Adopt these strategies when attending the OI 25th annual conference next week (June 13-15) at the University of Pittsburgh and remember to join us on Twitter at #OIAnnual2019.
by Carl Keyes (Assumption College)
Are you attending your first Omohundro Institute conference and want to get the most out of it? Here are some strategies for going to conferences that I have devised over the years. I’m sharing them in hopes that they will help others to create their own best possible experiences at the OI conference and other professional gatherings.
Review the conference program in advance. Plan a schedule (but don’t be afraid to deviate from it). I like to get an overview of the entire conference and identify potential themes beyond the main theme established in the call for papers. This helps me to choose sessions that will build on each other. I also like to categorize the sessions and attend at least one from each category that matters to me. At this stage of my career, I have four categories: sessions immediately relevant to my own area of specialization, sessions on topics that will enhance my teaching, sessions far from my specialization that will give me a better sense of the vastness of Early American Studies, and sessions that contribute to professional development. Some of these categories might fit your needs, but you probably have others that are important as well. Download the OI’s free app. Use it to plan your schedule once you have selected which sessions you wish to attend.
Use social media effectively. It might seem counterintuitive to spend time online participating in a conference when you are actually at the conference, but social media, especially Twitter, can be a very helpful tool. Twitterstorians, as historians on Twitter are known, have forged a vibrant community in recent years, simultaneously enhancing their own scholarship and forming relationships with colleagues at various stages of their careers.
Can’t decide which session to attend? Once you’ve made your choice, there’s a good chance that someone attending that other session will live tweet it, allowing you to follow along at your convenience and continue the discussion after the session or the conference has ended. Live tweeting is not a skill that I have developed, but I am constantly impressed by those who do it well. You might be amazed by how much you get out of live-tweeted session when you weren’t even in the room.
Establishing a presence on Twitter can also help cultivate interactions at a conference. You might wish to start by following the hashtag for this year’s conference (#OIAnnual2019) as well as the OI’s Twitter account (@OIEAHC). This will introduce you to other scholars participating in the conference. Once you follow them, don’t be shy about introducing yourself when you see a familiar face at a session, a reception, or almost anywhere else at the conference. Following along on Twitter always helps me to expand the roster of twitterstorians I follow, which is great during the conference but even more rewarding as I continue to encounter their contributions to discussions about research, teaching, and other aspects of the profession long after the conference has ended. (Shameless plug: my Twitter handle is @TradeCardCarl. Follow me and let me know that you’re at the conference and I’ll follow you in return.)
Meet other historians. As an introvert, I understand how difficult it can be to meet others at conferences, especially when so many people already seem to know each other. In addition to introducing yourself to fellow twitterstorians, take advantage of the meet ups, an initiative that OI inaugurated last year. This year the conference will feature four themed meet ups at area bars on Thursday afternoon: Disability Studies, the Georgian Papers Programme, Material Culture, and Native American Studies. These informal gatherings draw together people with similar interests. Plus, each has a host who initiates conversations, facilitates introductions, and makes sure that everyone is included. This is a great way to meet others and begin new friendships near the beginning of the conference. Feel free to come and go at each meet up. Arrive late. Leave early. Go to one and then check out another. You’re not obligated to choose just one and stay for the entire time that the host and others continue the conversation.
Dress comfortably. Throughout the conference you’ll spot examples from various points along the sartorial spectrum. I usually opt for business casual, but upgrade to jacket and tie when I’m making a presentation. That being said, a nice pair of jeans wouldn’t be out of place (and you’re bound to see senior scholars exercising the privilege of dressing down rather than up). Choose clothing that fits your budget. Also, dress according to your own personality, as long as doing so also conforms to what you wish to communicate about your professional identity.
Attend as many or as few of the sessions and other events as you wish. I put this in the category of practicing self-care. We all have different needs. As an introvert, I sometimes need to step away from everything that is happening at a conference in order to refocus and recharge before becoming overwhelmed. You know your own limits, expectations, and what you hope to get out of a conference better than anyone, so take the necessary steps to make sure that you are meeting your own needs. You don’t owe anyone any explanations about why you’re choosing, for example, to take a walk rather than rush to that next session.
Look for guidance from others. This is a quick overview of strategies that work for me. Lindsay M. Chervinsky, fellow historian of vast early America, has recently created a free e-book, “Conferencing: A How-To Guide for Academics,” especially intended for junior colleagues attending their first conference. You can sign up for the link here: https://mailchi.mp/86ef56a092c9/conferenceguide.
All set? I hope that these strategies and suggestions help you navigate the 2019 OI conference and other professional gatherings. I’m looking forward to seeing you in Pittsburgh!