How to Have Your Best Academic Conference

Due to COVID-19, many traditionally in-person conferences have gone fully online or convened hybrid meetings with some in-person and some online attendees.1

Hybrid or online conferences are novel for biblical studies. So, we’re all learning as we go to varying degrees.

But with the following 8 steps, you can help set yourself up for an enriching meeting where you focus on biblical scholarship rather than the technology for delivering the meeting.

  1. Have your software and hardware ready.
  2. Plan what sessions you will attend.
  3. Connect early.
  4. Don’t be afraid to break the ice.
  5. Don’t hog the line.
  6. Come to learn.
  7. Focus on the sessions you attend.
  8. Take notes.

1. Have your software and hardware ready.

Well before your first session, be sure to install (or update) and test any software as needed, like Zoom. Also, test your speakers and your microphone.

By getting all of the technology set up early, you’ll avoid last-minute troubleshooting frustrations or delays immediately before a session.

Also, if you’re presenting or otherwise likely to speak during the session, try to arrange to use a headset or dedicated microphone.

The microphone built into your webcam, laptop, or mobile device can do in a pinch. But the audio will be much better for the rest of the attendees if you’re able to use a dedicated microphone.

2. Plan what sessions you will attend.

Depending on the particular conference’s choices, one of the nice things about virtual meetings is that sessions can be offered on a broader schedule. They can also be recorded for later viewing if you aren’t able to attend live.

But these upsides are also downsides if you try to consume too much of the meeting. Just because you can be in or rewatch more sessions in a virtual meeting doesn’t mean you should.

Instead, be choosey. Use the conference program or planner to find the sessions most pertinent for you.

That way, rather than giving surface engagement to a wide array of sessions, you can go all in on the few that most align with your interests.

3. Connect early.

In my first fully online conference, I was scheduled to presented a paper. The morning of my paper, I got on to connect to my session in what I thought was enough time.

It just so happened, however, that my computer also decided that it needed to reboot to install an update that morning too. 😐

I ended up still connecting to the session on time even after the reboot, although with a bit less margin than I would have liked. But if I hadn’t had the buffer provided by trying to connect to the session early, I could easily have been late for my own paper.

Don’t let that happen to you. Instead, connect ahead of a given session with enough buffer to handle any last-minute issues that arise.

4. Don’t be afraid to break the ice.

“Zoom rooms” and the like do a great job facilitating the structured interaction that occurs in person during paper presentations and discussion times. For the unstructured times before and after a conference session convenes, virtual rooms introduce some special awkwardness.

When you attend a conference in-person, the room allows any number of things to happen before and after the session.

You can sit quietly by yourself. Or you can converse with one or a few other attendees in that session. There might be still more people in the room sitting by themselves or talking in their own groups.

But in a virtual room, everyone attending the session is all in the same group. That can make interaction before and after the session pretty awkward.

If you’re talking to one other person, all the rest of the attendees are listening in on your conversation. But the alternative is for you all to sit around staring at each other while you stare into your webcams.

Any way you slice it, the unstructured time before or after a session is going to be awkward. So, try your best not to worry about the awkwardness.

If everyone’s having a staring contest, feel free to do the same. But also don’t be afraid to break the ice by making some light small talk, especially if you know someone else in the session.

You’ll get to catch up with a colleague. And if anyone else jumps into the conversation, you might meet someone new too.

5. Don’t hog the line.

At the same time, there’s another principle that goes closely along with the fact that you can break the ice. And that is that you shouldn’t hog the line.

A virtual meeting room is a shared communication space. So, in one way, that room is simply another iteration of the concept of “party line” telephone service.

Given that similarity, similar etiquette applies. If you break the ice, be sure also to leave enough space between or after you do so so that others can chime in if they want as well.

And particularly before the session, it goes without saying that the small talk needs to give way easily to the moderator when it’s time to bring the session to order.

6. Come to learn.

Whether you’re giving a paper or listening to one, come to learn and contribute.

Come to learn from the presenters about their work and contribute to the discussion of it. Or come to learn from the audience about yours.

Either way, if you come to learn and contribute rather than to impress, you’re likely to do more of both while also lessening the time you’ll spend faced with imposter syndrome.

7. Focus on the sessions you attend.

Nowadays, it doesn’t take attending many academic conference sessions in person before you notice something. During a session, some portion of the audience will be focused on … their email, Facebook, Twitter, the program book, or really anything besides the session they’re physically attending.

Maybe, they’re “multitasking.” But even if they are, studies show they’re not really paying attention.

