I had my first opportunity to engage an undergraduate laboratory assistant and mentee this year through the University of Michigan's Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program. This awesome program provides first years at Michigan a year of credit and/or work study aid while they assist in ongoing research in one of hundreds of labs. I interviewed Senna Catenacci in September and even during that first meeting, I knew we would have a great year.
Senna learned the ins and outs of debitage analysis, from identifying flakes to ascribing the phase and tool type associated with each flake. Debitage is the term used for pieces of stone removed during the production of stone tools. Senna weighed, measured, and categorized nearly 5,000 pieces of lithic debitage from three late Holocene sites. I had excavated some of this material, but a good deal of the debitage Senna looked at came from collections held at the University of Alaska Museum of the North. These materials were collected through Section 106 cultural resource management compliance excavations and had yet to be categorically assessed. Senna completed hundreds of hours of important, painstaking work that allowed her to document subsistence behaviors via stone tool production at these sites using a combination of statistical and geospatial analyses. She presented her results in April at the UROP spring symposium, and hopes to continue her analysis next year with additional previously excavated collections.
I have learned so much from Senna. Her patience, hard work, and attention to detail were inspiring to me. Her astute questions always provoked new ideas and new conversations about Alaska, archaeology, and human behavior in general. Senna also helped me to become a better mentor and improved my ability to communicate complex archaeological ideas. I hope we can keep working together as I finish my dissertation research and and she pursues her bachelor's degree at Michigan.
I just got back from the annual meeting of the Society of American Archaeology in Washington D.C. It was my second conference of the spring and, like any good conference, it filled me with ideas, allowed me to share my work, and facilitated meetings with old mentors, colleagues, and friends who work around the world. On the plane ride home, I ruminated on all the pieces that came together to make this particular conference so awesome. I've learned a lot since I attended my first SAA conference in Memphis as a self-conscious college senior without my name in the program. Here are my top five takeaways for a successful archaeological networking event:
1. Give a Really, Really Good Presentation
This is pretty obvious, but truly critical to any successful conference: present something and present it well. If you have a poster, be prepared to be on your A game for all two hours and don't be afraid to draw strangers over. Ask them if they want the Spiel! Give them the 60 second version! Answer their questions calmly and completely! You never know who might wander by and may remember your succinct spiel later on down the line. If you have a paper, pick a general but descriptive title that remains true to your research. Practice your presentation so that you don't have to read it and you're confident that you won't go over time. Try to keep the words on your slides to a minimum and make sure they're spelled correctly. Use beautiful pictures and simple figures to draw people in. Refrain from using tables unless absolutely necessary: only people in the front row will be able to see these. Put on your nicest blazer and feel confident! You've done hard work to get here and you're going to knock it out of the park.
2. Bring Your Business Cards
This is mostly for future Bree because I keep forgetting to put my cards in my pocket. Don't be a dummy: bring your cards.
3. Stay at the Conference Hotel
Many students have argued convincingly that this is not imperative, particularly if the hotel is expensive or the student rate rooms are already booked. However, I have found that staying at the conference hotel is worth planning early and/or shelling out a few extra clams (except when the conference venue ≠ conference hotel). This is for one primary reason: an increased likelihood of chance meetings with collaborators present, past and future. I consistently find that my journey back to my room, random elevator rides, and the first morning stop at the hotel coffee cart are all great venues for bumping into other archaeologists. Additionally, this can give you an extra 20-30 minutes before the first 8am session and gives you a shorter commute to rest your feet after standing all day. Or a shorter commute from the hotel bar back to your pillow. Between this peace of mind and the extra opportunities for unexpected meetings, I 100% recommend the conference hotel.
4. Don't Sweat the Papers You Miss
I get it. You got the conference program and put every paper you wanted to see in your calendar three weeks ago. You're sweating with excitement to see Dr. Indiana Jones give her lifetime achievement paper. But on the way, you find out that session is 90 minutes behind and you'll be presenting at the same time! Or you run into your future boss! Or one of the people you listed as a suggested reviewer on your manuscript asks you to get coffee! These opportunities are all equally unmissable and should be treated as such. You can always hear about Dr. Jones' talk from a colleague or read their forthcoming paper. Put down that time turner, Hermione: you can only be in one place at one time.
N.B. I'm not saying it's 100% okay to get sauced at the hotel bar instead of going to papers.
5. Network Responsibly
Archaeologists drink. Some drink a lot. Every year, I hear rumors that we've run the hotel bar out of beer at the SAAs. (Someone should probably consider the impacts of this level of consumption on our discipline.) Personally, I've had countless productive archaeological conversations at bars and I enjoy a celebratory lobby beer after presenting as much as the next guy. But, it's easy to go overboard. Getting black out and stumbling home at 6am makes for a really shitty next day and doesn't typically improve your chances of getting into grad school or securing a job. I've also heard colleagues say things when they're drunk that they would never say sober, for better or worse. Finally, drinking 10+ beers a night quickly becomes very expensive on a grad school or seasonal CRM budget. Consider these factors and make professional choices in the hotel bar.
Bree is an Alaskan Anthropologist pursuing her PhD at the University of Michigan.