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

MPSA2023 finally wound down—the badges were all printed, the Zoom sessions were troubleshooted, and number of people sitting in the Palmer House lobby with their carry-ons ebbed then flowed. People had finally figured out how to access the right stairwell. They knew where all the best restrooms were located (hat tip to 4th floor ladies’ room). Seating was finally available at Starbucks.

This means it’s a stage to reflect on the frenetic energy of early April, and to filter through all the information we were bombarded with. I tend to wind down the chaos of MPSA by reverting back to my Type-A self. I spend some time sorting the subject matter lessons and citations I learned about into digital folders. I sort all my new business cards. I also spend time transcribing all of the scribbled Palmer House pages from those mid-panel ‘a-ha!’ moments until they’re stored in a digital form. But then there’s one other thing I do to decompress and process all the sensory overload of the MPSA experience.

Specifically, I spend some time thinking about the things I learned about my fellow political scientists. I smile remembering the personalities I vibed with on random roundtables. I finally release a little laughter at having watched countless peers confidently pull on Palmer House doors… that somehow always turned out to be locked. I cringe thinking of when someone asked where LaSalle was, and (being the smug multiple-MPSA-attendee I am) I confidently sent them… all the way down to the third floor. All of these memories are as enduring as the paper feedback itself—it’s our community, and I relish thinking about all the things I got to observe in that community.

In particular, the political science presence in the Palmer House lobby was a sight to behold; we met, mingled, reunited, and networked all under that fancy gilded ceiling. We were a boisterous bunch, finally among Our People, and we could barely contain ourselves! We were exuberant. And the result, with absolutely no intentionally surreptitious or effortful action, is that the occasional tidbit floated through the air that you’d overhear. And so, readers, this final post is the roundup of those tidbits.

There were the PhD students meeting for the first time over coffee, talking about their respective home institutions. Student A asked Student B if they receive departmental funding to attend conferences; Student B replied that yes they do. Student A let out a long sigh and said “…. what a life.”

An Assistant Professor sat down at 11:20, fresh cup of coffee in hand, asking if they could occupy the tiny square of seat available in the banquette. “Sorry,” she apologized—“I just haven’t checked my email since 9:44.”

A graduate student ran over to her former classmate, shocked she ran into her. She explained it was her first time here, and that she was glad to have the opportunity to practice presenting her research. “Not to be arrogant,” she said, “but my paper was definitely the best of the panel.”

A young professor-mom walked by with her baby strapped to her chest; the baby smiled at me, and time stopped.

A PhD candidate ran into an old friend, and inquired about the friend’s recent tenure-line job acceptance. The friend then asked about the candidate’s plans in turn—“are you planning to leave [politically divisive state] or stay?” The candidate shook their head back and forth, “I will run away in full regalia as fast as I can.”

A junior faculty member called his wife to update her on how things were going, sharing that he had seen a great sequence of three panels but was running out of gas. “I don’t even know how I’m going to rally for the architectural tour of Chicago,” he said.

A full professor shared how much he loved that everything good was near the hotel.

A graduate student shared that they were going to Lincoln Park because everything good was far from the hotel.

Two mid-career friends caught up over a glass of wine at the lobby bar, trying to pinpoint the last time they were both at MPSA together. They ran through the list of their friends and all the tenure-line roles they ended up in, and lamented that the next generation of scholars might not get that chance.

A young professor-dad joined the Zoom call with a baby strapped to his chest; the baby smiled at me, and time stopped again.

A group of junior faculty walked by, and all I heard was “…a spurious correlation!” and they all burst into laughter.

An assistant professor mentored his graduate student who was preparing to present, sharing tips and tricks for calming his nerves and what types of questions to anticipate. He shared that the best part of MPSA is that everyone wants the grad students to succeed—that he had nothing to worry about.

Two co-authors chatted in the hallway about a book chapter. One said “I’m so glad you took on the new piece yourself, it’s time.” The other replied “This would never have happened without your help.”

A PhD student told a new connection that she didn’t mind taking a bit longer on her dissertation. “COVID-19 took some semesters from me, so I’m going to take them back.”

A discussant told a graduate student he hopes he can call himself Doctor soon. The student joyfully replied, “I defend this week!”

A tenured full professor sat down to charge his phone, and immediately called a friend. “I don’t know anybody here anymore,” he said—“but that’s okay, that’s how it should be.”

Farewell to our Chicago 2023 experience—thanks for all the inspiration, collaboration, and conversation. You reminded us all why we do what we do. Can’t wait for what we’ll overhear in 2024.


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