Blog Archives

Working a Conference

by Jordan Tompkins

Going to the 2014 Society for Applied Anthropology conference in Albuquerque, my main goal was to network. I set the bar high. I planned to attend every panel, discussion, and event humanly possible. I wanted to make a lot of acquaintances, maybe meet some future employers. It was a goal I didn’t accomplish, at least according to my original standards.

I’m one of those people who likes to be over-prepared. I outlined all the panels I planned on going to, starting at 8am every morning and running until 7pm every evening. I never made it to many of those panels. In my excitement, I had forgotten that I am a mere human, someone who needs to eat occasionally and have some down time. After 2 days of intense stress over HOW MUCH I NEEDED TO DO (the capital letters indicate my panic), I realized that my expectations were way too high. After that, I still went to panels, workshops, and other events, but I gave myself plenty of room to breathe.

As for networking, it was harder than I imagined. Talking to people one-on-one is easy for me, but it’s really difficult (and awkward) to walk up to a group of people and give my elevator speech. That’s something I’m still working on…

During the week of the conference, I went to two workshops, one on evaluation and another on text analysis. I highly recommend attending workshops at conferences. That’s where I really met people, people who are interested in some of the same things I am, or who study things that are interesting but have nothing to do with what I want to do.

Outside of workshops, I only met two other people. Both are from Arizona State University, and neither of them study anything remotely interesting to me. But meeting them taught me one of the most important lessons about what it means to network—networking doesn’t mean you have to meet people who do any sort of research or have any sort of interests. It’s more like making friends than it is making professional connections. Or maybe it’s just that making professional connections is more like making friends than I thought.

I was surprised to find that most of the connections I made included me “selling” UMD to undergraduates at the conference. I gave out my email, the email of professors involved in similar research to the undergraduates, and offered to give one person a tour of the anthropology department at UMD. More than making connections for just myself, I realized I was making connections for my department. And it was more fulfilling than just meeting people who would be useful to me.

So my attempt at networking was a failure, at least by the standards I had at the outset. But I did make some friends and I learned a lot through workshops and the panels I attended. I learned more about the students I go to school with every day, and I got to explore Albuquerque. And even if my original expectations didn’t pan out, I learned to be realistic and prioritize when it comes to my time. I also figured out what I need to work on for my next conference or networking event (ehem: elevator speech).

Although I like to be over-prepared for everything, I’m really bad about factoring enough time for myself – if you haven’t already figured that one out! I explored Old Town in Albuquerque when I was avoiding panels. I ate at all kinds of restaurants, the good, the bad, and the downright nasty. I learned that it isn’t as uncomfortable to do things alone as I’d thought it would be…it’s actually kind of nice.

One day one of my cohort members and I took a trip through the desert to the Sandia Sky Tram. That was one of the best parts of the trip, but Rebecca has already given a great description (with pictures!) of it, so I won’t repeat it here. If you ever go to Albuquerque, though, make time for the Sky Tram.

I also made friends, or is that networked, with our hosts. I jokingly tell everyone that Ed (the host) is my new best friend. And he was like my own personal chauffeur, offering to give me rides everywhere. Hanging out with him, and his wife Muriel, was a highlight of my trip.

In short, I learned from my trip to the SfAA conference that networking doesn’t have to be all professional, dressed up in slacks and button ups. It can be more like making friends, if you let it. Additionally, remember to do what you want to do while at a conference. Concentrate on doing things you like. For me, that meant exploring, hanging out with the people I met, and going to workshops; but “fun” looks different for everyone.


