TOP TEN TIPS For Those Attending the MLA Convention
By Stacey Donohue (@bendprof) (with a little Facebook crowdsourcing)
10. Wear weather-appropriate comfortable shoes and clothes. Until recently, I saved funds by staying at a hotel far from the convention center, which allowed me to see more of the city, but also required up to a mile walk, usually in the dark. This worked fine in San Diego, but not so much in Philadelphia the year it was 17 degrees and snowing. But even if you stay nearby, you’ll still need to walk between the hotel and the Convention Center: do so in comfort.
9. Related to the above: there is a reason why everyone wears black at the convention, even when the convention is held in sunny southern California. Black doesn’t show stains, and can be worn several times, saving you from over-packing. Women can pack a few scarves to brighten up the black, and men can bring a few bright shirts (though a certain MLA member is now infamous for the brightly colored shirt he wore in 2011). Hotel conference rooms can be either too cold or too hot, so layer, layer, layer.
8. If you have little patience with sessions where the presentations aren’t exactly what you expected, don’t suffer in silence. Sit by the door so you can quietly sneak out (ideally between speakers) and go to the other session on your schedule.
7. Related to the above: although it’s tempting, don’t pack your schedule with back to back sessions from morning till cocktails. Go through the program beforehand (and don’t forget to download it to your computer or phone so you do not have to lug it around). Try to select sessions that are a mix of topic areas: those you want to learn more about, and those directly related in some way to what you are working on or teaching currently. With the former, you might learn some new ideas; with the latter, you might leave the convention with something practical that you can take home immediately. But don’t try to cram in too many sessions: build in breaks, for meals, for a walk around the convention center, for chatting with old or new friends.
6. If possible, make a few social plans before you arrive at the convention: coffee with a friend from graduate school, a former colleague, or someone you met on Twitter. Not on Twitter? Get thee an account and follow the hashtag #mla13. There you’ll find out when the next Tweetup is, or, if you’re so inclined, the MLA Fun Run. And while we are on food and drink: the line for any Starbucks near the convention center and main hotels will be huge. Chat with the person next to you who, mostly likely, will also be going to the convention (they will be in black with a new tablet case or a ratty leather shoulder bag). Since the lines are everywhere at lunch time, too, consider stocking up on water and food in your hotel room, and carrying snacks with you to eat between sessions.
5. Bring business cards, a smile, and your inner extravert. The odds are good that you’ll attend a few sessions by folks whose ideas you’d like to hear more about. Chat with such presenters afterwards, and ask if you can contact them via email for more information, or better yet, look for them at one of the wine receptions offered by the MLA (after the president’s keynote and after the awards ceremony). Always wanted to get involved in an MLA Committee or Discussion Group? Attend one of their sessions, introduce yourself to the moderator and tell him or her that you’re interested in being involved. Once you are involved, of course, you won’t need any of these tips at MLA 2014 in Chicago.
4. Do not forget to visit the Exhibit Hall. Most late afternoons, particularly on Friday of the convention, complimentary wine is poured by various book publishers. And Sunday morning is a good time to stock up on books that publishers are practically giving away so they don’t have to ship them back home (however, you will, so consider that when you pack). This year, MLA Commons will be showcased each day the book exhibit is open, with cake to celebrate the unveiling at 3:30pm on Saturday.
3. While the sessions, the book exhibit, and the wine receptions are all fabulous, don’t forget that you probably traveled to a city you may not be familiar with. As one of my colleagues wrote on Facebook, when you’re 70 you won’t remember the 5th session you sat through in a row, but you will remember a visit to the Boston Museum of Fine Arts or taking the tour of Fenway Park (the MLA, alas, isn’t during baseball season).
2. Another colleague wrote: “I’d advise against being the drunk person who picks up ______ (fill in the blank: graduate students, former colleagues, dissertation committee members, an ex). However, if you like to people watch, sit in the hotel lobby around midnight . . .
1. Finally, as my mother used to say (or was it John Berryman?), to say you are bored means you have no inner resources. If you are bored at the Convention, please send me a tweet @bendprof or an e-mail: I hear there is a dance on Friday night after the president’s keynote that you might enjoy. Blue suede shoes are optional.