A Graduate Guide to Guest Lectures, I: The Planning Process

This post is part of the “Graduate Guide to Guest Lectures” series, a collaborative endeavor by NGSC bloggers Deven Parker, Grace Rexroth, and Conny Fasshauer, all Romanticist graduate students at the University of Colorado at Boulder. Drawing on our collective experiences organizing guest lectures at our university, our aim for this series to offer advice and tips for NGSC readers hosting visitors at their institutions or attending one of these events. See Grace’s post on transportation as a networking opportunity, and Conny’s post on making the most of the guest’s visit. 

Hosting visiting scholars for talks or seminars at your institution can be a wonderful thing. As many NGSC bloggers have recently discussed – like Jacob Leveton in his post about the importance of community building – forming scholarly networks beyond your university not only leads to new friendships but also to opportunities to receive support and guidance in your scholarly endeavors beyond your usual advisors. If you’re a regular reader or contributor to the NGSC blog, I’m sure I don’t need to further extol the benefits of extra-institutional support networks and friendships. That being said, as my contribution to this collaborative series, I’ll discuss the concrete logistics of hosting guests for talks and workshops. Of course these procedures vary from institution to institution, but there are some best practices that graduate students planning events of this nature should keep in mind. I’ve organized and facilitated three of these in the last year – Katherine Hayles, Dahlia Porter, and Michael Gamer – and have learned a lot about how to ensure they run as smoothly as possible without consuming all of your time.

There’s no hard and fast rule about how far in advance to invite your guest, but I’d say at least a semester or about four months. For a really big-name person (major theorist known across multiple subfields), you’ll want to ask at least a year in advance. Your invitation should consist of a formal email introducing yourself and outlining the details of the event, with an attached PDF letter describing the group with which you’re affiliated (graduate student government, reading group, research colloquium, etc.), outlining your expectations for the event in question (20-minute work-in-progress talk, 2 hour graduate seminar, 45-minute lecture, lunch with graduate students, etc.), listing potential dates, and proposing an honorarium (gifted payment) amount. Of course you should consult a faculty member about how much you’re able to offer, but in my experience honoraria range from $300 to $500 for early to mid-career scholars, and upwards of $1,000 for well-known individuals. If you’re unable to offer a large honorarium, you might remind the guest that you’re a graduate student organization with limited funding, or that you’re also offering him or her a hotel stay, dinner, etc. And of course be sure to include why you and your peers selected this individual to visit – what you find compelling about his or her work, and why that work’s of special interest to your graduate community.

In the months and weeks leading up to the event, plan advertising strategies, dinners, and receptions well in advance, especially if you need to book catering or make restaurant reservations. At CU Boulder, we like to have at least one lunch or dinner with our guest and three to six graduate students, and then a combined faculty-graduate reception following the individual’s talk. Make sure to consider other logistical details, including how your guest will get to and from the airport or train station, how he or she will get to the talk location and back to the hotel following dinner. These transitional moments in the guest’s schedule are wonderful opportunities for graduate students to get one-on-one time with your visitor, as Grace discusses next.