If you have any connection at all with the world of Biblical Studies, particularly the “academic” variety, then you already know that it is that magical time of year when thousands of folks who study the Bible and related texts descend on a particular city, walk around in tweed, run to make paper presentations, mercilessly hawk publishing proposals at any breathing target, fawn over the 15 books Michael Bird published in the last three weeks, and drink copious amounts of coffee (and other beverages, depending on time of day).
Yes, it’s time for the Society of Biblical Literature’s (SBL) annual meeting, this year in San Antonio. These meetings co-occur with the American Academy of Religion (AAR), and religious booksellers the world over vie for coveted corner and entry-door exhibit spaces to sell their wares at discount to folks who reflexively pull out credit cards and buy books.
Previous to the SBL and AAR joint meetings are the meetings of the Evangelical Theological Society (ETS). Several smaller societies (IBR, for one) also meet during these times.
The first time I attended SBL was when it was last in San Antonio (2006? 2005?). I’ve learned a lot about going to these conferences since then. If you’re a rookie, then you need to know the secret: The real power of these conferences is not in hearing some paper (though yeah, you should be diligent and go to papers in your area(s)). The real power of these conferences is in meeting people. Networking. You know, an introvert’s nightmare.
I can say this because I am, most assuredly, an introvert.
But now is the time you need to put your big girl / big boy pants on, and get over it because it is that important to the development of your future career. This is where you meet people who may in later years be on hiring committees for jobs you’re applying for. They may be on the committee reviewing your PhD application. They may be the person you’d like to have supervising your doctoral work, or at least have as an external examiner.
Find any excuse to meet these people. Go to their paper. Ask them to coffee. But do it right. Don’t fawn all over them. Be genuine. And if someone seems unapproachable, find their grad students and take them to coffee. Or sit and chat with them outside the book exhibit. Go to whatever paper they’re giving, listen, and ask them a real question privately afterwards.
Very rarely will you have a place where pretty much everyone who could possibly make a future for you will be in the same city, but Biblical Studies folks do it every year. This is it. So, have fun. Find good papers to hear. Hang out some evenings with your friends and colleagues. But use your time too, because it is an opportunity that few other industries have. Start to build relationships not only because people are interesting, but because you know you’ll run into them in the future.
Me? I’m not teaching anywhere. I’m not a grad student. But I’ve got a great gig wrangling all sorts of data and producing products that people in Biblical Studies find useful (some of them essential).
I’m happy to chat with anyone about almost anything, just use the contact form, or email me: email@example.com and we can set up a time. I’m happy to chat about self-publishing, writing, editing, textual criticism, Greek, Apostolic Fathers, datasets, databases, programming and tools, my job at Faithlife and opportunities here, or whatever. Seriously.
See you in San Antonio!