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Last year I was able to attend the annual Society of Biblical Literature conference for the first time. While I received advice on the do's and don'ts of attending, here are seven tips that I learned while I was there:

1. Register early and stay at the conference hotel: This is hard if you aren't sure if you'll be going, but it's ideal. You'll spend less time getting places and you can always jaunt back up to your room if you need to (perhaps to change your shoes?). It may be that you can book a room and then change the number of nights as it gets closer. Call the hotel and ask; most are fairly flexible and allow this without a fee. Along those lines, try to get at least a verbal "okay" from people with whom you'd like to share the room. Even if you don't, though, it's likely you'll be able to find a roommate to split the cost, if that's an issue.

2. Wear comfortable shoes: Yes, it's important to look nice, and if you're presenting or interviewing, it's essential. But even if you're lucky enough to be staying at the main hotel(s)—which I wasn't—you'll be walking. A lot. So bring comfortable walking shoes. If you end up in a nice outfit and tennis shoes, everyone will understand, trust me. I had asked two separate friends what kind of shoes would be appropriate. One—the irreverent friend—told me to wear whatever I wanted. The other said I should wear nice shoes that are comfortable to walk in. Okay, easy enough, or so I thought. After walking to and from my hotel and to and from sessions at the convention center and conference hotels—well, let's just say that by dinnertime on my first day there, I placed band-aids over my blisters, changed my shoes, and hoped that no one would care. No one seemed to notice.

3. Decide your session schedule ahead of time: This might seem obvious, but it's easy enough to spend way too much time at the publishers' booths in the exhibition hall if you are uncertain as to what you'd like to attend. Don't be afraid to go on your own, to schlep around, to exit and enter sessions (quietly!) in the middle or before or after particular papers. You won't be the only one doing it, and so long as you are quiet and polite about it, it's perfectly acceptable.

4. Attend as much as you can: This may also seem obvious; however, it is easy to stay up too late chatting with friends or hanging out at the different university receptions, which may cause you to miss the morning activities, especially if you are not a morning person. Just remember that you can sleep once you're back home. Get up, get active, network. Go to that early morning breakfast, yes, even if you're by yourself. Just do it, you'll get more out of the conference.

5. Don't overdo it: I know this probably sounds counter to what I just wrote, but participate within moderation. Make sure you do have time to visit with friends and faculty, to visit the exhibition booths, to not work yourself into exhaustion. You know your limits; stay within them. If you find yourself falling asleep while listening to papers, perhaps you've overdone it a bit. Along these lines, if you're going to drink at the receptions, drink moderately. While it's fun to be in a setting where you can "let loose" and other people are certainly going to imbibe beyond moderation, don't overdo it. Not only because you could look foolish, but because it's likely there's an early session of some kind the next morning that you should probably attend.

6. Make appointments with faculty and presenters ahead of time: While there is nothing wrong with meeting new faculty when they are presenting a paper, they will not want to talk to you at that point – and you may even make a bad impression. If you really want to meet with someone, attempt to schedule a meeting ahead of time. And be flexible!

7. Cell phone advice: For starters, exchange phone numbers ahead of time. You will be in touch with your friends quite a bit as you split up to attend sessions and then meet up afterwards. Make sure you enter all the phone numbers into your cell phone before you leave. Another tip? Bring your charger and charge your phone each night: walking around the conference without a working cell phone is almost like walking around without pants on; no one wants to be caught in a vulnerable position! And don't forget to turn your phone to silence or vibrate before the conference and leave it that way; nothing is worse than a cell phone going off in the middle of a presentation. Worse yet is if it's the speaker's phone. Remember that some phones alert you when you have a new text message or voice mail; make sure to set this to silence or vibrate, too.

While there is quite a bit more advice that you can—and likely will—be given, these seven tips will help first-time attendees make the most of their time at the annual meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature.

Shayna Sheinfeld, McGill University

Citation: Shayna Sheinfeld, " Seven Tips for Getting Your Feet Wet at the Society of Biblical Literature Annual Meeting," SBL Forum , n.p. [cited June 2008]. Online:http://sbl-site.org/Article.aspx?ArticleID=776

 
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