Finding your way at your first MLA – the 2020 Seattle Edition

One of the most common things first-time graduate student attendees report about MLA is feeling overwhelmed by the sheer size of the convention. Unlike a graduate student conference or regional conference, the MLA has dozens of panels running simultaneously–and you just might find that you wish you could attend several talks in the same hour. And few first-time attendees realize that there is a lot to do at the MLA convention aside from attending sessions.

Our best advice? Know that you simply can’t do it all, and try not to get overwhelmed by that fact. Try using the MLA 2020 app to plan out your days. (Here are the links for downloading the MLA 2020 app for Android and for Apple. And here is the online program if you need it.)

In the app, you can browse by day, session type, subject, and more. Try browsing by subject first. Look for topics related to your dissertation, project, or research (and that includes papers you might be writing for seminars if you are still in coursework!). When you click in a subject title, like “Spanish literature,” you’ll further get to select by date–so you can ensure you’re only looking at panels for the days you plan to attend. While the title of the session can help, they are often (necessarily) a bit general. We find that clicking on the title and reading the titles for each individual presentation is most helpful. This will give you a firmer sense of what will be discussed in the session.

When you find a session you can’t miss, use the app to add it–along with the date, time, and location–to your in-app convention schedule. That way, you’ll have each day planned out and you won’t have to wonder where to go each day. Our best advice is to do this a few days before the convention, or as you travel to the convention so that you don’t need to worry about where you will go each day.

Try to focus on choosing two to three sessions a day to start. Any more than that can feel overwhelming for a first-time attendee, and you will likely find that there are other things you’d like to do during the day at the convention as well.

What else can you do at the convention? We’ve culled a list of things to do from the MLA website and compiled it here for you:

  • Visit the graduate student lounge in the Washington State Convention Center (602, level 6) to connect with other grad students attending the convention–and to charge your phones or devices between sessions and interviews. Hours are 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. on Thursday, 8:30 a.m. – 5 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, and  9 a.m. – 12 p.m. on Sunday. We’ll have door prizes at 11:45 a.m. daily!
  • Join an MLA cultural excursion or explore Seattle on your own. We like this site that posts free and budget-friendly things to do in Seattle, from museums to cultural centers to historic sites.
  • Prepping for an interview, or job applications in general? Visit the MLA Career Center (Washington State Convention Center, Tahoma 4-5, 3rd floor) from Thursday-Saturday. You can sign up for job counseling taking place on January 10 and 11, or just find a space to sit and relax.
  • On the topic of careers… if you’re thinking alt-ac, or simply want to expand your sense of what you can do with a masters or Ph.D., definitely check out the Career Fair. Here, you’ll find organizations outside academia that are eager and interested in hiring grads with humanities training.
  • Ready to publish? MLA members attending the convention can sign up for a 20 minute chat with an editor who is a member of the Council of Editors of Learned Journals (CELJ), an allied organization of the MLA. The service gives scholars the opportunity to meet one-on-one with an experienced editor to discuss any aspect of the publication process. Location: Washington State Convention Center, 609. Sessions are by appointment only and happen on Friday and Saturday from 10 a.m. – 12 p.m. (but don’t worry–there are many editors available during these times!). Sign up on the CELJ MLA Commons site.
  • Find out about mentoring opportunities, and tons of other great grad-themed workshops and events, here, or check out this listing of career-themed panels happening throughout the convention.

A few final things:

  • Don’t forget to bring your badge or pick it up when you arrive–and don’t lose it! There is a $20 replacement fee. You can get your badge, or register on-site, at the Washington State Convention Center (Atrium, level 4).
  • You can find a convention guide online with 12 pages of great information that will help orient you.
  • Check out the Convention Daily each day. People get sick, cancellations happen, new events arise, and sometimes rooms change.
  • Follow us on Twitter at @MLAgrads. You can also follow other MLA accounts, such as @MLAConvention and @MLAConnect, for updated information on the convention daily. And don’t forget to add your two cents: you can post about your convention experience and connect with others with hashtag #mla20.

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