I’ve been guilty of this practice in the past too, particularly later in a conference when sleep deprivation has tended to set. But while it might help with staying awake, getting adequate sleep is a much better approach that will also help you pay closer attention to the sessions you choose to attend.

As you “multitask” between two or more increasingly complex tasks, your ability to track with either at the same pace drops precipitously. You’ll typically need to elongate the time you spend on the multiple tasks you tried to bundle.2

That creates problems when you try to combine two incredibly complex and language-intensive tasks like listening to an academic paper and checking your email or social media.

In addition, the easier you make it for your brain to “escape” an academic paper into the world of your email or social media, the more difficult you make it to maintain focus the next time around on a different paper or cognitively demanding activity.3

Plus, if you craft for yourself a very selective conference schedule to start with, you’ll already have biased your schedule toward the sessions that you find more worth attending. And if they’re more worth attending, they’re more worth attending to while you’re in them.

8. Take notes.

Taking notes in a session is a great way to help keep your mind from wandering off—let alone wanting to seek out distracting stimuli like email or social media.

It’s also a good way of helping you retain the content of the papers you attend, whether or not you look at your notes again afterward.

In a virtual conference, you’ll already have some electronic device running when you’re attending a session. So, you may be inclined to take your notes digitally on that same device.

If that works for you, that’s great. But handwriting notes can provide benefits you don’t get if you’re taking notes by typing.4

(If you want to store notes digitally after your conference, Rocketbook has a great notebook-scanner app pairing that makes digitizing handwritten pages very easy.)


It can take some work to get the most from an academic conference. That’s true whether the conference is in-person, online, or some mixture of the two.

But with some forethought and preparation, a virtual conference can provide a great opportunity for you to hone your craft in biblical scholarship.

  1. Header image provided by Compare Fibre

  2. Multitasking: Switching Costs,” American Psychological Association, 20 March 2006. By contrast, habitual tasks that require very little attention can be more successfully combined with other tasks that require more attention (e.g., folding laundry while listening to a podcast). For this reason, Greg McKeown suggests distinguishing between multitasking and multifocusing. Greg McKeown, Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less (New York: Crown Business, 2014), 219–20; cf. C. S. Lewis, “Meditation in a Toolshed,” in God in the Dock: Essays on Theology and Ethics, ed. Walter Hooper (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1970), 212–15. 

  3. Cal Newport, Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World (New York: Grand Central, 2016), 157–59. 

  4. Pam A. Mueller and Daniel M. Oppenheimer, “The Pen Is Mightier Than the Keyboard: Advantages of Longhand Over Laptop Note Taking,” Psychological Science 25.6 (2014): 1159–68. 

Authorities for SBL Style: School House Style

We’ve previously started exploring authorities for SBL style by discussing publishers’ house styles. A publisher’s house style might be based on SBLHS, but it might also require several things that differ from the SBLHS and other authorities. It isn’t spelled out in the SBLHS, but there’s another application of this principle if you’re a student submitting work for class.

1.2. From Your School

That is, if your institution has particular style guidelines, you should follow these before anything else in the SBLHS. SBL Press won’t be grading your seminar paper, your professor will.

1.2.1. A Case Study: Footnote Numbers

For example, at the Kearley Graduate School of Theology (KGST), we tend to ask for a pretty “plain vanilla” application of SBL style with very minimal changes. We’re also pretty committed to Microsoft’s DOCX standard. So one place where we suggest something different from the SBLHS and other authorities is in formatting footnote numbers. The SBLHS Standard versus the Microsoft Word Default

If you read carefully, the SBLHS asks for full-height footnote numbers. Then you add a period (thus: “1.”), then a space, then the content of your footnote. (In this, the SBLHS follows like the Chicago Manual, which we’ll discuss in a separate post.) But Microsoft Word’s default way of producing footnotes is with a superscripted note number (thus: “1”), followed by a space, followed by the content of your footnote. Getting Full-height Footnote Numbers with Following Periods in Microsoft Word

It is technically possible to get Microsoft Word to produce full-height footnote numbers, followed by a period. But it isn’t nearly as easy as you might hope.

Formatting footnote numbers this way in Microsoft Word requires some special manipulation. You can manually correct the note number formatting, use a macro, or do some other similar operation. Any of these workflows is doable if you need to produce full-height note numbers followed by periods. But each of them does require a good bit of extra effort. KGST’s Solution

Consequently, we simply haven’t seen the point in requiring what is technically most consistent with the SBLHS and other authorities. The effort required to produce this output vastly exceeds the formatting benefits it yields.

