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Getting the Most out of the AJS Conference

Joshua Furman

For scholars interested in all things Jewish Studies, the AJS annual conference provides the single most important forum in the world for the exchange of ideas, business cards, and cashmere sweaters (don’t worry—I’ll explain, sort of). Even if you are not presenting your work or participating on a panel, participating in the conference will give you insights into the newest trends in your field and enable you to network face-to-face with colleagues from around the globe who share your interests. Here are a few suggestions to help you get the most out of your time at the conference:

Plan ahead: Compared to the major conferences of other disciplines, AJS is not so large and daunting in terms of sheer size. Nevertheless, with as many as seventeen panels happening at once, in addition to special events and receptions, it’s best to plan ahead to be sure you make the most of your time. To find the panels and events of most interest to you, study the Program Book, which is available on the AJS website, along with a searchable conference schedule.

Reach out: My doctoral program had a very small cohort of candidates in Jewish history, so the AJS provided a vital opportunity to connect with both graduate students and senior scholars at other institutions. As I was developing my dissertation, I benefited immensely from the opportunity to grab a cup of coffee and get advice from others working in my field. These valuable meetings rarely happen organically, however, because the conference schedule is so full. In my experience, if contacted in advance, most scholars will be happy to meet with you for breakfast or coffee if their schedules allow.

Branch out: If you can, try to attend at least one panel or workshop completely outside your area of expertise. This might be easier said than done, but you’ll benefit from hearing ideas and perspectives from colleagues who work in other fields. For those of us who will teach survey or “big picture” courses in Jewish Studies, this can also serve as inspiration to refresh and revise our syllabi.

Play Fair: Just like voting in Chicago, be sure to visit the Book Fair early and often. If you can be patient, there are good deals to be had on the last day of the conference, when publishers don’t want to schlep their wares home. This is also a valuable opportunity to meet and talk with university press editors, and to get a firsthand sense of what publishes want.

Eat, drink, and be merry: At the end of a long day of panels and academic discussions, don’t miss the opportunity to wine, dine, and socialize at the various evening receptions that take place, most of which are open to all conference registrants. Also—if you are particularly fond of food, drink, friends, and cashmere sweaters, seek out Laura Levitt, a professor of Religion, Jewish Studies, and Gender at Temple University, for a special invitation to the Sweater Party.  You’ll be glad you did.  See you in Boston!

Joshua Furman is a postdoctoral fellow in Jewish Studies at Rice University.