An update from your friendly neighborhood Albanian Archaeologist

Well, dear friends. Your friendly neighborhood Albanian archaeologist has gone a bit MIA of late. Why so, you may ask?

Life – more specifically, life in academia. This is more a note to check in than a proper post.  Check-in with who exactly I’m not sure, but if you’re reading this; Hi, I’m letting you know that I will be back soon. With killer content and insight – I hope.

Grad school can take a toll on you, so much so that it envelopes you. There is deadline after deadline. You have to read constantly, you have to publish, you have to attend classes, teach classes, ” do research,” plan research, apply for grants, attend social events, talks, evening lectures, conferences.. the list goes on.  I will be the first to admit, I struggled to keep up with all of this.

On the surface, I weathered my first year of grad school rather well. I got straight A’s in my classes, landed some grants, went to conferences and talked about my research. I even conducted preliminary dissertation research in Albania and Kosovo this summer (a post that is on the drawing boards I assure you).

In my first year, I often felt like I was running as fast as I could but not getting anywhere. As soon as I completed one task, another fell in my lap. You got a grant to fund your summer research? Great. Better start thinking about the next one you’ll apply to. You finished your 20 page research paper? Amazing. Better start the other one you’ve put off until now.

These are the themes that I would like to explore in this platform because I don’t think that I am alone in thinking like this.  The fact that so many graduate students deal with depression, stress, anxiety, and imposter syndrome is a glaring redlight that there is something seriously wrong with the system so many of us idealize. Many of us pursue graduate degrees because we want to further our field, because we want to be creators of knowledge, we want to be academics. But the game has changed, it has become toxic. And we need to have a discussion about this.

I hope you will stick around until then.

Love, peace, and positivity,

Your friendly neighborhood Albanian archaeologist.

Email Etiquette

Email etiquette is one of the most important skills to have in your repertoire as an academic. I know, you’re thinking, really? Emailing? We all know how to email. But you would be surprised.

What inspired this post? I have many friends who are now in the process of searching for an advisor for their Ph.D.’s. And having successfully navigated this treacherous path, many have asked me how I did it, which prompted my previous post “The Grad School Application Process.” However, once you carefully and painstakingly spend hours narrowing your list of programs that you want to study at, with a faculty member with whom you want to work with, comes the “difficult part” – reaching out. This part terrifies people, myself included. While I touched a bit on the do’s and don’t’s of email etiquette in my last post, I feel like this is a topic worth expanding on.

So, a colleague of mine asks how I reached out to professors when I was looking for an advisor. Naturally, she is freaked out about initiating that first point of contact. And rightly so, the first email you send to a potential advisor can set the tone for the rest of your correspondence. This does not mean, however, that you should be incapacitated with fear. Remind yourself that this is a normal part of academia, that professors get emails every day, and it is part of the job description to correspond with potential new students. Returning to my little story – I said I would send her a template of the email I would set out. Into the rabbit hole of my bachelor email inbox I go to find these early emails I sent when I was looking for masters programs. The results were not pretty my friends.

Now you’re thinking: “Ok, so you had terrible email etiquette, and now you’re going to tell us how to write proper emails?” My answer? Hells, yea. Why? Because nothing teaches you like mistakes, and better yet, if I can share my mistakes with you, then that makes messing up the first time that much more worth it since it was a learning experience for all. Shall we dive in?

Let me set the scene for you real quick. A 21-year-old AA is eager to pursue a career in archaeology, and she realizes early on that a bachelors degree on its own won’t cut it. So, she begins searching for masters programs. This is a difficult process in itself, it becomes even more so when your research is so niche, like mine. I began by searching for archaeologists who worked in Albania; I found 3. Excited beyond words, I drafted some emails and sent them off. At the moment I was very proud of myself, I had reached out, I was taking baby steps to making my dreams come true. And honestly, I still am proud of 21-year-old me. But there are some things that I would advise her on, because, let me tell you, re-reading some of those emails made me cringe.

 

Spelling and Grammer

I cannot stress how important this is. This is the first time someone is “meeting you.” What’s more, this might be the first impression you make on a potential advisor. Don’t blow it with typos and poor grammar. Did I do this by the way? Oh yea, multiple times, I even spelled last names wrong. That is probably one of the worst things you can do. Luckily, I wasn’t emailing that professor whose name I spelled wrong, but mentioning that I was considering reaching out to them. Of course, because archaeology is a small world, the professor was corresponding knew the professor I was referring to, and corrected me on my spelling. Woops. Clearly, this is a really big weakness for myself, so what are some tips to avoid such blunders.

