Leo Suarez, a first year MA candidate at CLACS, reflects on his recent experience of presenting his research at the Institute of Latin American Studies Student Association at the University of Texas at Austin.
CLACS: Could you tell us a bit about yourself?
LS: I’m a CLACS first year student from Chicago. My undergrad background is in Political Science and International Studies at Northwestern University. My current research concentrates on religions of the Yoruba Diaspora, specifically on the Ifá divination system as an alternative system of mental health.
CLACS: What was the conference, and how did you find out about it?
LS: It was the ILASSA Conference on Latin America at the University of Texas at Austin. I found out about the conference from the CLACS weekly e-mail which contained the call for papers for this conference.
CLACS: What paper did you present?
LS: I presented a paper called “Ifá Divination as an Alternative Mental Health System”, which I co-wrote with a doctoral student in Ethnic Studies at U.C. Berkeley.
CLACS: What are some general things that you took away from the experience?
LS: On a personal level, the most advantageous thing I took away was the opportunity to meet and speak to key faculty at U.T. Austin, many of whom are internationally renown in the fields of Anthropology, Latin American Studies, and African American Studies. After having spoken to the graduate advisor of the doctoral program in African and African Diaspora Studies, U.T. Austin is now my first choice for my future PhD work.
CLACS: Where were some of the other students from? Did you get a chance to network or mingle with any of them?
LS: There were students from all over the country, as well as several from Brazil and Perú. At the social events after the daily programs, I had the chance to get to know students from Brazil as well as the student president of the ILASSA organization.
CLACS: What was the process like for entering your paper into the conference?
LS: The submission process was very simple. It was a online submission and they gave us the positive decision within a few weeks.
CLACS: How did you prepare for your presentation?
LS: We had previously presented this paper at a symposium at Harvard in April 2012. We used the same basic presentation, but we had to spend some time editing it down, as our allotted time was five minutes less than the first presentation. We then timed ourselves several times to ensure that we filled precisely fifteen minutes.
CLACS: How do you think your experiences at CLACS prepared you for the experience?
LS: My first semester at CLACS helped me greatly in situating this project within broader scholarly debates, which is an element that the project originally lacked. I am now able to understand the racial and political implications of a work which discusses alternative healing systems of subaltern racial and religious communities.
CLACS: Do you have any advice for current/future graduate students who would like to present their work?
LS: I would suggest to treat each final paper in each class as if it were a short scholarly journal submission, and also to try to tailor final papers in other classes around their M.A. thesis, so that each final assists their broader research. This will aid in gaining expertise on a specific topic which can then be presented. I would also suggest to learn how to write a concise yet complete abstract, as most conferences base admissions on short abstracts. Lastly, I would remind that the only way to learn is to actually do it, so apply to as many conferences as possible and always apply for mock and student conferences.
CLACS: Was anything particularly surprising at the conference? Anything that you didn’t expect?
LS: I really did not expect to meet so many students from abroad. One in particular is assisting me with contacts to key informants for my upcoming summer research.
Elizabeth Con is an MA Candidate at CLACS at NYU