Pic: My swag bag! Well, bag for collecting the swag
In the blink of an eye it went by, my first experience attending the Society for American Archaeology (SAA) annual conference. The SAA conference is one of, if not the largest archaeology conference in the world. You have thousands of archaeologists convening in one location for four days of panel discussions, research presentations, and research posters. Plaid shirts and Blundstones everywhere you look. Bars setting records for how quickly they run out of beer.
The SAA conference can certainly be overwhelming if you’re like me and you’ve never been before. I feel very fortunate to be part of an online archaeology community on Twitter that I think played a large part in helping me keep my cool in D.C., where this year’s conference was. I ended up having to travel to the conference on my own, but I felt comfortable knowing that there would be a lot of people there who I knew from my ramblings online. It made for a much more relaxing experience! And social networking really is just as important as professional networking.
Because of who I am as a person I’ve obviously decided to recap my very first SAA conference here! I’m pretty sure this will only be one of many blog posts that are sure to be written by many different people about their time in D.C. Without further ado, my experiences:
On being a woman at the conference
This has to be discussed and it has to be discussed first. Women in archaeology was an important topic much discussed at the conference. Not only through the lens of women in the archaeological record, but also on being a woman archaeologist in the current climate of archaeology where we deal with sexual misconduct and sexism on an unacceptably regular basis. It wasn’t even physically at the conference where this was being discussed. While we were there this incredibly important article was posted discussing 91 stories of sexual misconduct in archaeology. It’s a long and difficult read, but it’s important that everyone is aware of what’s going on. I feel very fortunate that while at the conference I only had to deal with one frustrating situation. And let’s be real – it’s unacceptable that I need to say, “only had to deal with one”. It happened during my poster presentation when a male archaeologist completely invaded my personal space. I’ve had to deal with space invaders before and I refuse to let them intimidate me so I always stand my ground. Which in this case resulted in many bumped elbows and bumped arms throughout the entire 10 minute conversation. In addition, despite interest in my research, the conversation took on an annoyingly pat-on-the-head, “good job little girl” tone very quickly. Let me make myself clear – if you think I need the high-fives and validation from a man to make me feel like I’ve done something worthwhile, I don’t. Next time just keep walking.
The professional aspect of the conference
I break down the conference into three types of professional development. The first was being able to present my own research and participate in symposiums. I had this opportunity twice, on the first day and the last day of the conference (of course). First up was a poster presenting the research I’ve done on the blown glass beads from Sexwamin, which was essentially a summary of my MA thesis. I was really, really pleased with all
the positive feedback I got, both on my poster appearance and my research. I was trying something new and a little different from a standard poster style. I wanted minimal text and large images to display my research and I seem to have achieved that! I also had several people asking some really great questions and expressing a lot of interest in the beads. One woman, who happens to work for the Canadian Museum of History, even took notes! In addition to the poster, I also chaired a small symposium on our open access textbook project. We had four papers from Katie Kirakosian, Larkin Hood, Jennifer Zovar, Paulina Pryzstupa, and Katie Brewer discussing the progress and challenges of the project so far. We had some really, really positive feedback from our audience members and ended up having a fantastic discussion. I recorded our discussion and will be posting it online soon!
The second professional development is being able to listen to others present their research. I listened to far too much to properly discuss here! I was really happy to see that there were a number of talks and forums focusing on public outreach, as that’s something I’m really interested in. One forum I saw in on was on using different mediums for public outreach (i.e. blogging, Twitter, podcasts, etc). Another had a strong focus on archaeology in the media and even featured a journalist on the panel. Both were fantastically interesting and informative discussions and gave me a lot to consider in my outreach efforts going forward!
The third professional development aspect is professional networking. Here you have a a wonderful chance to make a lot of meaningful connections! You could meet other archaeologists whose work you look up to. Or perhaps you’re making connections with others for collaboration based on the research you’ve presented or are interested in exploring. I had “business” cards printed and available to hand out that listed my contact info, my website, and my interests. I offered them to anyone who was interested in my research and skills. It was a great way to make a connection and get my name out there!
The social aspect of the conference
Last but certainly not least, I loved the social networking part of this conference! As I mentioned early, I feel very lucky to be part of the Twitter archaeology community and have made many online friends. Now was my chance to meet them in person. I met so, so many wonderful people and had such a great time, from watching forums together to having drinks and visiting the zoo. We even held a beer swap, organized on Twitter (check out @electricarchaeo’s great FB post about it), which was a great way to break the ice with new in-person friends. I also had the chance to talk to many whose online presence I greatly admire. If I felt like I was part of a community before, I left the conference feeling even more so connected with all of my wonderful pocket friends!
So there you have it, a brief (by my wordy standards) recap of my first ever SAA conference experience. It was definitely exhausting, between seeing the sights of D.C., visiting with new friends, and listening to talks. I also have a lovely large bruise on my leg that will serve as a memory of walking into a wall when I had to get up far too early for my 8 am poster presentation. But it was an absolutely amazing experience and I left knowing with a feeling of personal accomplishment and an even closer connection to the wonderful online community I feel so humbled and fortunate to be part of. I raise a glass in honour of all the wonderful people I had the chance to interact with and learn from. I’m already looking forward to the next conference!