So for KGST’s purposes, if you want to use full height footnote numbers, you can. A few students do just that, and that’s certainly not wrong.

But we give you the option of deciding simply to go with Word’s superscripted default. And unless you just enjoy the satisfaction of seeing a full-height footnote number, followed by a period, I usually recommend my students focus on their content rather than this optional formatting extra.

1.2.2. A Suggestion: Learning SBL Style Together

Different institutions have different dynamics. And different faculty (or graders) have different relationships with students. So you’ll need to weigh how this suggestion applies in your context.

But generally, those of us charged with assessing how well SBL style has been applied haven’t ourselves gone to school for copyediting, completely memorized the SBLHS, or taken second jobs with SBL Press to learn the style on the job.

Instead, we’re practitioners who have used the style in order to learn it. And sometimes, you might see something that we miss.

There have been many times when a careful student has asked a question about SBL style that I end up learning something from. Rereading the SBLHS or other authorities in light of that question shows me something that I’d missed or assumed previously.

So if you’re charged with assessing SBL style, be open to learning more about the style from those whose work you assess. You might learn something that will be helpful in your own writing or other assessments down the road.

On the other hand, if you’re a student and are seeing something different after some diligent consideration, think about asking a question if and as that’s appropriate for your context. Don’t try to play the “gotcha” game or the “please do my homework for me” game. But an academic environment can provide a wonderful setting for students and faculty to learn SBL style together.


In the end, whether you’re writing for your school or for a particular publisher, you need to be aware of style guidelines you need to follow that might differ from a “plain vanilla” reading of the SBLHS. Doing so will help your work square with the expectations of your professors or graders who will be evaluating it.

There are also countless ways we can help each other learn SBL style, whatever our status, be that faculty, teaching assistant, or student. And with as much of a formatting standard as the SBLHS has become, learning it well is a key way to “sharpen the saw,” as it is with learning other house styles that we may need to abide by.

What departures from the SBLHS does your school require? What have you learned from your students or classmates about SBL style?

Header image credit: SBL Press

Authorities for SBL Style: Publisher House Style

As comprehensive as it is, the SBL Handbook of Style (SBLHS) doesn’t include everything.1 Instead, you’ll often need other sources to determine what SBL style requires. Knowing where and when to refer to these other sources can be tricky. In this series, we dispel this mystery and discuss seven common authorities for SBL style in priority order.

One of the self-professed goals of the second edition of the SBLHS was to provide “more complete information and require[] less consultation of [especially] The Chicago Manual of Style” (xii).

Anyone who has used both the first and second editions of the SBLHS will notice that the second edition makes substantial headway in achieving this goal. Many more details are handled directly in SBLHS. And it’s now comparatively rarer to need to consult another authority like the Chicago Manual.2

On the other hand, over the course of an essay of any length or—even more—over the course of a book-length project, you’ll regularly need to consult other authorities about many minor details that the SBLHS doesn’t take the space to spell out.

Sometimes though, different authorities have different advice on the same issue. So you need both to consult the proper style authorities and to consult them in the proper order.

You go as far down the list as needed to answer your question, then you stop and do as described in that highest-level authority.

According to SBL Press, there are seven major kinds of style authorities you need follow in order (§3).3

1. A House Style

According to SBLHS §3, the highest-level authority for your writing is what we might call a “house style.” Most commonly, this is the set of requirements specific to the organization where you’ll send your writing.

Practically though, it’s helpful to divide this first level of authority into two types. The first of these we’ll discuss here. The second we’ll pick up next week.

1.1 From Your Publisher

If you’re working with a specific journal or book publisher, their style requirements trump everything else. Often, their house style may resemble or defer to SBL style at multiple points but have some customizations too.

For instance, the SBLHS doesn’t specify whether to include a comma after the abbreviations “i.e.” or “e.g.” Consequently, SBL style follows the rule in the Chicago Manual (§6.51) and includes this comma.4

On the other hand, if you’re formatting your essay to submit to the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society (JETS), you’ll want to be sure you don’t use a comma after either “i.e.” or “e.g.” According to JETS’s contributor instructions,

the guidance of the most recent edition of The SBL Handbook of Style should be followed. (§1.7)

But one of the specific exceptions taken by JETS’s style to the SBLHS’s conventions is that normally

no comma should be placed after “e.g.” (“e.g. the book of Romans”), or “i.e.” (“i.e. the apostle John”). (§2.8)

Such minor style variations can take quite a bit of work to accommodate. But it’s important to recognize that it’s your responsibility as an author to make life easy for the editor to whom you’re handing off your manuscript.

