Customarily, graduate seminars end with seminar papers, 20-30 page research papers that aim to present an original argument that engages with the texts or topics of the course. But what if seminars didn’t end with the seminar paper? “Rethinking the Seminar Paper, ” hosted by the MLA Committee on the Status of Graduate Students in the Profession, addresses the purpose, forms, and effectiveness of the seminar paper and also imagines alternatives to the standard seminar paper. It will take place on Friday, January 10 from 8:30 a.m. to 9:45 a.m. in Chicago H of the Chicago Marriott.
The usual seminar paper certainly tests and practices skills that will be useful to a graduate student throughout her career and particularly in writing the dissertation: conducting research, engaging with critics, supporting an argument, articulating the stakes of that argument, and editing and organizing one’s writing. Graduate students often adapt seminar papers into conference presentations or revise them for journal submission. My first publication was an expanded and much edited version of a seminar paper.
But with lessening time to degree, an increasing pressure on graduate students to publish before they graduate, and a field-wide reassessment of graduate study and the dissertation, the feasibility and usefulness of the seminar paper should certainly be reconsidered as well. Does the seminar paper prepare graduate students to write the dissertation? Should it? Does the seminar paper help students get jobs? Should it? Should the seminar paper produce tangible results or should it exist for its own sake, as a realm of low-stakes practice and experimentation? Is it unreasonable to ask students to write as many as three seminar papers at the end of each semester, or does such a task force students to learn to write well and quickly?
Our roundtable features six speakers who will rethink the seminar paper from a variety of angles including alternative assignments, its place in the alt-ac career path, and its advantages and disadvantages. Our speakers are Jonathan P. Eburne, A. Robin Hoffman, Judith A. Roof, Atia Sattar, Liana Silva-Ford, and Sidonie Ann Smith.
We look forward to a friendly and energetic exchange of ideas and assignments, so whether you are a graduate student who writes seminar papers or a faculty member who assigns them, we would love to hear your input and questions.