Reprinted from the Fall 2011 MLA Newsletter
Although some people think that any large professional conference invariably means anonymity, high costs, and an overwhelming choice of activities, it doesn’t have to be this way. In fact, the large conference might just be your best bet for a satisfying professional experience that opens new doors while also making you feel comfortably at home.
Let’s think a moment about the many advantages of the big conference. The negotiating ability of a large association such as the MLA yields comparatively low hotel and registration rates in venues likely to be attractive to attendees and those who accompany them. Big conferences often feature speakers you won’t find at smaller meetings. You also have the chance to go beyond your academic specialization and engage in discussions far afield of your primary interests, which most attendees cite as a major draw. And then there are books, books, and more books (and the editors you want to meet) at a big conference such as the MLA Annual Convention.
So how do you make it comfortable? Many attendees begin well before January. They read the convention program and get in touch with people by e-mail. A popular route these days is to use the hashtag #MLA12 on Twitter
to start conversations on particular sessions, suggest meet-ups, and share information. Graduate students have an additional home at the MLA convention: the graduate student lounge, where snacks often mysteriously appear along with visitors from the MLA Executive Council and staff.
The convention in Seattle will provide more social opportunities than ever before, thanks to some wonderful cultural excursions (including tours of the EMP Museum and the Seattle Central Library, a hands-on cooking class featuring sustainable seafood, and a wine and oyster tasting reception) and Creative Conversation sessions with Charles Johnson, Xi Chuan, Richard Van Camp, and others. We’ve also scheduled the Presidential Address to start earlier on Friday evening, and we’ve placed the MLA Awards Ceremony in its own time slot on Saturday evening.
Moreover, the convention need not end once you’ve left Seattle. Our interactive program allows attendees to post comments and links to slides, papers, and other session materials so that you can keep the discussion going after you’ve returned home.
Some scholarly associations make a substantial profit from their annual meetings. The MLA is not one of them. Since I’ve been executive director, we’ve hovered around the break-even point. Our goal is to provide a convention of outstanding quality while keeping costs as low as possible and giving special consideration for graduate students and under- or unemployed members. I hope you will come to Seattle this January and make the largest conference in the humanities your own.