Note: Attending panels and workshops or even just going out to dinner with a group – particularly those with folks who are conducting top research in your field is an excellent way to network.  You should introduce yourself and what you do, no matter how difficult this might be for you (the link associated with the image above and here provides some tips on introducing yourself and networking at conferences).  At the minimum you may learn something new from making that contact, and you may even set yourself up for a future collaboration with the individual or someone they know.  Attending panels and workshops can also help you learn what is cutting edge in your field as this is research likely not yet published. But you aren’t required to attend every single event at a conference.  Be strategic. ~J. Shaffer


Capital District Tribute Takes on the 74th Annual SfAAs

by Rebecca Alberda

This past weekend I had the opportunity to attend my very first academic conference – The 74th Annual Society for Applied Anthropology Conference – to be exact. If you didn’t read that in Cesar Flickerman’s voice, then you probably won’t get my humor, consider this your warning. Okay, so we weren’t fighting to the death in the Hunger Games, but it was pretty dang nerve-wracking – also, some anthropologists are pretty in your face about how *their* research is much more legitimate than yours… I’m just saying. In addition to it being my first conference, it was also my first opportunity to present at such a venue. Now, I could tell you all about how my first conference experience went, but really it’s just a boring story about watching anthropologists ignore one another while they frantically finished their power points before their allotted presentation time. And while I had the opportunity to reconnect with undergraduate friends and professors, make new connections, and network, I really just took the time to observe the “native anthropologist” in their “natural habitat,” and I don’t really have the space for an ethnography on that.


Instead, what I would much rather talk about are some glimpses into the experiences I had in Albuquerque, with the people of Albuquerque (ABQ). Anyone who is an anthropologist can chat up a fellow anthropologist (though meeting my anthropological idol had to be the most awkward experience of my life, I guess that’s what I get for cornering him in the gift shop…), but interacting with the locals, taking in the sites – that’s where the real magic happens.

Sandia Peak Tram, Albuquerque, NM

Sandia Peak Tram, Albuquerque, NM


While in ABQ another member of my cohort and I stayed at a Casita owned by a local couple, rather than get a hotel room. It was the best decision we could have possibly made (not to mention much cheaper). Not only was this couple extremely welcoming, there were also extremely engaged with the history (both recent and ancient) of the area, and weren’t afraid to have anthropological discussions with us.  They were both originally from the New England area, so it was fun to have the East Coast transplant perspective on the area as well. If I ever visit ABQ again, I will definitely be staying with them.

Another local that we (my cohort friend and I) encountered was a tram operator. One of the many things to do in the area is to ride the Tram up to Sandia Peak in Cibola National Forest. The views were absolutely breathtaking, and while I have included images, they do not do the area justice. This tram operator told us many stories, including one of a plane that had crashed into the side of the Mountain in 1950 (we saw debris), killing everyone onboard. The FAA blamed the pilot for years, not wanting to take the blame themselves, but after quite an uproar, finally did so five years later. She also told us about tightrope walkers and unicyclists that ride up and tightrope the mountain. When visiting new places, tour guides are really your best source of local knowledge and fun stories.

Vista in Cibola National Forest, NM

Vista in Cibola National Forest, NM

The final local I will mention is one of the owners of a family owned gift shop chain (there are 5 stores in total). After accusing me of being too quiet while browsing, I mentioned that I was looking for a gift for my nephews, and asked how much the suckers with scorpions in them were, saying, “I love them but they are little jerks, so they kind or deserve it.” To this he bent over laughing and said, “Wow, your quite frank, aren’t you?” This had broken the ice and we chatted for quite some time. He told me all about the scorpion farms in CA that breed scorpions strictly for suckers and glass case trinkets, what the weather is like in ABQ, and he even gave be a box of salt water taffy for free (much to his amusement at my disbelief that he would do such a thing). I asked if he liked living in ABQ and he said he did, that he had tried leaving about five times, but somehow he always came back. Chuckling, he said, “They call it the Land of Enchantment, but it’s more like The Land of Entrapment.”

This is a sentiment uttered by almost every local that I spoke with, not really in those words, but they say once the ghosts of the desert whisper to your soul, you can never truly leave. Well, I still hate the desert – I need water and greenery – but there is no denying the beauty and generosity of both the land and the people that make up the landscape of Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Albuquerque, NM - view from Sandia Peak in Cibola National Forest

Albuquerque, NM – view from Sandia Peak in Cibola National Forest