If you’re going to attend the Annual Meeting as a student, it’s imperative that you make the most of it. There’s fun to be had, but you know and I know that time is money.
Getting the most bang for your buck is not synonymous with the number of papers you’re presenting or interviews you have lined up. It’s about participating as a professional.
At the Annual Meeting, your job is to develop your curriculum vitae—the one that says what you have done and the one that is yet to be written. Here are some tips on what that professionalism can look like based on the stage you are at in your career. So if you’re wanting to…
Present at a Future Meeting
Make a note of best practices. Read the abstracts for the sessions where you see yourself presenting. Keep track of good and not-so-good presentations. Look for trends in subject matter and style. You’ll get a better sense of why some papers get accepted as well as what makes for successful delivery.
Get a jump on next year’s proposal. Often, the next year’s Call for Papers is discussed at or just after the current year’s annual meeting. Following a prospective session, let the presider know that you’re a student and interested in the subject matter. Politely ask if there’s anything you can do to keep up with the group (i.e. electronic communication, a business meeting for you to observe, a website). This can give you a jump on upcoming topics. Many scholars will be happy just to know you’re interested, and if nothing manifests, chalk it up to good practice.
Developing Your Scholarship
Don’t stop learning. Go to a session outside of your subfield. Listen in on a topic you find objectionable. Check out what’s going on in AAR. This is a great way to spur creativity and to raise critical questions about the ideas you take for granted.
Professional Development. Don’t overlook sessions on career advancement, teaching, or networking. Challenge yourself to leave the conference with a tool, skill, or perspective that you didn’t have before. It just may help you to better chart your scholarly path.
Wanting to Go on the Academic Job Market
Build your syllabi now. Hiring committees want someone who can start today. As such, the single best piece of advice I was given as a student was to request examination copies of potential textbooks at the book exhibit. This was a good way to begin crafting the syllabi that I eventually shared during job interviews, and it paid dividends.
Talk to strangers, especially at AAR. A lot of otherwise good candidates bomb during interviews because they have never had to talk about their specialty—let alone biblical studies—to people who couldn’t care less about the subject. There’s no better practice than to strike up conversations with people you don’t know and who don’t know what you know. If you can convince them that your work is worthwhile, you’ll have gone a long way toward rocking the interview.
Publish Your Work
Get ideas at the book exhibit. This is your chance to see what’s been covered. As you pass all the flashy displays, think about the gaps in the latest literature and how your coursework, questions, and hypotheses might fill them. This process has led to many thesis and dissertation topics.
Test the waters. If you’re at the dissertation phase, talk to representatives at different houses about where they’re headed. Give a teaser of what you’re working on and gauge reactions. The goal here is to find out not only who is interested in your research, but also what about your work excites them. All of this is data you can use to craft future book proposals.
Feel Like You Belong
Twitter. Get on Twitter, and follow the conference hashtag, #sblaar14. This is a great way—especially for introverts like myself—to be social without expending too much energy. A lot of us are willing to “tweetup” or meet in real life. So come by to see some friendly faces.
Remember. Impostor syndrome is no joke, but don’t forget that everybody at SBL was at one time a student. That means they too had the self-doubt, the questions, and the anxiety of trying to figure out what they’re supposed to be doing. If you find yourself feeling any of that, trust that you’re in good company. Take advantage of your Student Advisory Board. (They’re the real deal!) And please feel free to reach out to me (@seedpods) if you want to know anymore about what’s good at the Annual Meeting.
Assistant Professor of Religious Studies
Do you want to hear more on this subject?
Come check out our SBL session on this topic: Annual Meeting Orientation: Practical Tips for Maximizing Your SBL Annual Meeting Experience