Tips for the Modern Language Association

In the spirit of my fake advice for National Novel Writing Month, last month I began posting “tips” on Twitter for the upcoming Modern Language Association conference, an annual exercise in masochism for literature professors and graduate students the world over. This year’s conference was held in Philadelphia, from December 27 to December 30, and it was most notable for the bleak prospects of job candidates, hoping to score interviews at a time when English Departments were hiring for fewer positions than ever before. My tips — and I imagine the tips from the others who joined in — were all attempts to lighten the mood and make fun of something we usually take far too seriously: ourselves.

Here are the complete tips, in chronological order:

  1. #MLA09 tip for novices: Upon arrival, locate the following: coffeeshop, drugstore, liquor store. Acquire supplies. Repeat as necessary. Posted at 11:38 AM on 12/8/2009 by profsyn
  2. #MLA09 Tip: Always preface your question to a panelist with “I know your paper was about X, but let me tell you about MY work…” Posted at 1:20 PM on 12/13/2009 by samplereality
  3. #MLA09 Tip: Be sure to rewatch Sharon Stone in “Basic Instinct” for interview tips on poise and posture. Posted at 3:04 PM on 12/13/2009 by samplereality
  4. #MLA09 tip for novices: The cool kids will always be outside smoking. At the *other* entrance to the hotel. Posted at 9:37 AM on 12/15/2009 by profsyn
  5. #MLA09 tip for novices: No one at the convention is as glad to see each other as they pretend to be. Posted at 12:03 PM on 12/20/2009 by profsyn
  6. #MLA09 tip: MLA is in the City of Brotherly Love this year, so you may recline fraternally on the hotel room bed during your job interview. Posted at 2:42 PM on 12/21/2009 by amandafrench
  7. #MLA09 tip: Watch http://9interviews.com. Watch and learn. Posted at 2:51 PM on 12/21/2009 by briancroxall
  8. #MLA09 Tip: Nothing says “promising job candidate” like an acappella performance of “She Bangs” in the interview suite. Posted at 4:12 PM on 12/21/2009 by samplereality
  9. #MLA09 Tip: Figure out which of your interviewers is the Paula Abdul of the bunch, and get her drunk alone. Posted at 4:15 PM on 12/21/2009 by briancroxall
  10. #MLA09 Tip: Jargon. No one understood Derrida, and he had a job. Impenetrability is your best defense. Posted at 4:17 PM on 12/21/2009 by briancroxall
  11. #MLA09 Tip: Failing impenetrable jargon in your interview, speak with a heavy foreign accent, preferably Slovenian. Posted at 4:23 PM on 12/21/2009 by samplereality
  12. #MLA09 Tip: Speakers used to say “quote” & “end quote” to indicate a quotation. In the digital age, you need merely spell out the URL. Posted at 4:31 PM on 12/21/2009 by amandafrench
  13. #MLA09 Tip: Drink big glass of water right before interview. You write better w/deadline pressure.Your mind works better w/bladder pressure. Posted at 4:32 PM on 12/21/2009 by briancroxall
  14. #MLA09 Tip: An accent will not work for Comp Lit positions. Comp Litters should smoke during the interview, punctuating points with exhales. Posted at 4:34 PM on 12/21/2009 by samplereality
  15. #MLA09 Tip: Make deliberate use of split infinitives during your presentation to edgily show your edginess. Posted at 4:48 PM on 12/21/2009 by amandafrench
  16. #MLA09 Tip: If you see your interview committee later, ideally in the elevator, ask them if they have made a decision yet. Follow up is key. Posted at 4:50 PM on 12/21/2009 by academicdave
  17. #MLA09 Tip: In your job interview, argue that you’d make a really good literature Professor because you really, really, really love to read. Posted at 5:04 PM on 12/21/2009 by amandafrench
  18. #MLA09 Tip: Be sure to seek out journal editors who’ve rejected your essays. Explaining their mistake in person = badass networking skillz. Posted at 5:05 PM on 12/21/2009 by seabright
  19. #MLA09 Tip: Explain you’re going “carbon neutral” and insist the hiring committee pay for carbon offsets before you answer their questions. Posted at 5:14 PM on 12/21/2009 by samplereality
