One Thing I Learned at MLA 2019

Committee members share a few takeaways from MLA 2019, Chicago:

“This was my third MLA. I presented in Austin in 2016, attended the New York conference in 2018, and presented twice–oddly enough, in back to back panels!–this year in Chicago. I’ve presented on panels and coordinated panels at MLA, and one of the presenters in one of my panels this year suggested we all meet for coffee or lunch the day before to coordinate. This was so helpful to me. I got to meet the folks I was presenting with, and I felt more comfortable the day of. We were also able to coordinate our talks in advance. That meant we minimized overlap and found authentic transitions between talks to make them seem linked. I think this made our panel feel more cohesive. Not all panels can do this, I know, but if you are placed on a panel, I’d highly recommend suggesting a quick coffee meet up beforehand. It could be 20 minutes in the hotel lobby; it’s amazing what a few minutes and a few friendly hellos can do for your confidence and organization.”    — Kristina Reardon

“MLA 2019 in Chicago was my second MLA, and it felt like it too. Last year’s MLA in New York was my first and it was certainly overwhelming, though I was neither interviewing nor presenting. The sheer amount of people in one place and the fast pace of the in-between panel walks can be disconcerting the first time around. I parked myself in the Graduate Student Lounge for the most part and limited myself to only attending 2 panels throughout the whole conference. This year in Chicago, however, I knew what to expect and planned accordingly. I picked out in advance the panels I wanted to attend, and I tried to schedule meetings with former colleagues in such a way that I was able to do everything I wanted. Having gone through my first MLA last year made this year’s so much better and easier to navigate. If at all possible, I highly recommend attending an MLA before you have to present or interview. Getting the major conference jitters out of the way ahead of time might just pay off in an unexpected way. ”    — Andrés N. Rabinovich

“One thing I learned at the MLA Conference this year is the importance (and pleasure!) of meeting other scholars at the conference. By attending different events, going to panels, and talking to people in the exhibit hall and in the grad lounge, I was able to meet a number of graduate students, professors, publishers, and other conference attendees with whom I had some fascinating and enlightening conversations. For example, I learned some great tips about applying to jobs from a first-year assistant professor, and I talked with another group of scholars about ways to incorporate our research interests into our classrooms. I appreciated the opportunity to learn from others, get advice about my research and career, and generally just make some new friends and connections! For future conferences, I plan to bring cards with my information on them to hand out to others, as several individuals had them, and they seem like a great way to share contact info without having to awkwardly take out my phone or search for a notebook and pen to write things down. I also noticed that some of the booths in the exhibit hall had contests where you could enter your card and win something, so it wouldn’t hurt to be able to enter those!”        — Kayla Forrest

“One of the things I noticed immediately when looking through the program of this year’s MLA Conference is the astonishing diversity and scope of the sessions. The sessions cover a huge range of topics, methods, issues and perspectives of the humanities. I think one of the rewarding challenges of being a young scholar in the contemporary humanities is exemplified in the conference: there is an astonishing breadth of work being done! One can be both overwhelmed and stimulated as one selects which panels, workshops and events to attend. I found helpful practical sessions on academic writing and navigating the difficult terrain of journal submissions, as well as sessions related to my research interests. One thing that was particularly helpful as I navigated the intensity and size of my first convention, was attending an evening event hosted by my university that made me feel a familiar sense of “home” in a new place.”   — Amir Hussain

“After going to about ten MLAs—enough that this was my third MLA Chicago!—I’m starting to learn that as the committee meetings and coffee chats and book parties pile up I absolutely have to save a little bit of time for myself. I love conferences and seeing friends, but I’m getting too old to work, network, and spend time with people I really want to meet or to catch up with from brunch through late-night drinks for days on end!  (I almost always come home from the MLA with a cold, and the reasons for it are obvious). So hopefully next time I’ll remember that I’ll have a much better time if I leave a little bit of time for myself. If I don’t do all the things I want to do, there’s always next year. And this level of conference over-intensity is just one more manifestation of the compulsion to try to do it all, which I think most of us are always fighting. Being selective is always better than saying yes to everything—at least in the long run.”     — Meredith Farmer

Reflections on Due Diligence: My First MLA Convention (Guest Post)

Sitting in the audience of the MLA Convention volunteer orientation, the mention of a graduate student lounge caught my attention. In the Hyatt Regency hotel, it was in du Sable, a room named after the Jean Baptiste Pointe du Sable, the Haitian founder of Chicago. Our volunteer coordinator’s pronunciation came out DOO-sable, and the written version above the room’s door was vague–all caps with no space–DUSABLE. It may seem a small detail, but the MLA may have missed an opportunity to give members and visitors important information about the city bearing the burden of our convention.

