What The NCHC in New Orleans Taught Me About Expectations

            Over the weekend, I attend the NCHC conference and presented my poster for the developing thesis. It was absolutely magical being around other scholars and seeing them putting their posters up, proud of their work. I remember unrolling my poster out and clipping to the board and talking with the students around me about being nervous and all the works.

            The theme of the conference was disrupting education. I was presenting on changing the perception of penny-dreadful stories and using them in education and in historical contexts. I analyzed The String of Pearls, which is better known today as Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street.

            The first person to come up to my poster was a judge. But I put on my excited face and felt like I knew exactly what I was doing. She was smiling, we had a conversation, and everything felt great. When the second judge came, I was ready. Luckily for me, she specialized in the dim novel and my poster was about the penny dreadful. We laughed a lot about our odd passion.

            When the announcer was telling everyone to pack up their posters, I had one drab-looking judge stare at my poster hatefully. I felt awkward not only because we were told to pack up quickly, but because he wasn’t smiling like the other judges. I was caught out of my element a bit so I rushed through my explanation, but still hitting all of the points I was telling everyone else.

            Something that the conference decided to implement this year was judge feedback. It was my first conference and just being there was exciting, especially since I was presenting my honors thesis. When we got our feedback, the very first one surprised me. The feedback was separated into two sections: strengths and weaknesses (very generic and direct). The first of three had no strengths. The judge wrote:

             “The thesis does not align with the theme and does not have a place in the context of culture and history.”

             In laymen’s terms: my thesis was bad.

            The other two reactions were lovely, but I couldn’t shake the idea that I wasn’t good enough. The first comment I see was completely negative. The dean of the honor’s school just told me not to worry about it. I ripped it up and she thankfully advised me to burn it in the little candles that were on the table. I could burn the comment away physically but it still stuck with me the entire weekend. When one of the students I went on the trip with won, I couldn’t even feel happy for them. I kept thinking about how my thesis wasn’t good enough for them. I was doubting myself.

            Over time and extensive thinking about it, I decided that expectations are completely relative. The judge that hated my poster and thesis probably does not understand that part of the field. I’ll admit, my poster wasn’t as fleshed out and full of words as others were. I am still in the preliminary stages. Besides, I didn’t want to fluster people with a bunch of words. The other two judges loved my layout and concept. Their expectations were positive.

            I think I need to make people expect the unexpected. Even if that means getting backlash from a pretentious judge.