How to Conference

Posted In: Deep Thoughts

By Della Scott-Ireton, PhD, RPA
Florida Public Archaeology Network
ACUA Institutional Associate Member

As a maritime archaeologist who has attended a veritable alphabet soup of conferences over the years (SHA, SAA, SPMA, FAS, AIMA, SEAC, IKUWA, SfAA, NAS, EAA, WAC, etc etc), I often am struck by the number of attendees (student and professional) who don’t seem to know how to behave at a professional conference. Many years ago, I started sending out general academic and professional advice to the graduate student listserv at my college, the University of West Florida, which grew into “Auntie Della’s Tips for Getting Through Grad School, An Occasional Series.” Now covering a variety of topics, from thesis writing to interpreting your advisor’s comments, it all started with “how to conference correctly.” Having organized the 2010 SHA conference as well as attended a few, believe me when I tell you:

  • DO attend papers. You are there to learn something new, not just to hang out in the bar.
  • DO NOT be late for your own paper! Yes, happens more often than you think.
  • DO be discreet when checking your cell phone during presentations. Make sure sound is turned off!
  • DO NOT criticize the conference. Unless you have organized a conference, you can’t imagine what goes into the successful organization, administration, and running of a conference. Besides, the Conference Chair might be standing behind you.
  • DO join a committee. This is how you meet people, make contacts, gain professional experience, make a difference, and get involved in your Society.
  • DO remember you are being watched by future employers and colleagues all the time, and getting drunk in the bar is unlikely to make a good first impression.
  • DO NOT tolerate any sort of harassment. If you, or someone you know, experiences harassment during a conference-sponsored event please report it immediately to the society or organization leadership. Everyone will be treated with respect and dignity.
  • DO dress professionally. You don’t have to wear a coat & tie and/or heels every day, but dress like you take your profession and field seriously.
  • DO NOT stand in the hallway outside presentation rooms and laugh, talk, have loud phone calls, or gossip. The presenters and audience can hear you, and it’s beyond distracting, not to mention rude.
  • DO have your advisor/professor review your paper before you submit it for presentation. You may be unaware of issues of professional etiquette or data reporting protocols.
  • DO NOT stand and chat in the entrance-way of the book room, or the top of the escalator, or the door of session rooms. You will get run over by folks trying to get to their papers or hurrying to a meeting.
  • DO remember your career is long and the field is small – what you say and do here will be talked about for decades.
  • DO NOT walk out in the middle of a presentation. Wait until the speaker is done, and sit near the door if you know you’ll have to leave.
  • DO introduce yourself to the Legends in the field. The vast majority are happy to chat with students and share wisdom, provide guidance, and make introductions. Just make sure to catch them when they’re not in a hurry to get somewhere (like their own paper because they are late). You likely will catch them at the bar, in the lobby, the Past President’s Student Reception, or a conference-sponsored event. Pro tip: approach with a libation offering.
  • DO NOT run over your allotted time when giving your paper! PRACTICE AHEAD OF TIME!
  • DO attend the conference events, especially the free ones and those targeted especially to students. That’s where much networking happens.
  • DO NOT hang out solely with the people you know. Conferences are great places to meet other students and professionals – these are the people you’ll run into, or even work with, for the rest of your career. Get to know them!

See you in St. Charles … and remember to enjoy yourself.