The Art of the Conference

The 119th Annual Archaeological Institute of America conference was held in Boston Massachusetts from January 4th-7th. I almost didn’t make it to Boston because of the massive winter storm that hit the Eastern Seaboard on the 4th. Boston was shut down, every flight into the city was cancelled. I managed to get an 8 o’clock flight the next day that would get me in Boston by 10:00 am. The poster session which I was participating in began at 11:00 am. To make matters little more interesting, the guy sitting across the aisle from me realized that he did not have his phone AFTER the cabin door was shut. By some miracle, I made it to the conference hotel by 11 am and was able to have my poster up only 15 minutes late. This was not the first time that I had attended the AIA’s. But this was an especially exciting conference for me because it was the first time that I was presenting, rather than just attending. I’ve noticed that every time I attend a conference there is a certain theme that pops up each year, last year it was drones and 3D modeling of sites. This year it was “the long duree.” I found this to be quite fortuitous because my own thesis research encompasses quite an extensive time period, from 1100 BC to 395 AD. So, I guess you could say my research fit in with the crowd.

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I stood proudly by my poster, in the very clothes I had traveled in. It didn’t matter anymore, I was there, and my poster was up. And within minutes of setting up, I had my first observer come up. Not only did he like my poster but he was specifically keeping an eye out for it after reading about it in the program! The content of my poster focused on the preliminary results of my thesis research. I am looking at the settlement patterns in Albania from the Iron Age, through Greek colonization and Roman integration. Essentially looking to see if there is a change in the settlement pattern between the three periods and if so, what is the nature of the change. My preliminary results show that through time the amount of clustering of sites increases, and the location of these clusters changes. The biggest change is in the clustering from the north to the south for the prehistoric period to the Greek and Roman periods. Also of note is the presence of a linear cluster along the Via Egnatia during the Roman period.

Conferences are an interesting thing. For the seasoned experts, they are like a big reunion. They are fun, a way to reconnect with old colleagues and present their latest findings.  For a newcomer like myself, they can be a bit daunting. Think “little fish, big pond”. Yet, no matter how daunting they can be, I urge every newcomer, myself included, to swallow their fear and take the plunge. The more you go, the more comfortable you become, and the more opportunities you open up for yourself. Conferences are a great way to stay up to date with what is going on in your field. What methods people are using, what discoveries they have made and what conclusions these new methods and discoveries lead too. They are also a good way to network and meet new people. This is especially important if you want to make a career for yourself in academia. You can meet professors who teach at the universities you might apply to, or meet the directors of projects you might want to attend.

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While I am by no means a conference wiz, in fact, I am quite the opposite. I have come up with a set of guidelines for myself as I navigate the art conferencing which might also be useful to anyone else new to the process.

  • Start small – if you, like myself, are a bit on the socially awkward, shy, side when it comes to these things, don’t leap head first into a big (and expensive) conference that is far far away. Instead, go to a local conference for a day. Walk around, listen to some talks, and try to ask at least one question or introduce yourself to one person.
  • Apply for funding – everywhere! Exhaust all of your resources. There are a wealth of grants, scholarships, and funding opportunities out there, so apply to all that you can. Start within your department, and then branch out. Don’t forget to see if the conference you’re attending offers funding too!
  • Get involved – by this I mean, make your way into the program. Now this doesn’t mean you have to get up there and present a paper, but presenting something is a good way to network. I suggest starting small in this case as well. Maybe present a paper the first time, do a lighting session presentation the next time and then a paper presentation, whatever you are comfortable with.
  • Volunteer – this is a really good way to meet people and network.
  • Always have someone double check your poster before you print it. Always.
  • Travel with friends or colleagues if you can. If you know someone who will be attending, contact them to meet up for a coffee and catch up. I know this may sound silly, but if you’re travelling to a city or country you’ve never been, travelling with people you know or meeting up with a friend make the whole thing more fun.
  • Introduce yourself – if you see someone who you want to meet or whose work you admire, go, and introduce yourself. What’s the worse that could happen? They could half-heartedly shake your hand and walk away? That’s not so bad. This doesn’t mean you should just march right on up at any time however. Bathroom? Yea, not a good place to say “hi”. Look for an appropriate moment, one of my profs told us once that the book room is the best place to introduce yourself as often people that are there are killing time.
  • Dress appropriately – this doesn’t mean full formal attire and perfectly ironed lapels. We are archaeologists. But remember that conferences are a professional event, you’re essentially presenting yourself as an academic, and I won’t say looks, but presentation matters.
  • Have fun – remember that this is supposed to be a positive experience. So, enjoy yourself. And if you are in a new city or country, do some sightseeing!

So good luck to all the novices going to conferences this year, knock em dead! And if you’re wondering about the guy and his phone, he decided he would not stall the plane. His good karma paid off as it turned out the phone had fallen between the seats behind him. Guess it was a happy ending for everyone.

By: Erina Baci

 

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