By Kelsey Larsen, Assistant Professor at the University of Central Florida


We’re officially back in Chicago in full force for MPSA 2023—and as one of this year’s Conference blogging team, myself and others are here to offer some insider commentary on the overall MPSA experience. The folks behind the scenes at MPSA have been working non-stop to deliver the best conference experience possible, and I’m hoping some of these blog entries can help support that outcome for you. In part, that means I’ll be offering some daily recommendations about good panels/posters to consider viewing, lessons learned from fascinating presentations, and observances of other interesting happenings around the Palmer House.

But I’m also here to sprinkle in some thoughts/tips/tricks for maximizing your MPSA23 time, drawn from my own MPSA experiences—though I should probably warn that at times these may only apply to certain subsets of MPSA participants. For instance, I’m an MPSA-addict who’s attended at each career step from undergraduate through my current junior faculty status, so I’m ready to narrate different perspectives on the Conference for folks of varying levels. I’ve also been the confusing interdisciplinary presenter on panels, having previously presented here as an Assistant Professor of Medicine—so I’m ready to share thoughts on communicating non-PS work to PS people, and to apologize for not knowing what your joke about DW-Nominate meant. Furthermore, I’m a professor in Florida right now, which in terms of unique experiences is…. yeeeeah. But whether you too fit those kinds of niche identities, or just need something to hold your attention while you wait for a Palmer House elevator, my hope is that these posts add a little more insight and fun to your MPSA experience.

Relatedly: as I was packing for Chicago this week I found myself panicking about something I haven’t worried about since 2008. Namely, how to be a human person who successfully interacts with other human people at this thing.

I’m sure plenty of you have already experienced your first major f2f-conference-rebirth at other meetings around the country this year, and think aw that’s cute, I remember being nervous. I’m sure there are still others of you reading who grinded through pandemic conferences double-masked, emptying hand-sanitizer and crushing yourself into the back corner elevator wall to try and avoid people’s droplets, who may instead be thinking give me a break. But for those of us (particularly early career scholars) who found ourselves somewhere in the middle—vulnerable enough that we only joined remotely, or uncertain enough that we avoided flights and traveled only to regional meetings—this marks a significant reentry point. We want so badly for it to be successful, to cultivate the collaborations everyone else has been forming, to develop friendships everyone else already had before 2020, to capture everything we weren’t able to do in a Zoom breakout room! We want it to be a soaring social success. We want what we never got. And we have absolutely no confidence in our ability to achieve that.

And, as you can see from me Googling my way to confidence in the image above, the advice for how to make your mark at these kind of events post-pandemic is… well, wanting. I clicked on the first search Google recommended for me and was immediately directed to work conversation advice from the career professionals at The author reassured me that “preparing conversation starters for different scenarios can help you avoid awkwardness,” and that when I “use them correctly” I will create and nurture collegial relationships. And look, a task you can needlessly overprepare for and that will be graded is a tenure-track faculty member’s drug of choice; I immediately started absorbing their recommendations into my bloodstream. That is, until I reached recommended conversation starter #8: “Your tie, it’s lovely! Where did you get it?

I picture saying this to the seminal scholar whose work I adore, who hasn’t worn a tie since 2001. And who before that hadn’t worn a new tie since 1988. And it makes me want to crawl in a hole.

So I’m onto recommendation two: the Google search option specific to networking sends me to this piece from The Undercover Recruiter. The name alone invokes some sort of espionage, wherein I might stage a social coup by spreading misinformation about how normal and confident I am. Being a political scientist who has read enough post-2016 JoP articles to know that can work, I’m all in. That is, until I get to item #3 this time, which advises that I walk into a group and say: “Well, you guys are certainly having more fun than the last group I was talking to.”

I picture saying this in the acoustic masterpiece of the Palmer House lobby, where every phrase loudly echoes into the vast reaches of the universe until everyone can hear it reverberating in their bones, including the last group I was talking to (three feet away). Deeper into the hole I crawl.

At this stage, I lose all hope of coming across as a smooth and confident pandemic-emergent operator at MPSA, and skip right on down the list to Google’s last recommendation to: just talk about food. Start a conversation about food, anytime, anywhere, about any food, and you’ll be a hit. To that end, the very first recommendation I receive from Spoon University’s advice is to ask fellow attendees “is a hot dog a sandwich?”


At first, I’m tempted to give up entirely and revert my attendance plans to the Remote option. But then I picture dropping this lexical grenade into a room of folks who technically do love challenging the ontological foundations of such questions, who religiously thrive on debating the internal and external validity of data operationalization, who fundamentally enjoy exploring the cross-cultural origins of specific names for things, and who will probably be subsisting on self-packed sandwiches the entire conference because their institution cut their professional development funds. I resolve to still attend in-person and keep the hot dog card up my sleeve.

Of course, to anyone else feeling unsure about how to enter/re-enter the world of in-person MPSA for the first time since the pandemic, I know none of the above likely helps—this how-to guide fully turned into a how-not-to guide, and I’m sorry I couldn’t locate us a more solid plan of action. But like the proverbial paper with a null finding, I hope you find some valuable lessons even in the insignificance of the conclusions here—namely, that I’m right there with you in solidarity, and that if we all head into MPSA with a healthy dose of humor, openness, and humility, we should have a great few days in store.

Plus, at least I did give you one successful starter conversation topic; just walk up to me at any point and loudly ask ‘are you the hot dog blogger?’

I guarantee people around us will have some follow-up questions.


About the Author: Kelsey Larsen is an Assistant Professor at the University of Central Florida, where she conducts research on political psychology and national security. Her first MPSA presentation was in 2008, when we were still using transparencies and projectors to present papers. And yet somehow she has not aged a day.

 Find her on Twitter at @DrKelseyLarsen