Centre for the Humanities at Vanderbilt. The 2013-14 graduate fellows are an extremely diverse group. My fellow fellows work in the fields of history, philosophy, sociology, English literature, Spanish and Portuguese, and anthropology. Our group meets in weekly seminars and each week we engage in a highly focused discussion of one fellow’s research. These seminars have proven to be extremely dynamic and intellectually stimulating. I have found that some of the most valuable feedback I’ve received on my research has come from researchers working outside my discipline. Similarly, engaging with research from other disciplines has directed me to sources I would never otherwise have discovered. The opportunity to develop my work in a collaborative interdisciplinary environment has been an incredibly enriching experience.

This semester has been an exciting one for everyone at the Warren Centre as the Centre celebrated its 25th anniversary. Over the course of a two day anniversary celebration the Centre screened Speaking for the Humanities, a specially-made documentarytracing the history of the Warren Centre, and invited former faculty fellows to participate in a conference exploring how discourse in the humanities has changed over the past twenty-five years. Meeting the former Warren fellows at the anniversary celebration has been one of the highlights of my time at Vanderbilt so far. Learning about the work that they have done since their time at the Warren Centre was truly inspirational.

In addition to our weekly seminars and the 25th anniversary celebration our group has had the opportunity to take part in a number of developmental workshops on academic publishing, effective academic writing, and the job market. One of the highlights has been a two day workshop on public speaking with Professor John Glavin. Professor Glavin, a Professor of English at Georgetown University, visits the Centre every year to deliver a rigorous and invigorating two day seminar on public speaking. Everyone gets the opportunity to present a page from one of their previous conference papers and Professor Glavin offers an intense and ultimately incredibly beneficial critique. There is no room for embarrassment or introversion in this seminar, some of our tasks included singing and reading in different accents! Professor Glavin is extremely knowledgeable and very generous with his time and his feedback. His workshop is consistently rated as one of the highlights of the fellowship every year.

My fellowship experience has been wonderful so far. Vanderbilt and the Warren Centre have proven to be a stimulating and rewarding environment in which to finish the PhD thesis. 

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