Author Archives: Kristina Reardon

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.

Upcoming job market webinars

The CSGSH has been working with the MLA to develop two webinars for PhD candidates as they prepare job market materials for the upcoming hiring cycle.
We are very grateful to two writing center directors have stepped forward to lead the webinars, which will take place on 8/28 and 9/19. Please share these dates, times, and links widely.
Writing Cover Letters for the Academic Job Market
Wednesday, August 28, 2-3 pm EST
Elizabeth Lenaghan, Director and Associate Professor of Instruction, The Cook Family Writing Program & Assistant Director, The Writing Place
Northwestern University
Writing Your Diversity Statement
Thursday, September 19, 12-1:15 pm
Julia Istomina, Assistant Director of Graduate and Postdoctoral Writing, Poorvu Center for Teaching and Learning
Yale University

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


Attend a CSGHS-sponsored panel! This one: on writing job-related statements

Join us on Sunday, January 6 from 8:30 – 9:45 a.m. at the Hyatt Regency – Roosevelt 1  for what promises to be a practical roundtable requested by graduate students to shed light on the many statements one must write to successfully navigate the job market: 627: Storying Statements: Writing research, teaching, and diversity statements.

Here’s our pitch:

As graduate students and recent graduates of Ph.D. programs prepare materials for job applications, they are often told to consider the rhetorical situation of their applications, shifting their narratives to appeal to specific details in job advertisements and to speak to the details of campus and departmental cultures they can glean from websites. As they do so, their sense of their own narrative trajectory from graduate school into the job market can get muddied. While they may have a demonstrated passion and competency for research and teaching, otherwise articulate young scholars may falter as they consider how to best represent themselves in a high-stakes situation. In recent years, the need to draft cover letters, along with researching, teaching, and diversity statements have only added to the confusion as graduate students question: which details of my C.V. belong in each? How do I make a compelling case for myself without resorting to vague clichés or sounding too esoteric? How do I connect my teaching and research?

This roundtable, presided over by a CSGSH committee member and current graduate student, draws upon the experience of five professionals in the humanities as three discuss how they advise graduate students as they write such statements, and as two discuss how they recently and successfully drafted materials that landed them tenure-track positions in a competitive job market. All five will address the ways that graduate students might successfully approach writing each of these statements as unique documents which also align to construct a persuasive story about their capabilities as researchers, scholars, and administrators.

Below, find some of the questions, drafted and compiled by graduate students, that the speakers will respond to:

  • How can graduate students effectively communicate their research, teaching, and diversity goals without resorting to clichés? By extension, what are some examples of over-used phrases or ideas that applicants ought to avoid?
  • How can graduate students connect their statements so that they speak to one another without a great deal of repetition?
  • How can graduate write effectively about their specialized research for a hiring committee which might contain both specialists and generalists in their field?
  • How can graduate students effectively integrate their scholarly identity with their approach to teaching in their teaching statement? For example, how can graduate students express the connection between their dissertation topic/Ph.D. specialization and some of the less specialized tasks of many jobs, such as teaching first-year language classes or composition?
  • How can graduate students effectively communicate their teaching philosophies in a clear, interesting way if they have been forced to use a common syllabus or assignments, or were not the instructor of record for many classes during their Ph.D. program?
  • Are diversity statements meant to show the applicant’s experience working with marginalized communities, or are they meant to be more of a ‘vision’ statement? By extension, how can graduate students show, rather than simply tell, how their service, teaching, and scholarly experiences have prepared them to contribute to institutional diversity of thought?

More questions you’d like us to consider? Email Kristina Reardon at ahead of the convention, and as presider, she’ll distribute the questions to panelists ahead of time and also pose any that are not addressed in the panel itself.


Roya Biggie (Knox College)

Julia Istomina (Yale University)

Elizabeth Lenaghan (Northwestern University)

Sushil Oswal (University of Washington)

Kristina Reardon, CSGSH member, presider (University of Connecticut / College of the Holy Cross)

Niko Tracksdorf, CSGSH member (University of Rhode Island)