Department of English, College of LAS, University of Illinois

Illinois Department of English Blog


Welcome to the Department of English blog.

My name is Vicki Mahaffey and I took over as
head of the department on July 1, 2016. I'll be using this site to post updates and information of interest to our faculty, students, and alumni,
along with reflections about our discipline(s) in particular and the humanities in general. As anyone who has ever worked or studied here knows, the Department of English is a vibrant place. If you have something you'd like to see posted here, or if you want to contact me about the content of this blog, drop me an email at

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

3rd annual Undergraduate Research Colloquium

Last night I had the distinct pleasure of attending the third annual departmental undergraduate research colloquium, which was held, this time, at Authors Corner in the Illini Union Bookstore. This is an event that is dear to my heart, and that has been slightly different from year to year. Last year, for instance, the event featured several students presenting creative work--stories and poems. This year, presenters were advanced literature students presenting original research related to honors or independent study projects.

This year's event also had a distinctly different feel because of its setting: in the IUB, with a fancy-looking, free-standing podium, instead of in a charmingly-dilapidated classroom in the English Building. The podium, the fact that famous visiting writers present in the same space, and the fact that everyone had to leave the familiar confines of the English Building all combined to made the event feel a bit more formal than it otherwise might have, I thought. This was a Good Thing, actually, because presenting work as an expert to an audience consisting of fellow-students and faculty is in fact pretty different from what students typically experience in a classroom. The venue made it feel like a special event, and that is exactly as it should be.

Our presenters (Adam Sadik, Shannon Jilek, Kate Kinsella, Brenda L. Rodriguez, and Kirsten Mendoza) were great. And you couldn't help but be struck by the range of their intellectual engagements. Papers were given on Virginia Woolf, on Diana Abu-Jaber's novel Crescent (which I am now planning to read), on gendered conceptions of creativity in Joyce and Faulkner, on constructions of race in Jacobean court literature, and on gender roles in Chicana feminist literature. This variety, of course, is indicative of what is great about a large, comprehensive department like ours--there are so many kinds of instruction available, so many interesting scholarly approaches on offer at any one time, that any curious student can find something to match his or her interests.

One of my favorite moments of the evening came when, during the Q&A session after the presentations, a student asked the panelists if they thought the experience of conducting real, original research had been worth it. They all thought it was, and urged other English majors to seek out similar opportunities, and Adam in particular enthused about how much fun it can be to get past the intimidation factor of reading secondary scholarship and about how the experience of becoming and expert changes your disposition toward reading and knowledge for the better. This is a really important point, and it certainly gets at the heart of what I want our majors to get from their studies. Adam, though, was also much funnier than I'm being, and I have an image to prove it. Here is a photograph of the other panelists reacting to him at what I think was this very moment:

This is one of those times where I'm proud to be part of our department--of our students and of the teachers that have helped to pique their curiosity and to guide their work. I'd also like to say thanks here (and congrats) to the student presenters, and thanks too to Adrienne Pickett, Lori Newcomb, and members of the English Student Leadership Council for organizing the event.

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