Is it important to know the name of a host city’s founder? In the study of the language arts, we learn that whether in creative writing, literary analysis, technical research, or any other manifestation, the choices made about what to include and what to leave out send messages about the values of the decider. That none of the many non-conference subjects on the convention’s website, du Sable’s legacy isn’t mentioned anywhere is telling. It isn’t like there aren’t any opportunities. The African American history museum named for the first non-Indigenous Chicagoan is mentioned in ways to explore to Chicago–that might have been a perfect place to mention the settler’s important place in American History. Having an excursion organized by MLA in the vein of those to the Newberry Library and the American Writer’s Museum might also have been especially appropriate this year considering the rich Black history of Chicago and the current spotlight on Black representations in all of our established institutions, the academy included.

The Hyatt certainly thought it important enough to name a room after. Other rooms were named after major cities, states, and presidents. Du Sable was the only name I hadn’t seen or heard before, hence the inquiry that led to the opening information of this post. No one will accuse the MLA of not doing their research due diligence by not learning and sharing du Sable’s legacy, and that, perhaps, is the most unfortunate part of all of this. In a related oversight, a colleague mentioned during the conference that the MLA had offered no acknowledgement of the Indigenous lands that Chicago is built on–another convenient and generally unquestioned blind eye.

A tone is set when these seemingly small details go unaddressed. Graduate students at this year’s convention sitting in du Sable, not knowing or even thinking about the significance of the room’s name are taking the lead from our professional body, and most of us will probably perpetuate these values in our own professional activities. In addition to expanding knowledge bases in our respective disciplines, graduate students are also becoming acclimated to the conventions of our profession, both those written out plainly and those more subtle. These reflections may very well be the result of the high expectations I have for my own scholarship. I always want to be as thoroughly researched as I can, ensuring that I’m making assertions based in a complete understanding of the material I’m working with. Sometimes this means extra time finding small details or finding pronunciation videos on YouTube, but a few minutes searching might have afforded the MLA an opportunity to show graduate students just what due diligence can really look like and show Chicago our gratitude.

This is a guest post by Lida Colón, MA student in English at Long Island University Brooklyn.

MLA presentation on job application materials

The Committee is very grateful to the work of five scholars who provided an inside look at job application materials, from the cover letter to the teaching philosophy to the diversity statement.

Some notable quotes from the presentation:

On cover letters

Elizabeth Lenaghan, of Northwestern University: “Tailor, tailor, tailor! Your cover letter is distinguished from your other job materials by its relevance to the job you are applying for. Highlight that relevance whenever and however possible.”

Niko Tracksdorf, of the University of Rhode Island: “Assume [the hiring committee] doesn’t know anything about what you’re doing. Make your letter easy to read: this is what I looked at, these are the main theories I used, what I found out… and here is my argument because of it.”

On teaching philosophies

Roya Biggie, of Knox College: “Demonstrate how you design lessons and assignments that help students achieve your learning goals. Ask yourself: Can someone who has never met me imagine my classroom?”

Sushil Oswal, University of Washington: “Discuss how the goals of your research and teaching serve their university’s mission statement and can help achieve the goals of their strategic plan.”

On diversity statements, and diversity more generally

Sushil Oswal, University of Washington: “Write a very personal definition of diversity and remember to include disability in it.”

Julia Istomina, Yale University: Think of your diversity statement as a vision statement. “Radical tip: leave your discussion of your own personal experiences to the very end, after you have shown your actionable work and plans (but leave room for exceptions).”


If you would like a copy of the powerpoint that the presenters used, please feel free to email session organizer Kristina Reardon directly at


Meet the Committee (2018-2019)

The Committee on the Status of Graduate Students in the Profession (CSGSP) is now the Committee on the Status of Graduate Students in the Humanities (CSGSH)!