  20. #MLA09 Tip:If you should run into a candidate exiting an interview as you walk in,offer to settle the matter via a duel.Pistols at 30 paces. Posted at 5:15 PM on 12/21/2009 by academicdave
  21. #MLA09 Tip: Registration, $125. Hotel, $300. Dinner and drinks, $65. Finding Stanley Fish’s room and stealing his dry cleaning, priceless. Posted at 5:19 PM on 12/21/2009 by briancroxall
  22. #MLA09 Tip: Every time you pass up an open bar at a public reception, a puppy dies. Posted at 5:29 PM on 12/21/2009 by samplereality
  23. #MLA09 Tip: There’ll be a whole salmon at the Princeton cash bar. Put it down your pants. They’ll know it’s an allusion to The Corrections. Posted at 5:33 PM on 12/21/2009 by amandafrench
  24. #MLA09 Tip: What to say when job search committee asks if you have questions: “How strict a policy on sleeping with students do you have?” Posted at 8:26 PM on 12/21/2009 by georgeonline
  25. #MLA09 Tip: During your job interview always use air quotes when using the words “service” or “teaching.” Posted at 8:28 PM on 12/21/2009 by georgeonline
  26. #MLA09 Tip: First time at MLA? Understand that you shd begin every post-panel question with “This is more of a comment than a question…” Posted at 8:31 PM on 12/21/2009 by georgeonline
  27. #MLA09 Tip: Pay homage to Benjamin Franklin while in Philadelphia by sneaking your bastard children into MLA governance committees. Posted at 9:02 PM on 12/21/2009 by samplereality
  28. #MLA09 Tip: Interview committees find it endearing if you giggle every time you say “phallus.” Posted at 9:15 PM on 12/21/2009 by samplereality
  29. #MLA09 Tip: Everyone knows Philly is famous for its cheesesteaks. But be sure to sample our fab cornhole ballers du jour too. Posted at 10:16 PM on 12/21/2009 by samplereality
  30. #MLA09 Tip: In the hotel lobby will be seated many nervous, dowdy people in black suits looking at papers or laptops. These are FBI agents. Posted at 9:00 AM on 12/22/2009 by amandafrench
  31. #MLA09 Tip: Dude, they’re TOTALLY gonna ask you to define “clinamen.” Seriously. Yes way. Posted at 9:10 AM on 12/22/2009 by amandafrench
  32. #MLA09 Tip: It’s considered bad form to live tweet the annual cage match between Terry Eagleton and Gayatri Spivak. Wagers are fine though. Posted at 10:02 AM on 12/22/2009 by samplereality
  33. #MLA09 Tip: If you can find an outfit in a color darker than black, wear it. Posted at 10:23 AM on 12/22/2009 by mlaconvention
  34. #MLA09 Tip: If the panelist keeps not quite answering your question in Q&A, keep pressing. They must be made to submit. Posted at 12:24 PM on 12/22/2009 by briancroxall
  35. #MLA09 Tip: Make your research and pedagogy sound more impressive by adding “e-” and “cyber-” prefixes to everything you say. Posted at 12:34 PM on 12/22/2009 by georgeonline
  36. #MLA09 Tip: There won’t be wifi connectivity in the panels. Unless you bring that 30-foot antenna with you. Posted at 12:41 PM on 12/22/2009 by briancroxall
  37. #MLA09 tip: if you’re talking to someone more junior/less famous than you, keep scanning the room over her head – someone better’s coming! Posted at 12:41 PM on 12/22/2009 by kfitz
  38. #MLA09 Tip: if you’re talking to someone more senior/more famous than you, don’t look them in the eye. Aim for the lapel. Try to blush. Posted at 12:43 PM on 12/22/2009 by briancroxall
  39. #MLA09 Tip: Don’t acknowledge the presence of “colleagues” from schools with a 4/4 (or higher!) course load. It just encourages ’em. Posted at 12:50 PM on 12/22/2009 by jbj
  40. #MLA09 Tip: why drink coffee from the beverage stations? You’ll make a much stronger impression if you whip out a flask & take a few belts. Posted at 12:50 PM on 12/22/2009 by seabright
  41. #MLA09 Tip: conferences are an alternate dimension where time behaves differently. No need to cut that talk from 40 minutes down to 20. Posted at 12:52 PM on 12/22/2009 by amndw2
