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Student Affairs

Making the Most of Your SAA Meeting Experience
(or, How Note to Be a Wallflower in Seattle)

Jane Eva Baxter and Gordon F. M. Rakita

The annual meeting of the Society for American Archaeology (SAA) is organized to give members a chance to meet one another, present their research, and discuss common interests. Students make up approximately 30 percent of the society's membership and therefore play an integral role in the success of the meeting. The meeting offers students much more than an opportunity to break records for cramming people into a hotel room designed for four, or to experiment with the local microbrews of a new city. It also gives students a chance to further their professional development and research goals. This year, make the most of the time and money you spend attending the SAA meeting in Seattle!

We have compiled suggestions made by established professionals in academia and cultural resource management as well as advanced graduate students on how to make the annual meeting a fun and rewarding experience. There are preparations you can make before the meetings, tips for behavior while at the meeting, and critical avenues for a post-meeting follow-up that will enhance both your professionalism and your meeting experience. While some suggestions may seem obvious or superfluous, your appearance and preparedness have much to do with the reception you will receive, and, consequently, the quality of your experience!

Be a Colleague!

While students receive a reduced SAA membership rate, that is where the distinction between student and full membership ends. Aside from this, SAA treats all members alike. We have an obligation to act accordingly. The meetings provide an opportunity to demonstrate your ability to act not as a student, but as a colleague. Remember, prospective peer reviewers, search committee members, and research collaborators abound at the meetings. Take notice: you represent your home institution and you may be making impressions that will follow you throughout your career. Maintaining a professional demeanor is essential.

Archaeologists by and large are a flamboyant, rambunctious, and eccentric lot, and there is no reason why students cannot or should not share those traits. However, you are more likely to be treated as a colleague if you behave like one. Most professionals enjoy and seek contact with students who present themselves in a mature, responsible manner. They realize that someday you may be reviewing their article, book, or grant proposal, or that you may hold the answer to an interesting problem, or have a fresh perspective on a troublesome theoretical issue. Your appropriate behavior will inspire confidence in your professional abilities.

Before You Go--
Image Isn't Everything, But It Is Important!

Does your appearance "fit in," or do you feel underdressed? Do you have a briefcase to hold your materials, or just a disheveled stack of papers under your arm? Is your paper properly timed and rehearsed, or are your slides upside down and your prose convoluted? Do you have a business card to hand out for paper requests, or are you tearing off pieces of the program cover to jot down your address illegibly? While these details have little to do with your intellectual potential and insights, they do send important messages about your professional abilities.

Although tenured faculty and reputable professionals have the luxury of dressing however they please, less well-established scholars should present a more polished image. Several professionals we surveyed commented unfavorably on students wearing "field clothes" or jeans and T-shirts where more "formal" attire would have been appropriate. Long days do demand comfortable attire, but select clothing appropriate to each professional venue.

Take pride in yourself and your work. Invest time in polishing your papers and posters for both content and style. Consult "Presenting--What an Experience" [Eden Welker, SAA Bulletin 15(1)], and "Getting Graphic: Making an Effective Poster" (Jane Baxter, SAA Bulletin 14(5)] for helpful presentation tips. Have copies of your paper available at the meeting, as well as business cards to hand out when you make a request for a paper or reference. Stores such as Kinko's and Office Depot make business cards inexpensively and probably have your university's logo in their computer. Copies of your curriculum vitae (CV) are also useful, even if you are not currently in the job market. Carry a briefcase or folder to hold your notebook, pens, paper copies, business cards, CVs, meeting program, and abstracts.

Beat the Time Crunch!

The selection of so many activities to attend in such a short time is daunting to many--we attempt to condense a year's worth of information-gathering into a few short days! There are things you can do ahead of time to alleviate the overwhelmed feeling and to beat the time crunch.

SAA distributes a preliminary program, outlining sessions, events, meetings, and receptions. Use it to schedule your time in advance. Sign up early for workshops and roundtable luncheons. Identify the days and times of sessions of potential interest and receptions you want to attend. Plan time for local excursions, either those organized by SAA or on your own. Most important, make time for yourself--having some "down time" is essential!