  1. Slow down: take your time writing your email, there’s no fire. Check yourself as you are writing each sentence. Fix typos and errors as you see them (not at the very end).
  2. Read your email out loud: this is golden, but many people don’t do this anymore. This doesn’t just apply to emails, this applies to all things written. Assignments papers, responses, text messages… if you’re not sure, read it out loud.
  3. Have someone else look over your email: another golden rule. Our brains are notorious for correcting what we see. So when we have looked at something for a long time, we no longer pick up on typos or errors because our brain automatically corrects them for us.
  4. Print it out: if you don’t have a friend to send your draft to, print it out. I used to do this all the time with essays when I felt like I could not look at a screen any longer. For some reason, editing with paper in hand made me pick up on mistakes that I could not on the screen.
  5. Use a spellchecker/grammar software: there are lots of options available online where you can copy and paste your text to be checked. I use Grammarly for everything, from emails to essays (to my thesis).

 

Timing

This was not a major problem for myself, but I have noticed it in other people. Some people are terrible with emails, they are impossible to get a hold of, they don’t respond, and when they do it’s at 2 am in the morning. My rule of thumb is, as a student, you need to be on your A-Game when it comes to email correspondence with faculty members. This means you respond to emails within a 24 hour period and you email/respond at reasonable times ( I try to stick to Monday-Friday 9-5). Now, of course, certain situations call for exceptions, and if you have already established contact with your faculty member, if you already know them, if the email requires a quick response, then you can judge the situation as you see fit. But in my opinion, you cannot go wrong when you maintain those two rules. This, however, means that you are also checking your email frequently enough so that you don’t miss important emails. A lesson the young AA learned the hard way. I used to be terrible at checking my email until I almost missed an important deadline once. Since then, I check my email constantly. Maybe you don’t want to get my level of obsessive, but you should find a consistency that works for you while ensuring you don’t miss anything important.

 

Content

Aside from your email having impeccable spelling and grammar, you also need to have good content. Especially if this is your first time reaching out to someone you want to work with. My advice here would be to keep it simple and keep it concise for the first email. If they want to know more, they will ask. Introduce yourself briefly, tell them about your research interests and relate how it relates to theirs. A good way to start the email is to simply say ” I am looking for programs to pursue my graduate studies, X stands out to me as a wonderful fit.” If you have an advisor at your current university, lead with that. This can help open doors. Anytime I send an email to someone who I want to work with, I lead with:  “My name is X, I am at the University of X, my graduate advisor is X.” After talking briefly about your research, relate it to theirs. ” I recently read your paper on X…” ‘I noticed that your work is X…” I found an old email I sent to a graduate advisor when I was looking for Ph.D. programs ( 1 year ago, let me remind you) and I just about gasped from embarrassment). It was terrible! It was so long, it had terrible structure and although I did not mean it tom it came off as slightly presumptuous. Which relates to the next topic.

 

Courtesy

Related to content is courtesy. This is arguably one of the most important aspects of email etiquette, and can sometimes make or break a correspondence. If the faculty member you are emailing thinks you are rude or entitled, then why would they want to work with you? Remember that email is a professional mode of communication, hence is it really important that you keep a professional tone. This is really important when you are corresponding back and forth over multiple emails. Of course,  you should sense the tone of the conversation, and you may not have to sign off with Sincerely “your full name here” by email number five. But remember, use full sentences, keep it formal and as always, stay humble. Not everyone you will reach out to is going to respond or be interested in working with you – that’s show biz baby.

If you don’t get a response, I would suggest following up, very politely two weeks after. If you get a  response, and it’s a “no,” you still should respond, thank them for their time and wish them all the best. Remember that academia is a small world. Now, this may be an unpopular opinion, but I’m going to go ahead and say it. Academia is inherently hierarchical, I acknowledge that there are severe problems in our discipline, but at the very macro-level, a difference exists between you, the student, and your advisor. This might be a topic for another post about how the mentor-mentee relationship works. But, the way I see it, is this is a hierarchical, professional relationship. Your potential advisor is not meant to be your friend, they are meant to be academic guides if you will. They are experts in their field (with years of experience), treat them as such. So, in your correspondence with potential advisors; stay humble, stay polite and above all do not appear entitled (no one owes you anything – No one has to work with you). By no means should you sell yourself short, just acknowledge that as a young individual in your field, there is much that you don’t know, and that is fine. Cest la vie, you have a career ahead of you to learn. Seven years into school and the only thing that I know for sure is that I have barely scratched the surface of what I need to know.

