My Trip to the SAA Conference in Sacramento

April 12th, 2011

Last week some of the MU anthro students and I took a trip to Sacramento to attend the yearly meeting of the Society for American Archaeology. I’ve been to the SAA before (most notably last year in St. Louis) but this time marks the occasion of my first presented paper!

{My 1st SAA Session!}

There will be another post dedicated to the changes I made to tailor the same general presentation from my defense to the SAA format of 15 minutes. Here I’d like to share my experience presenting. As I walked into the conference room I met Richard Paine, organizer for the session, for the first time. He was very nice and he also obviously had a lot of experience speaking to an audience. The other presenters in the session were also a friendly bunch and we chatted excitedly about the session before we started.

I was the second person to present in the session. My inner monologue during my presentation was much more relaxed than when I presented at the MCAAAE. While back then I was basically panicking inside while somehow delivering what I’ve been told was a very clear talk, I was very calm inside presenting at the SAA. It probably helped that only a few strangers were attending my session. There was a competing session for the same general topic (New World bioarchaeology) at the same time as the session I was in and it appears that most people were at the other talk. Still I liked how most of the people I saw in the crowd were there to support me as a friend and I’m glad I gave them a talk that wasn’t bad.

After my session I could finally relax and enjoy the conference. There were a lot of interesting talks and I think the overall quality was a lot better than in the previous year. It was too bad that there were lots of talks that interested me in the same timeslot. Should I go to the Andean Archaeology session or the Bioarchaeology session?? I tried my best to skip around to see the talks that interested me professionally and also support my friends at their talks.

Since this was my SAA debut as a professional (or close to it), I was very excited about meeting other professionals. Last year I met a few using a technique I invented where I just walk right up to a small group of people and join their conversation, with the theory being that everyone is thinking that I know someone else in the group. This time I actually didn’t really do that, even though it met with success in St. Louis. For Sacramento a few special situations came up where I had a chance to introduce myself.

The first was the Future of Bioarchaeology panel on Saturday, which I definitely had to attend (though it conflicted with the bioarchaeology poster session halfway through. More on that later). As I sat in the conference room before the session started, I noticed that some of the panelists were chatting. I didn’t know what the bioarchaeolgists I’ve read about look like, so I didn’t think much of it and kept doing stuff on my iPad. Eventually the others got to the topic of rearranging the seats at the front of the large room to better accommodate a panel discussion. As they were moving furniture around, I got up to help since it seemed like the nice thing to do. The result was that I was up at the front of the room mingling with the established researchers in my field! Some introductions were made and I found my seat when the session started.

The session itself was very interesting and it brought up many issues I have not really considered. The discussion turned towards having audience input so people around me were voicing their views. One in particular I thought was off the mark in terms of interpreting what the panelists had to say so I raised my hand and got the chance to speak my mind in a room full of my bioarchaeologist peers! A bit after that moment I had to leave to attend the poster session, which was the second “thing that happened.”

{Art Piece Hanging Over the Poster Session Lobby}

The poster sessions this year were held in one of the open lobbies, rather than in its own large room as in St. Louis. This was good and bad. it was good to give more attention to the poster presenters, but bad if you had to traverse the lobby to get to the other side on time. In the end it was only a minor inconvenience as the far aisle was usually less crowded and one could also take a detour outside on the large deck area. Anyway my experience last year was that the poster sessions were the place to meet people since those presenting posters have to stand there for two hours and visitors are milling around chit-chatting with them. I could approach both groups! This plan worked very well and I met a lot of people I wanted to meet and also new people presenting their work. But then dun-dun-DUN!!!….

I saw a professor I really looked up to and mustered my courage to introduce myself to him. He, who shall remain nameless, pretty much completely blew me off. He didn’t even ask what I studied before giving me the farewell handshake! I was crushed and mentally reeling. Would one fail overshadow several successes? I summoned up my knowledge of stress management, and even probability to remind myself that my episode of fail pales in comparison to all of the fun and productive times I also had. My iPad also happened to have a saved copy of this paper, which put my experience to perspective. I recomposed my inner self and prepared to leave the conference to have dinner with a friend. As I was leaving I saw another professor I admired. I knew I had to introduce myself to prove that the previous incident was just a fluke (or would it only confirm my fears?). I walked up and introduced myself (or, technically introduce myself again since we had spoken in St. Louis). She actually remembered me and we had a perfectly good conversation. Success! I said goodbye and practically bounded down the stairs out of the convention center. Or, at least it felt like it.

Those were pretty much the professional highlights of my visit to the SAAs. I’d like to do another post on Sacramento in general and maybe a few of the wackier things that happened.


3 Responses to “My Trip to the SAA Conference in Sacramento”

  1. CaLynn says:

    I love your approach of going up to a group and having them assume you know someone in it! And your “fail”? I think it was a success! First you introduced yourself and then you didn’t let it get you down! Bravo:) I also really liked this post – it gives me a good insight on what to expect possibly in my future! 😀

  2. Melissa says:

    Good stuff, Keith. Thanks for linking to that optimism talk. I really needed that today.

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