After all, between you and the editor, you have the most vested interest in getting your manuscript into print.


SBLHS has enjoyed wide adoption as a formatting standard since the first edition’s release. Even so, individual publishers have specific conventions they want you to follow for various reasons, even though these conventions depart from the SBLHS.

In this environment, each of we need to be familiar with the SBLHS and often follow it carefully. But more than this, we often need to follow the SBLHS as it’s qualified by the specific formatting requirements of the particular publisher we’re working with.

Doing so will ultimately remove one more possible speed bump from the sometimes already potted road from submission to publication.

  1. Header image provided by SBL Press. 

  2. Unless otherwise noted, citations of the Chicago Manual refer to the 17th edition, published in 2017. 

  3. SBLHS actually specifies more than seven kinds of other authorities. But here we concentrate on discussing the most common. 

  4. For additional information at the moment though, see “The Chicago and SBL Manuals.” 

Daily Gleanings (26 April 2019)

Nijay Gupta digests the main resources he suggests for “mov[ing] from biblical text to theology and application.”

According to a recent email from the Society of Biblical Literature to its members,

JSTOR has invited SBL into a two-year pilot program that provides access for all SBL members to more than eighty journals in JSTOR’s Religion and Theology Collection.

Members may access the collection by visiting the member benefits page of the SBL website and then logging in. Once logged in, a new link will appear under the JSTOR member benefits giving you access to the journals in the collection.

SBL members also get a 50% discount on annual subscriptions to JPASS, JSTOR’s service that provides access to over 2,000 journals. To claim that discount, click on the JPASS link when logged in to the member benefits page.

SBL is grateful to JSTOR for this member benefit through 2020.

Expanding Your Research Materials, Part 6

The past several weeks, we’ve discussed different ways to expand fairly economically the material you have at your disposal for research. We’ve talked about using:

In today’s final post in this series, we’ll discuss four additional resources.

Laptop with open book

1. Loebolus

First up, from various online sources, Loebolus has culled digital copies of Loeb Classical Library volumes that are currently in the public domain. The total number of Loeb volumes available via Loebolus now stands at 277.

You can download each of the volumes individually. Or, you can download them in a batch ZIP file approximately 3.2 GB in size.

Many Loeb volumes either aren’t currently available online or are still under copyright. (You can get a full list of Loeb titles from Harvard University Press.) But even just those that are openly available online represent a wealth of primary literature that’s easily available at your fingertips.

2. Open Access Journals

In biblical studies and cognate fields, several reputable journals are either partially or fully available online via open access. Some of these include:

There is also the Directory of Open Access Journals, where you may find other helpful journals that are also open access.

3. International Cooperation Initiative

The International Cooperation Initiative (ICI) is a program run under the auspices of the Society of Biblical Literature.1 The initiative:

provides free online PDF files to scholars and students who would not otherwise have access to these resources. These resources are available for persons in countries with a per capita GDP that is substantially lower than the average per capita GDP of the United States and the European Union.

Since I live in the United States, I can’t use ICI’s resources. But, it appears that the webpage uses your computer’s Internet address to determine your location and to display a list of accessible titles if you are accessing the service from a qualifying country.

Presumably if you were visiting a qualifying country and connected to the page from there, you would also be able to use ICI resources. So if you live in or, for a time, work from a country that qualifies, you can certainly try to use ICI to boost your access to research material that will otherwise be more challenging to access.

4. Other Digital Humanities Posts

There are too many useful resources online to list them all here. When I come across individual resources that I’ve found helpful and think you might too, I try to post these here under “digital humanities”.

You can check or subscribe to this tag for updates on other resources that haven’t made it into this series for one reason or another.


We began this series by recognizing that we’re responsible for interacting with relevant literature largely irrespective of how easy it is to access. Research often means hunting, and that hasn’t changed even with the explosion in technological research tools in recent decades.

What has changed and what continues to change, however, is the array of tools at the disposal of the biblical scholar for doing this kind of hunting. And there is every reason to use the best tool for the job needing to be done and to be grateful for the many people’s efforts and hours that have gone into preparing those tools for our use.

  1. Oxford University Press also has a separate but similar program

Typing Biblical Languages in Unicode

If you’re writing in biblical studies, you need to be able to type biblical languages. Transliteration might work in some cases, but you can’t and shouldn’t always bank on being able to use transliterations when you write.