 

And there you have it, folks. Some simple things to keep in mind to keep your email game on point. Think of how you would put yourself together if you were going for an interview. You would put on your most professional outfit, you would fix your hair, maybe put some makeup on if that’s your thing, you would show up on time, you would have the appropriate material with you. All the same applies to first contact emails when searching for a faculty advisor (or collaborator etc.): put your best academic face forward.

All this said, remember to be yourself, and take that leap of faith. These words of advice are not meant to be all-encompassing or “the law.” Just some helpful suggestions from someone who has sat in your place not too long ago. And hey, I’m still learning too. I’m also learning that you never stop learning. But now I’m getting metaphysical and philosophical. I also have an assignment I need to finish (yes we still have those in grad school), so its time to wrap this up.

You got this kid, now go forth and email.

 

Thoughts at the airline gate – WIFI withdrawal and phone dependency

I wrote this post two months ago while waiting for my airplane to go to Albania. In the midst of working and travelling it somehow got lost in the depths of my tablet. However, having now returned home and recovered from my jetlag, the post has resurfaced. Without further ado; the musings of an Albanian archaeologist at an airline gate.

I’m sitting somewhere in Atatürk airport, awaiting my gate assignment.  In all honesty, I’m still groggy from sleeping on the plane 8+ hours.  I wasn’t planning on writing anything today – I had given myself the day off, but then an idea hit. As I was sitting there, thinking about nothing in particular, a guy, maybe in his late 40’s early 50’s asked me if there was WIFI here.

Good question I thought, I don’t see why not. All airports offer some sort of WIFI. So I open up my phone and showed him that there was a WIFI and that you had to sign in through the browser etc. It wasn’t working for him for some reason. Now I was determined. So I tried to get it to work on my phone. I was actually surprised that the WIFI here is not actually free. You had to put in your number, get a code, put in that code, then you get your free two hours of WIFI. This is slightly problematic if you’are with a plan back home that charges insane fees for roaming. So, there’s no WIFI for me today.. and that got me thinking.

It is sort of funny that it was almost inconceivable that there would be no WIFI available. WIFI has become a basic right. When you don’t have access to WIFI or a cellular network at least, you instantly feel disconnected. At least I have in the past. When I would go back and forth between Starkville and Toronto, I wouldn’t have a phone number in Toronto. So the second I stepped out of the house, I was unreachable. That used to terrify me to no end.

“What if have to make a phone call?”

“What if I got lost?”

“What if I needed to look something up?”

Or worse – “What if got board and couldn’t scroll mindlessly through Instagram.” Quelle vie!

If I, a 24-year-old, 90’s baby, went through WIFI withdrawal, how must it be for the generation that was raised with smartphones and tablets in their hands? The generation that is chronically diagnosed with ADHD, that doesn’t know what its like to play outside all day?

I’m not trying to blame technology or the internet, I love both, but sometimes I wonder how deep the effects of such a dependency on these things have on us. I’ve spent a lot of time in airport gates lately, the scene is always the same: almost everyone is on some sort of device, a smartphone, a tablet – plugged in. There are people camped out by plugs to charge their ever-draining batteries. I myself am no exception. Not only am I typing away on my tablet, I’m listening to music on my phone as well (Nothing Else Matters – Metallica).

I often wonder how this dependency on technology has affected human behavior. Overall, I think technology has drawn us into ourselves and made us terribly inpatient.

“But it can connect us to people around the world!” You may argue.

True, very true, but while you’re talking to someone across the world, who are you not interacting with that is right in front of you? People go to bars and cafes with friends and spend most of the time messaging other people.. that seems so ironic. My friends and I have recently made a conscious effort to keep phones away when we are hanging out, especially when we are having dinner or grabbing a coffee. What a difference it makes. How nice it is to have fully engaged conversations with no distractions. With no absent-minded “huh” or “yea..”

We have become so content to plug into our phone that we can be in a room with others and talk to no one. It has become such an epidemic that talking to people is perceived as weird and only done in the rare instance that the WIFI is not working or cannot be found. It’s strange, its almost as if we are scared to talk to each other. The man who asked me about the WIFI sounded so uncomfortable like he was pushing himself to ask me.  Last time I was coming home from Starkville, I was sitting next to this woman. And she asked me if she could use my phone to call her brother because she couldn’t sign into the WIFI. I am not proud to say that my first reaction was to tell her I was uncomfortable with giving her my phone. And then it hit me, the irony of it all! I consider myself a culturally relative ANTHROPOLOGIST, above all, a decent human being. So why could I not lend this woman my phone ?! So I apologized and offered her my phone.

