I was privileged to receive a grant from the Lawrence Geller Fund to cover the cost of attending the 2013 annual meeting of the Society of American Archivists. This year’s meeting in New Orleans was actually not my first SAA conference- I also attended the 2012 meeting in San Diego. Needless to say, the weather at the 2012 meeting was far more pleasant, but I think I learned some lessons from my first conference that helped make my experience in New Orleans much more rewarding.
My foremost recommendation to first-time attendees is to give yourself some flexibility in your schedule in regards to attending panels and other events. It’s a good idea to look at the conference schedule ahead of time and pinpoint the few panels and events that you’re really interested in and want to make sure you attend. Don’t plan your time at SAA down to the last second, though. Give yourself some freedom to attend a panel on a topic that you haven’t explored yet but that just happens to catch your eye once you’re at SAA, or a panel that you hear about from another attendee. One of the best panels I went to at this year’s SAA was one that I initially hadn’t selected to attend, but I tagged along with another attendee- and was ultimately very glad that I did!
On a similar note, don’t be afraid to leave a panel if you feel you’re not getting much out of it. You may think you’re being rude by getting up in the middle of someone’s presentation (and certainly you should try to be as discrete as possible), but don’t get too worried about offending the panelists- plenty of other attendees will be doing the same thing! You’re at SAA to learn, so if there’s another panel taking place at the same time that you think would be more educational for you, don’t feel self-conscious about leaving a panel to attend a different one.
While of course you’re at SAA for professional development, don’t forget to leave some time to sightsee around the city where the conference is being held. I had an entire day to be a tourist at this year’s SAA, which was great, but if your schedule doesn’t allow you to take that much free time, at least get out in the evenings. The hotels where SAA conferences are held are sometimes a bit pricey, but try to stay in the conference hotel or at least close to it if you can. I stayed with a relative at when I attended the 2012 conference, and while that was nice for my wallet, I lost a lot of time traveling between my relative’s house and the conference. The conference hotels are also usually in prime sightseeing areas.
Attending SAA’s annual meeting is a wonderful opportunity to learn about new developments and current debates in the field and to network with other students and professionals. If you’re entering your final year or semester of the APH program, I highly recommend submitting a proposal to present a student poster or paper at the 2014 conference in Washington, D.C. Presenting at SAA is a great way to get more presentation practice and be able to talk one-on-one with other archivists who share your interests. For more tips for first-timers, see the guide created by SAA’s Students and New Archival Professionals Roundtable (SNAP). While some of the information is specific to the 2013 conference, much of the guide is applicable to any SAA meeting. Happy conference-ing!