Once you schedule your "busy" time, identify your expected free time to arrange personal meetings. Professionals expressed a universal willingness to make time for students and suggested that students should make arrangements for their in-depth conversations with potential mentors ahead of time. Many faculty reported having all of their meal times booked well in advance--so act early.

Your pre-meeting email or phone call should convey more than "I am interested in your work." Let the person know what you are doing, specific aspects of their research that are relevant, and what you intend to discuss at the meeting. Time is a precious commodity for everyone at the annual meeting, so be sure to make your requests for time meaningful and appropriate.

Once You Arrive

So there you are at the convention center in a sea of name tags and unfamiliar faces. How do you go about transforming your preparations into a successful meeting?

Relax, Smile, and Be Seen

Huddling in the corner with your friends may feel safe, but it is hardly the way to meet new people and network. Strike out on your own and agree to meet friends later for drinks or an event.

Once you have the final program and abstracts, solidify your schedule and make sure it works. Where do you need to be when? Make note of your free times so you can readily suggest a meeting time without fumbling through programs to figure out whether you're coming or going!

Make it a priority to "case the joint" on arrival; familiarize yourself with the layout. Where are the events you are attending being held? Where are the rooms in relation to one another, and how long will it take to get from one to another? Find the message center, the exhibit hall, and centrally located restaurants and bars. Have a convenient location in mind when you set up a meeting!

Finally, be an active participant. Present your work, attend workshops, sign up for roundtable luncheons, and go to different receptions. If you have some free time, walk the exhibit halls, go see the poster sessions, or have a drink at the central bar. Be visible and create networking opportunities!

Making Contact

Presenting at or attending symposia may be the focus of the meeting, but these activities often take a backseat to meeting and conversing with other archaeologists. Networking plays an important role in an archaeologist's career. People who work in the same study area meet to discuss current developments, or researchers developing similar themes exchange ideas or arrange collaborative research. Learn to identify those researchers who share your interests and with whom a mutually beneficial conversation may take place. Otherwise, you will find it difficult to maintain a meaningful discussion. Don't overlook conversations with other students--after all, they will be your future colleagues!

When you arrange a meeting, choose an appropriate location and time. Presenters prefer to have the hours before and after a presentation free for preparation and/or celebration. Grabbing someone in the hallway or interfering with a grad school reunion at the bar do not constitute appropriate times to discuss state formation or foraging theories. Identify a time when all parties would be unencumbered by commitments and distractions, and agree upon a suitable location. The availability of liquid refreshments is always appealing, but the noisiest bar in the hotel is not a good choice. Suggest as an alternative a quiet restaurant, since everyone has to eat. Limit your intake of libations so as not to impair your ability to communicate effectively. Save the heavy celebrating for a more informal event.

Take advantage of connections you have already made to ease introductions to others. Faculty advisors, committee members, or fellow students can facilitate introductions and conversations. Confirm plans with your pre-meeting contacts, and follow up on any invitations to "introduce yourself" at the meeting. SAA receptions are a great place for such informal chats and introductions, as people are there to socialize and mingle.

Finally, what about the logistics of meeting a particular someone in that sea of faces and name tags? Take advantage of the hotel operator and voice mail system, or of the SAA message center, where you can leave and receive brief messages, or obtain participants' registration information. While this is more passive than hunting the hallways, it allows for greater participation in the meetings while still making arrangements and contacts.

Keep the Ball Rolling: Follow-Up Strategies

Just because the meetings are over and you are safely home, don't assume you have reached the end of the process. Be prompt in following up: send all promised materials, acknowledge all received materials, provide further information or commentary, and express your thanks appropriately. Perhaps you will also want to arrange another rendezvous at the 1999 meeting in Chicago!

Jane Eva Baxter is a graduate student at the University of Michigan. Gordon F. M. Rakita is a graduate student at the University of New Mexico. Both are members of the Student Affairs Committee.

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