“Why go to MLA before you’re on the job market? It’s so big and impersonal. You might as well wait until you have an interview to go.” When I first went to a national MLA conference a few years ago, many people had the same advice: don’t go to MLA until you’re on the job market. The thinking behind this advice was that you could propose a panel, meet with potential colleagues, and make new connections all while being a fresh face for potential employers. While I think there is some truth in waiting until one’s fifth or sixth year of grad school to attend MLA, I have some alternative advice, borne from three years of attending MLA before interviewing for jobs.
I attended MLA for the first time in my third year of grad school. I was accepted onto a panel in my area of specialization, and presented it in front of some of the foremost scholars in my area. That first experience allowed me to meet with and get an invitation to work with these scholars in other settings, including writing an article to be included in a book. If I hadn’t gone to MLA, I wouldn’t have been invited give papers at other conferences, write articles for editors, or become personally connected to scholars working in my field. I have given papers at two MLA conferences, both of which have helped to expand my network and have put me in rooms with the scholars I admire the most.
Yes, the national MLA convention is huge. Yes, it can be impersonal. But it’s also the only time in the year where scholars from all over the world can connect with one another, and you can connect with scholars that you read an admire in a face-to-face setting. You never know what experiences you may have. The most preeminent scholar in your field may sit in the audience at your presentation, and you may be invited to publish/ discuss your project/ have a chat with her.
Whether you wait until interview season or you present on a panel before you hit the market, MLA is a great experience. You never know with whom you will connect unless you attend!