The first time you attend the annual MLA convention can be a bit overwhelming — I attended for the first time in 2013 as a second year Ph.D. student. The CSGSP recommends trying to attend the convention at least once before the year you go on the job market. Even if you aren’t presenting, consider attending in your final year of coursework or the year you take your comprehensive exams. Having a basic familiarity with the general format and feel of the convention can help you feel less anxious during the year you attend for interviews (we all know interviews are stressful enough!). Consider organizing a trip with other Ph.D. students with whom you can share hotel and transportation costs. Responding to CFPs for our committee’s two guaranteed sessions each year can be a great way to get your foot in the door.
The CSGSP has some suggestions for first-time attendees who are not interviewing at the convention:
- Don’t burn yourself out. The first thing you must realize is that it’s impossible to attend all of the hundreds of amazing sessions. It’s equally impossible to spend all day, every day, attending session after session from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Pace yourself, eat regular meals, stay hydrated, and don’t forget to get some fresh air.
- Support your friends and colleagues. Are other members of your department, former professors, and friends presenting at the convention? Be sure to attend their panels. No one likes presenting to only a handful of people in the audience and seeing a familiar face can put presenters at ease.
- Check out panels both in and out of your field. Some sessions will be an exceptional gathering of key scholars in your field, but also don’t be afraid to check out panels in fields you are less familiar with.
- Attend panels relevant to graduate students. Each year, the CSGSP puts together a handy list of sessions of particular interest for graduate students (posted here).
- Dress the part. Even if you’re not presenting, you’ll still want to dress business casual. Wear appropriate and comfortable shoes though, because you’ll be doing a LOT of walking.
- Visit the graduate student lounge. Often. Not only is the lounge a place where you can sneak away from the hustle and bustle of the main convention areas, but it’s also a space where you can meet CSGSP members and other graduate students. They’re your future colleagues, so take advantage of networking opportunities. The lounge usually has refreshments and small snacks too.
- Consider business cards. There are several websites where you can create small, inexpensive business cards to bring with you. They allows for quick and easy exchanges of contact info.
- Attend the presidential address. The president often addresses pressing concerns facing the future of English and foreign language departments and presents information on what the MLA is doing to respond to them.
- Explore the city. The annual convention is held in wonderful cities such as Boston, Chicago, and, in 2015, Vancouver, Canada. Block out some time for sightseeing, wandering, shopping, or trying some fantastic restaurants.
- Most importantly, have fun! The convention is a fantastic time. You will hear inspiring scholarship, meet wonderful new people, and come away inspired.