  42. #MLA09 Tip: When grabbing handsful of free chocolate at booths (insidehighered is known for the cocoa stash), pretend to look @ offerings. Posted at 12:53 PM on 12/22/2009 by mlaconvention
  43. #MLA09 Tip: If you see interview candidates, beam them a silent meditation (“may you do well, may you interview with ease”). Posted at 12:55 PM on 12/22/2009 by mlaconvention
  44. #MLA09 Tip: If you see other interview candidates, HUG IT OUT, BITCH! Posted at 12:56 PM on 12/22/2009 by briancroxall
  45. #MLA09 Tip: If you see search cte mbrs, beam them a silent meditation (“may you be kind to all, may you convince dean to hire 3 candidates”) Posted at 12:57 PM on 12/22/2009 by mlaconvention
  46. #MLA09 Tip: Be sure your author name adjectives are correct, e.g., Kafkaesque, Dickensian, Shakespearean, Yeatsy, Austeniferous, DeLilloid. Posted at 1:36 PM on 12/22/2009 by amandafrench
  47. #MLA09 Tip: French maid outfits are almost never appropriate attire for job interviews. Take it from someone who knows. Posted at 1:39 PM on 12/22/2009 by samplereality
  48. #MLA09 Tip: If your interview doesn’t begin with hugs all around, leave the room. You wouldn’t want to work with people like that anyway. Posted at 1:40 PM on 12/22/2009 by samplereality
  49. #MLA09 Tip: Don’t take it personally if nobody shows up at your 8:30am panel. It just means nobody finds your life’s work interesting. Posted at 1:41 PM on 12/22/2009 by samplereality
  50. #MLA09 Tip: Everyone knows that academics are critical thinkers. Not bound by convention. That’s why you should *only* use Apple products. Posted at 1:44 PM on 12/22/2009 by briancroxall
  51. #MLA09 Tip: Happily, the 20-minute paper limit doesn’t apply to the formulation of a question from an audience member. Posted at 1:45 PM on 12/22/2009 by samplereality
  52. #MLA09 Tip: If the audience outnumbers your panel, your session is “well-attended.” (A moderator counts as half a panelist.) Posted at 1:45 PM on 12/22/2009 by RichardMenke
  53. #MLA09 Tip: Everything you say on your flight or train to and from Philly will be overheard by someone who knows who you are talking about. Posted at 1:49 PM on 12/22/2009 by mlaconvention
  54. #MLA09 Tip: You’ll be able to spot me at the convention because I look just like my @mlaconvention avatar. Posted at 2:04 PM on 12/22/2009 by mlaconvention
  55. #MLA09 Tip: If people appear to be tweeting during your presentation, don’t worry, most of them are playing Bejeweled. Posted at 2:18 PM on 12/22/2009 by warnick
  56. #MLA09 Tip: Need guidance? Every year, the Gideons’ Bibles in all convention hotels are replaced with copies of *Of Grammatology*. Posted at 2:18 PM on 12/22/2009 by RichardMenke
  57. #MLA09 Tip (for real): You should still tip your server even if it’s an open bar. Posted at 2:24 PM on 12/22/2009 by georgeonline
  58. #MLA09 Tip: nail, cigar, pen, Q, stock, cue, of the hat, O’neill, (per) Gore… enough tips for ya? Posted at 2:59 PM on 12/22/2009 by mlaconvention
  59. #MLA09 Tip: Hang out with ODH’s @jasonrhody. He’s a real mensch & can tell you tales of the internets. Posted at 3:49 PM on 12/22/2009 by brettbobley
  60. #MLA09 Tip: Try to work a few “whatevs” into any conversation you have, especially with prominent scholars and or hiring committee members. Posted at 4:27 PM on 12/22/2009 by georgeonline
  61. #MLA09 Tip: Good, cheap, Chinese BYOB restaurant? Ask me Lee HOW fook. http://www.leehowfook.com/ Posted at 4:58 PM on 12/22/2009 by mlaconvention
  62. #MLA09 Tip: Insomnia? Forgot to eat during the day? Little Pete’s, 219 S. 17th St is open around the clock. It’s a greasy spoon, nttawwt. Posted at 5:03 PM on 12/22/2009 by mlaconvention
  63. #MLA09 Tip for panelists: Don’t know how to answer aud. member’s question? Respond with “That’s what *she* said!” and hi-5 fellow panelists. Posted at 5:05 PM on 12/22/2009 by georgeonline
  64. #MLA09 Tip: Mention this tip during your interview for a free campus visit. Guaranteed! (Disclaimer: Not Guaranteed) Posted at 8:45 PM on 12/22/2009 by samplereality