Partial English keyboard

Where We Were, Where We Are, and Why Unicode Is Important

In years gone by, typing biblical languages on an English keyboard required using a font that would mask English text and make it look like Greek, Hebrew, or Aramaic.

For Hebrew and Aramaic, this often required typing the text backwards (i.e., left to right in the direction of English).

If you wanted to submit a paper electronically, you’d then have to ensure you used the proper font or sent or embedded the proper font with your paper.

Without that, “λόγος” could easily turn out to look like “lo/gov”—or worse—to whomever opened the file without that font installed. Thankfully, Unicode has changed all this.

“Unicode” is a system that “provides a unique number for every character, no matter what platform, device, application or language.”1

These unique numbers—like “03C2″—might not mean much to humans. But, they allow computers to tell exactly what character is being used, independent of the font in which it is typed.

So, for instance, a computer will know that “03C2” represents a human-readable final sigma (ς) and not, a Hebrew vav (ו). The computer can distinguish between these two characters even though, in by gone days, both have sometimes been mapped to the “v” on an English keyboard.

If this is all a bit too geeky, just remember that, with Unicode, a sigma is a sigma, a vav is a vav, and changing fonts doesn’t change that.

You’re already familiar with changing fonts between Times New Roman, Arial, or whatever (wingdings excepted) and having your English text remain the same.

Typing in Unicode means you can do the same thing with Greek, Hebrew, or Aramaic in Times New Roman, Arial, or another Unicode-compliant font. That text will remain the same when you change fonts or send a file to someone else. If that person doesn’t have your font, their computer might substitute a different font, but it shouldn’t display gibberish.

Installing a Keyboard, or Keymap

Of course, if you want your computer to be able to tell the difference between when you press the “v” key and mean for it to use “v” and when you press the “v” key and mean for it to use “ς” or “ו”, you need some software to help.

Here enter biblical language keyboard software. You can find this available freely online or, with perhaps more limited functionality, as features within your operating system (e.g., Mac, Windows).2

Personally, I’ve preferred and used the keyboards provided by Logos. These are available for Greek, Hebrew/Aramaic, Coptic, Syriac, and transliteration.

(And no, you don’t need to purchase a base package to use these. They’re free and independent of the Logos system itself. So, you can even use these software keyboards if you use another Bible software platform altogether.)

You can download and install whichever combination of these keyboards you prefer. Inside each of the ZIP files available for download is also a PDF showing exactly what key strokes or combinations will produce what text output on the screen.

Most of the keyboards should install pretty simply by following the instructions provided on the download page. There are two possible exceptions:

  1. For a right-to-left language (e.g., Hebrew), you may need to reboot your computer or allow Windows to install support for right-to-left (or “complex script”) languages in order to use that keyboard.
  2. For the transliteration keyboard, you may end up with two English keyboards installed. To check this in Windows 10, search for “language” in the Windows menu, and open “Edit language and keyboard options.” From there, let the language list populate at the bottom of the window, and click “English” and “Options.” From there, simply click the standard US QWERTY keyboard layout, and choose to remove it. That way, you can simply use the more robust transliteration keyboard as your basic English keyboard, and you needn’t keep a fourth keyboard around to be in your way in the keyboard switcher menu (see below).
    Windows 10 Language Options dialog box image

Switching between Keyboards

To use a particular keyboard layout in Windows 10, simply choose that layout from the language button that should appear in the bottom right-hand corner of the screen by the default clock position.

Windows 10 keyboard switcher image

Alternatively, you can use the keyboard shortcut Alt+Shift to cycle through the languages in this menu. This will cycle through the keyboard layouts without an on-screen prompt. And you’ll quickly learn the order in which they come up.

You can also change keyboard layouts by using the shortcut Windows key+Space. This will pop the language selector up on the screen and allow you to see where you are in the cycle of selecting a language to type in.

With the Windows key depressed, press the Space bar repeatedly to cycle through the list of available languages.

When you’re ready to type in English again, simply change the keyboard switcher back to English, and you’re good to go.


Whether you’re just learning biblical languages or you have gotten pretty comfortable with them, being able to type them in Unicode will help you communicate more clearly and simply with others about these languages.

Once you invest just a few minutes in getting properly set up, you’ll be ready to write, and you’ll enjoy a much more seamless experience when using these languages in your writing.

  1. Unicode Consortium, “What Is Unicode?” 

  2. SBL also has a number of resources that may prove helpful as you get set up for and used to typing in Unicode Greek, Hebrew, or Aramaic via a software keyboard.