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This is my first year in my M.A. program and I was wondering if I could get some advice about conferences.

My university will only fund one conference a year, so I really want to make them count. I need my CV to look as impressive as possible for Ph.D. applications in two years (an anxiety I'm sure we all feel/ have felt).  

I'm on a fellowship my first year, so I have plenty of time to create a work from scratch, I'm just not sure which conferences to look into. I'm hoping to attend one in the Spring Semester.

My focus is American lit, 19th century to modern day (I know, too broad, but I figure I have time to specify). Also,  my strengths lie in analyzing anything having to do with gender and sexuality. 

Any advice would be greatly appreciated! 

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https://call-for-papers.sas.upenn.edu/category/all

As for picking the best conference, it's very subjective. Big conferences have a lot of people so you might get more exposure but might also get lost in the shuffle. In my experience smaller conferences usually allow for more personal interaction which might be more useful in the long-run. Ultimately, try finding a conference that fits your interests (just googling your interests + conference can yield some results). That said, I am completely against creating something new for a conference. You're generally better off using something you already have, unless you don't have anything in the field you're interested in.

I personally like NeMLA but Melus and ALA might be slightly more focused for you.

Edited by WildeThing

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Check the Penn site for conferences in your specialization. In terms of which conference to attend, I would avoid the national and international conferences at this point in your career. You don't know enough yet to play with the big boys and girls yet, which is fine and to be expected. Regional MLAs might be good for getting your feet wet, but in terms of networking and feedback the offer on your ideas, I've found them less than useful. Ideally, you should try to find a small, focused conference on modern American literature. It's far better at this point for you to make real connections with important people (who like to attend the specialized conferences) than attending a big, relatively anonymous conference to get the name prestige on your CV. Also, avoid grad student conferences like the plague. They have some nominal value in helping you to prepare for the motions of real conferences, but are otherwise largely pointless.

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Different field, but I would also look to see what adjacent areas are hosting local conferences or unconference that you can attend for free. For example, a regional DH or Writing Center conference may be a one-day affair with no/low registration.

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