Archives of Reception of the Bible

Past blogging in more ways than one.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

SBL survival

Sean Winter asks bloggers for their tips on surviving SBL.

“In fact, because it will be my first SBL, I am looking for all the advice I can get about how to make the best of what looks like a pretty intensive few days. So, all you bibliobloggers out there, what are your top 3 tips for surviving SBL?”

I would have thought regular visitors like Mark Goodacre would have one perspective here and other more, let say, irregular attenders like myself would have another. It is not clear, Sean, whether you think this is a once only trip, the first of a handful of visits, or the beginning of a regular thing. I have now attended three SBLs with quite different experiences at each. I am not a fan, largely because the paper sessions are often not very informative because of the cramped format. But let’s see if I have learnt anything.

My top tip for you, Sean, would be to plan to get as much out of your session as you can. You will no doubt be sat at the front for two and a half hours with the rest of the session presenters. People will come and go - don’t be put off by this, its quite normal. The other papers may be related, they may not. The quality will almost certainly be varied, as will the time for questions (people over-run regularly). Don’t expect to be able to chat to people in the audience afterwards. You might be able to, but generally people rush off. In twenty minutes, you can really only make one point well. Don’t try to get more points in, and don’t rehearse the problem for most of your paper. Get stuck into what you are adding to the debate and be very clear about it. Note anyone in the audience you really want to talk to about your stuff and approach them. The name badges might help if you don’t know what certain people look like. Remember anyone interested and look out for them at social functions later (see below). Finally, don’t expect too much. You might get the top people in the field and have a brilliant session. I hope so. But you might not get anyone either. Chalk that up to experience, I’m afraid.

My second tip, Sean, is that you need to choose sessions to attend carefully and sparingly. SBL is far too big to run around for four days, trying to see everything – you’ll feel wasted and probably cheated. Pick sessions that look interesting overall, look for individuals you always wanted to see and hear, and don’t expect plenary sessions to be talking shops – they are usually just short papers in another form. As I have already said quality is variable – if you meet one person at the conference you can have future dealings with, you have done ok. Make time for the books – “easily” one of the best thing about SBL. New books at half American prices. Just have plenty of space in your luggage. Also get out into the city, even if only for a few hours. I am not saying Washington will restore your sense of reality, but seriously SBL is a crazy place.

My final tip is social. You might bump into people you know, but you might easily not do so. There is a list of where people are staying, but it is easier to arrange a meeting or two before you go, and take it from there. It eases the sense of being lost in the multitude. The bibliobloggers met up last year, I think, and may do so again, but they are all busy folk and may not. Numerous functions are arranged by various bodies and these parties can be good fun. The Sheffield University/Phoenix press bash on Monday evenings is a good laugh, with nice people and plenty of booze. But there are also more ‘spiritual’ meetings by various denominational groups, and you might find these interesting for papers or socialising.

I guess that what is behind all these tips is the idea that the better you prepare before you go, the better your experience will be when you get there. Some people love it – I remember Stephen Moore describing it as the best four days of his year – but others loathe it. Still others (very good scholars indeed) have never been and never will.

Last year was my best experience of the conference professionally because I had two really helpful people in the audience. Although neither asked a question during the session, I collared one durng the short break left by the end of the questions, having read his name badge from the front and realised who he was, and the other was Philip Alexander, and I talked to him later at the Sheffield evening do. But their input alone made it worth going. I am still not sold on the SBL as anything other than a social event (not being a high-flyer who is on the editorial boards that meet there), but I may well go again relatively soon (Boston maybe).

Enjoy it, Sean, it is certainly an experience.

I'll try to say something about reception related sessions in the next few days.


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