Open Book


English major analyzes poetry for upcoming NCUR

KENNESAW, Ga. (Feb 7, 2019) —  

Each year, thousands of undergraduates from all over the United States participate in the National Conference on Undergraduate Research (NCUR). NCUR, the largest conference dedicated to undergraduate research in the country, features work from some of the nation’s best and brightest students. Kennesaw State will serve as the host institution for NCUR 2019 April 11-13. Luan Joubert, originally from Pretoria, South Africa, is one of more than 400 KSU students who will present their research at NCUR.

Luan Joubert, a senior English major, performs his academic research by analyzing poetry and prose, applying modern, post-modern, and existential theory to contemporary works and classic literature. At NCUR 2019, under the guidance of Lara Smith-Sitton, assistant professor of English, Joubert will be presenting an existential analysis of T.S. Eliot’s poem, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.”

In his analysis, Joubert argues that through an existential lens, Eliot’s 1915 poem has new meaning in a modern context. “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” famously repeatedly refers to the “overwhelming question,” the significance of which has been the subject of debate since the poem was first published. Joubert’s analysis aligns with those who believe Eliot’s use of the phrase came with philosophical intent, referring to the narrator’s obsession with authenticity in life and society. Just as Prufrock’s physical distractions became a barrier to his authentic self, modern audiences are buffered from their authentic selves by technological diversions and societal influences associated with technology.

Joubert presented a separate research project at a November 2018 South Atlantic Modern Language Association conference in Birmingham. This will be his first time presenting at NCUR.  

Luan Joubert

What is your research area?

I got into modernism a lot this semester, and it was very interesting to go from studying post-modernism to modernism. I’ve also been studying existentialism, and I found an article describing how T.S. Eliot and Heidegger, a German existentialist, had very similar strains of philosophy. The author conducted an analysis of Eliot using Heidegger’s methods, so I thought that you could do a lot to expand that idea. I had been focused a lot this recent semester on T.S. Eliot and The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock so I thought to do an existentialist analysis of the poem.

Once you look at the poem through an existential lens, it reveals itself that the narrator’s “overwhelming question” becomes one of authenticity and how to live authentically. The idea of the “they” in the poem is this idea of society – it’s what we choose what we are allowed to think. In a 21st century context, that becomes social media and all of these distractions that get in our way. There is a constant stream of information, distractions – at least Prufrock had to leave his house to wander, we can do it sitting still on our phone.

What and/or who has been your inspiration for your research?

Dr. Lara Smith-Sitton has been the most influential to me participating in NCUR. I had no idea what I was going to do. She invited me along with a group of students to meet one morning to work on abstracts for submission. I thought we were just going to come up with some ideas, or she was going to outline how to write an abstract, but we sat and wrote our abstracts that day. In a literature class, I had written an existential analysis for my final paper, and I thought that would be a good start to present. I bounced around those ideas with her, and it was her idea to relate it to the 21st century because that relates to other research I had been doing. It grew from there.

What motivated you to get involved with undergraduate research and NCUR?

It was Dr. Smith-Sitton; she was the big catalyst for my submission. She proposed that I submit to the conference with the South Atlantic Modern Language Association, and after that, she has just encouraged me to keep the ball rolling. She pushed me to keep writing and submitting in preparation for the idea of attending graduate school.

What have you gained (or hope to gain) from your experience with NCUR?

I want research and presentation experience, another platform from which to build. My previous research led me into existentialism, and I want to see where other theoretical concepts lead me and to learn new ways to analyze literature.

What advice would you give to others about doing undergraduate research or participating in NCUR?

The big thing is to find something that you like and pour everything into it. If you’re not going to like it, it’s going to be a chore, and you might as well not do it. But if you find something that’s interesting, it becomes something you can enjoy in your free time and something you can take in any direction you want. Follow it as far as you can.

– Thomas Dale

Photos by David Caselli


A leader in innovative teaching and learning, Kennesaw State University offers undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degrees to its nearly 43,000 students. With 11 colleges on two metro Atlanta campuses, Kennesaw State is a member of the University System of Georgia. The university’s vibrant campus culture, diverse population, strong global ties and entrepreneurial spirit draw students from throughout the country and the world. Kennesaw State is a Carnegie-designated doctoral research institution (R2), placing it among an elite group of only 6 percent of U.S. colleges and universities with an R1 or R2 status. For more information, visit