  65. #MLA09 Tip: To get away from it all, pretend the #MLA09 hashtag is actually for the Medical Library Association ’09 meeting in Honolulu. Posted at 9:11 PM on 12/22/2009 by dancohen
  66. #MLA09 Tip: Scooter rentals are only for people with disabilities. Being on the job market inexplicably does not count as a disability. Posted at 9:42 PM on 12/22/2009 by samplereality
  67. #MLA09 Tip: Don’t be fooled by the smiles and bonhomie. People are devastated about leaving behind their families for all that free booze. Posted at 12:30 AM on 12/23/2009 by samplereality
  68. #MLA09 Tip: Your field is French medieval lyric. His is the postmodern novel in English. I don’t care how cute he is: IT’LL NEVER WORK OUT. Posted at 8:55 AM on 12/23/2009 by amandafrench
  69. #MLA09 Tip: Don’t even joke in the interview about calling a lifeline. That reference from 2000 will be too current for committees to get. Posted at 9:12 AM on 12/23/2009 by samplereality
  70. #MLA09 Tip: The theme of Judith Butler’s annual cosplay event is “Star Trek: The Next Generation.” Yeah, I know. We were disappointed too. Posted at 10:23 AM on 12/23/2009 by samplereality
  71. #MLA09 Tip: MLA guidelines state that candidates should not have to sit on a bed during interviews. But come on, you know you want to. Posted at 12:27 PM on 12/23/2009 by samplereality
  72. #MLA09 Tip: It’s considered rude to leave the room after the “star” speaker has talked. Instead, stay and heckle the other panelists. Posted at 12:32 PM on 12/23/2009 by samplereality
  73. #MLA09 Tip: Search committees are always flattered to hear you’ve been stalking them. Be sure to mention that pic of their kid on Facebook. Posted at 1:54 PM on 12/23/2009 by samplereality
  74. #MLA09 Tip: Every year the work of a new theorist dominates the conference: Agamben, Badiou, Hardt & Negri. This year make it Tom Colicchio. Posted at 7:45 PM on 12/23/2009 by samplereality
  75. #MLA09 Tip: If you’re not spending Christmas Eve either practicing your talk or rehearsing for interviews, you really are a Scrooge. Posted at 11:42 AM on 12/24/2009 by samplereality
  76. #MLA09 Tip: Mix family and work on Christmas Day. Tell dear old Aunt Stella how Moby Dick signifies both a phallus AND a vagina dentata. Posted at 7:24 AM on 12/25/2009 by samplereality
  77. #MLA09 Tip: An interview is the perfect time for Modernists to admit they think the last lines of “The Dead” are pure and utter bullshit. Posted at 9:00 AM on 12/25/2009 by samplereality
  78. #MLA09 tip: Find free conference parking on the street! Look for trash cans/lawn chairs in shoveled-out spots. All yours! http://is.gd/5Bqcu Posted at 4:39 PM on 12/25/2009 by mkgold
  79. #MLA09 tip: If you find yourself “interviewing” on a bed at the Marriott, just close your eyes and think of tenure. Posted at 4:53 PM on 12/25/2009 by DrGnosis
  80. #MLA09 Tip: Let the search committee know how technogically sophisticated you are by texting during the interview. Posted at 8:48 PM on 12/25/2009 by samplereality
  81. #MLA09 Tip: It is considered good luck in Philly to run up the “Rocky Steps” just minutes before any endeavor, like a talk or interview. Posted at 8:51 PM on 12/25/2009 by samplereality
  82. #MLA09 Tip: Don’t forget that a prize for “Best Zombie Costume” will be awarded at Monday night’s Presidential Address. Posted at 9:56 PM on 12/25/2009 by samplereality
  83. #MLA09 Tip: Bring leftover Xmas cookies, rum cake, and bûche de Noël to give your interviewers. Also eggnog. And whiskey. Posted at 7:57 AM on 12/26/2009 by amandafrench
  84. #MLA09 Tip: Always begin your talk by thanking “The Academy.” Sure it’s a cliché, but everyone expects you to say it. Posted at 1:34 PM on 12/26/2009 by samplereality
  85. #MLA09 Tip: Not enough room on your credit card to pay the hotel bill? Your advisor will happily expiate survivor guilt by lending you $$. Posted at 2:04 PM on 12/26/2009 by amandafrench
  86. #MLA09 Tip: Not enough room on your credit card to pay the hotel bill? Your advisees will happily curry favor by lending you $$. Posted at 2:05 PM on 12/26/2009 by amandafrench
