SAA, Part 1

Last weekend I had a fantastic time at the SAA meeting in St. Louis. It’s taken me a while to collect my thoughts (also: dissertation) but I’m ready to start spilling. For this first post on the topic, let’s talk about talks.

The actual conference was a extremely positive experience. Other conferences I’ve been to had some dealbreaking flaws that kept me from partaking too long. One organization’s annual meetings consistently had rooms which were unbearably crowded and hot. Another, well, was located in New Orleans which is not really a fault, but it really kept me from attending much! This conference was great: rooms at the America’s Center were airy and uncrowded. Most panels ran like clockwork. The staff and volunteers very nice. Pretty much anything that could’ve been good was good.

{Click to continue to the Flickr set!}

Well, OK, I’ll level with you. Some of the talks weren’t so good. Some people read verbatim from their notes. Some have slides that are unreadable (seriously, if you have to preface your talk about a slide with “I know you can’t read this, but…” you should really redesign that slide). I will say with my own biased perspective that MU’s presentations were very good and overall we have the prettiest, clearest, slides. Our Mac-ness certainly was a factor, as I saw a lot of Apple Keynote touches. On a related note, I’ve seen a lot of default iWork styles show up in presentations, not just those from MU. In a few years it will be bad form to stick with the (pretty) iWork default tables and graphs. I think we’re still safe for now though.

The good talks I saw, however, were great. There was one with no data or results (due to unforseen circumstances), but the speaker and his slides were so good that it was not a waste of anyone’s time. Some of the archaeoastronomy talks (full disclosure: organized by my advisor) had fantastic photographs of astronomical alignments, and the speakers really spoke to the audience to maintain their interest.

The best part was that each talk was 15 minutes, with no room for questions afterwards. I. Hate. Q&A. I think it is unfair for someone sipping a mocha in the audience to lob questions at a speaker who is tired from just having given a talk. The audience member has had 15 minutes to come up with something to say, and the speaker has 5 seconds for an answer. If the question or comment is constructive (protip: it’s not), it would be better as a one on one chat or email anyway. Q&A puts the power squarely with the loudest, most negative people in the audience. Not having room for questions makes pretty much makes everything better.

After seeing the array of talks I’m very hyped to present my own next year. I missed this year because of an unfortunate misunderstanding of the deadline. I’m all ready to go for 2011 in Sacramento, though!

Next post: hmm, maybe about the poster sessions? Or the food? We’ll see!

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