Following MLA Executive Council approval and renewal in February 2018, the CSGSP became the CSGSH with an amended charge. The Committee requested these changes to reflect the current status of the academic climate, to respond to the changing trends in the humanities, and to capture the realities of our membership body. Read more here!

As members of the CSGSH, we are appointed via nomination for a three-year period to advocate for graduate students in all aspects of their educational and professional lives.

If you’re at #MLA19, come by the Grad Lounge and say hello! Or, feel free to reach out to us at with your questions or concerns. We meet multiple times a year and welcome your input! You can also connect with us on twitter (@MLAgrads)

2018-2019 CSGSH Members:


Barbra Chin (co-chair) is a Ph.D. candidate and full-time lecturer in the Department of English at Howard University in Washington, D.C. Her research explores notions of identity as they relate to nation and community, race (and mixed race), and gender in late 19th and early 20th century African American literature, particularly the writings of Nella Larsen. As a member of CSGSH, Barbra is proud to represent the HBCU graduate experience and the unique concerns that attend it.


Meredith Farmer is an Assistant Teaching Professor of English and the Center of Energy, Environment, and Sustainability at Wake Forest University. Her current project, Melville’s Leaks: Science, Materialism, and the Reconstitution of Persons, is under advance contract with Northwestern University Press. She is also at work on two editorial projects: a collection titled Rethinking Ahab: Melville and the Materialist Turn and a special issue of Leviathan on “Melville and Materialisms.” Her next project will be focused on the “American Storm Controversy,” hurricanes, and attempts to model climate change in the nineteenth century.  As a member of CSGSP she is especially passionate about work to support student and adjunct laborers, raising awareness about different kinds of public humanities projects, and developing a revised and visible set of best practices for search committees in the era of online interviews. (Twitter: @farmerm)


Kaya Forrest

Kayla Forrest is originally from Raleigh, North Carolina, and she received an MA in English from North Carolina State University in 2014. She is currently a fourth-year graduate student and teaching assistant at UNC Greensboro, pursuing a PhD in early 20th century American literature. Her research is focused on Paris and how the city was a site of influence for many American writers of the 19th and 20th centuries.


Gerard Holmes

Gerard Holmes is a PhD candidate in English at the University of Maryland.  His primary academic interests center on nineteenth-century American Literature, particularly the intersections of poetry with music, natural sound, and industrial sound.  His dissertation examines Emily Dickinson’s writing from the perspective of improvisational practices in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century music and poetry.  With significant professional experience in the nonprofit arts and humanities, Gerard is also interested in diversifying professional opportunities for advanced degree holders in the humanities, and bridging the gap between the academic and nonprofit humanities.


Amir Hussain

Amir Hussain is working on his PhD in Comparative Literature at Emory University. His research and teaching interests are in nineteenth century European poetry, twentieth century world poetry, cultural and critical theory, and pedagogy. He has studied abroad at Freie Universität Berlin and Universität Leipzig in Germany. Prior to his PhD program, he completed an MFA in Creative Writing with a focus on poetry and cultural studies at the University of Minnesota.


Andrés Rabinovich (co-chair) is a Ph.D. student in the Department of Spanish and Portuguese at the University of Kansas. His research revolves around the representation of sports in Contemporary Latin American Southern Cone with a focus on the link between sports and affect as it pertains to political agency. He was both first-year representative as well as president of the Graduate Student Association of Spanish and Portuguese at the University of Kansas. In the CSGSP, Andrés plans to use his experience in student organizations to represent graduate students across the country and to give a voice to international graduate students in North American academia. (Twitter: @AndresRabinovi2)


Kristina Reardon is the associate director of the Center for Writing at the College of the Holy Cross, where she teaches composition courses, runs the peer writing center, the Writer’s Workshop, and does faculty outreach on teaching writing. She is also a Ph.D. candidate in comparative literary and cultural studies at the University of Connecticut. Her dissertation focuses on the use of comedy in World War I era writing, and her composition work focuses on translation as a lens for student reflection on the writing process.


Niko Tracksdorf received his Ph.D. in Literatures, Cultures and Languages from the University of Connecticut in 2017. He is currently the Coordinator of the German International Engineering Program (IEP) and part-time faculty member in German at the University of Rhode Island. His research interests include interdisciplinary language teaching, intercultural competence, and online and blended learning. Working for dual degree program in German and Engineering, his research and teaching currently focus on the intersections of language and culture education and STEM.