  87. #MLA09 Tip: Bentham’s Panopticon inspired Philly’s Eastern State Penitentiary. Dante’s Inferno inspired the Convention Center’s Ballroom B. Posted at 3:07 PM on 12/26/2009 by samplereality
  88. #MLA09 tip: if a speaker goes over the allowed time it is perfectly acceptable to tackle them. Terry Tate Office Linebacker style. Posted at 6:23 PM on 12/26/2009 by academicdave
  89. #MLA09 Tip: Afraid the theorist whose work you’re criticizing is in the audience? Groucho glasses and mustaches are available in gift shop. Posted at 6:34 PM on 12/26/2009 by samplereality
  90. #MLA09 Tip: Forget Zizek. For real street/theory cred, tell the committee how you’ve been inspired by the work of Zinedine Zidane. Posted at 6:49 PM on 12/26/2009 by briancroxall
  91. #MLA09 Tip: Kate Hayles isn’t actually a robot. I know: I was disappointed too. Posted at 6:54 PM on 12/26/2009 by briancroxall
  92. #MLA09 Tip: Use the phrase “In conclusion” so that audiences know you only have 15 minutes left to go in your talk. Posted at 8:56 PM on 12/26/2009 by samplereality
  93. #MLA09 Tip: No pain, no gain! When the going gets tough, the tough get going! Take no prisoners! RRRAAWWGHHH!! Posted at 9:02 AM on 12/27/2009 by amandafrench
  94. #MLA09 Tip: You could do worse than drinking a Yuengling in Philly, and by Wednesday night, you probably will. Posted at 9:07 AM on 12/27/2009 by samplereality
  95. #MLA09 Tip: Nobody uses business cards to exchange contact info. Either use the Bump app or a cocktail napkin written in lipstick. Or both. Posted at 9:21 AM on 12/27/2009 by samplereality
  96. #MLA09 tip: when choosing a plane pcik one without a smoking cockpit. Posted at 12:24 PM on 12/27/2009 by academicdave
  97. #MLA09 Tip (Serious one): You are one block from awesome and cheap food. Scads of it at the Reading Terminal Market: http://bit.ly/8Whdt0. Posted at 4:22 PM on 12/27/2009 by briancroxall
  98. #MLA09 Tip: The horrible nightmare that you forgot your interview suit probably just means you forgot your interview suit. Posted at 5:15 PM on 12/27/2009 by samplereality
  99. #MLA09 Tip: Four 20-minute papers is too much for a single panel. Russian roulette is not a viable option until healthcare reform is passed. Posted at 5:33 PM on 12/27/2009 by samplereality
  100. #MLA09 Tip: Looking for your soul in the hotel lobby costs valuable hotel whirlpool time. Posted at 7:43 PM on 12/27/2009 by mirk79
  101. #MLA09 Tip: For all happiness and that eternity promised by our ever-living poet, conclusively establish the identity of “Mr. W. H.”. Posted at 9:39 PM on 12/27/2009 by amandafrench
  102. #MLA09 Tip: Your goal for Monday morning: Achieve enlightenment. Failing that, settle for achieving consciousness. Posted at 10:34 PM on 12/27/2009 by samplereality
  103. #MLA09 Tip: It’s 1:30am. You’re in a bar. You have a necktie around your forehead. You can take off your MLA badge now. Posted at 1:30 AM on 12/28/2009 by samplereality
  104. #MLA09 Tip: That delightful dream about wood nymphs just means you’ve overslept your panel and will be blacklisted from the MLA forever. Posted at 7:14 AM on 12/28/2009 by samplereality
  105. #MLA09 Tip: Despite the practice of the high priests of our profession, death by PowerPoint is not a noble way to die. Posted at 10:03 AM on 12/28/2009 by samplereality
  106. #MLA09 Tip: Are your ideas too good to share with the rest of the room? Sit in the front row and ask your four-minute question sotto voce. Posted at 2:56 PM on 12/28/2009 by warnick
  107. #MLA09 Tip: The upside to the depressing job market is that blackmail and bribery are almost pointless anymore. Posted at 11:12 PM on 12/28/2009 by samplereality

It was great to see Rosemary Feal, the Executive Director of the MLA, join into the fun. And thanks especially to Amanda French and Brian Croxall, who contributed greatly to the list, even while absent from the conference itself (a true loss, by the way, and the conference — and profession — was poorer for it).

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