I am not saying the answer to this WIFI dependency syndrome is to oblige every stranger that decides to talk to us. But maybe it would do us all a little good to unplug every now and then and interact with those around us. Put away your phone for a few hours when you’re at home and spend some time with those around you. Ask them how their day went, what is on their mind, what their favorite song is at the moment (if you’re wondering, mine is Brother’s in Arms by Dire Straits). It might do humanity a little bit of good if we relearn how to interact with each other. After all, we are social beings, and the ability to effectively interact with others was a key trait in our evolutionary path.

 

 

 

 

How to “Thesis”

books.jpgYour coursework is done, you are now a seasoned graduate student, it is time to begin the ever-daunting thesis writing process.

Regardless of your school or department, most programs have a thesis writing component. I don’t know if this is the case for everyone, but the thought of churning out 100+ pages of academic writing terrified me to no end. Yet, I somehow managed to do it, and successfully at that.

“Thesising” as we began to call it in my department, is not easy, but it shouldn’t be terrifying either. It is just another process you have to go through if you want a career in academia. If you break it down, a thesis is essentially a really big essay. At this point, you should be an expert at writing essays, so what’s one more?

Hindsight is 20/20, looking back on my thesis journey there are many things I would do differently. Not to be too harsh on myself as there are things that I did right as well.  As I toiled through my thesis I started creating a little list in my head of tips and tricks that just might be handy for someone who is about to begin the ever daunting thesis writing process.

 

  • Know what you want to research and get approval from your supervisor

What helped me out immensely was that I knew what I wanted to base my thesis research on before I even applied to Mississippi State. Knowing what you want to study works in your favor since you can gear your classes to help your research (more on this below). However, it is important that you obtain approval from your thesis supervisor if you are coming in with a research question already determined. Your thesis research in not only a reflection of your work but is tied to your university and your committee as well. Your superior will be able to tell you if your research is feasible and ethical. While I came in with a research question in mind, my research design and many important parameters were decided in agreement with my supervisor. However, I’ve noticed that many people do not have a hard and ready research question coming into a graduate program. Most of my peers had general research interests, but not set question. If you do not have an idea question that drives you, the best thing you can do is take on a research question that is pertinent to your supervisor’s research. Chances are your supervisor’s research interests are similar to yours, either theoretically, geographically or methodologically. Additionally, they would be able to provide you with access to the required data more readily, as opposed to trying to secure data from elsewhere.

 

  • Know your topic – Do your background research

You do not need to be an expert, but you do need to know what you’re talking about. When I began my thesis, I knew very little about Albanian archaeology, other than I wanted to study it. I grew up in Canada, so Albanian prehistory was not a high priority in the Ontario Public School Curriculum. However, I was lucky enough to take a Directed Individual Study (DIS) in the second semester of my first year which allowed me to familiarize myself with my topic. I created a list of readings which covered Albanian archaeology, the history of archaeology in Albania, archaeological theory, GIS and GIS in archaeology, which my thesis supervisor amended and approved. I would read my weekly readings, take notes and meet with my supervisor once a week to discuss them. This kills two birds with one stone as it allows you to familiarize yourself on your topic all the while doing the background readings for your thesis proposal. Since a DIS is a class, you will need a way to be evaluated – in my case, I wrote my thesis proposal as my evaluation. This was helpful in moving along my progress in the program as it gave me a hard and fast deadline which I had to adhere to, of course I added significantly to my reading list over time, but this is a good stepping stone to get you started and build up a base of knowledge. As I made my way through my original list, I found more articles by looking through works cited pages. As my proposal came together, I noticed gaps or ideas that I wanted to explore more, which prompted me to consider other resources or articles that I had not considered previously. Additionally, as my knowledge on the topic grew, I was able to search more successfully for new resources since I had a better idea of what keywords to look for. Also, worth keeping in mind is that the research portion of your thesis does not end with your thesis proposal or your literature review. I was constantly reading new articles and expanding my works cited – I found some of my strongest articles 3 weeks before I defended! Never stop reading, never stop writing, and the more you read, the better your research becomes.

 

  • Do not try to reinvent the wheel

Consider why your program requires a thesis in the first place. In my department, they encouraged us to cap our thesis at about 100 pages, excluding graphics and appendices. As a master’s student, you are not supposed to reinvent the wheel. What you are required to do is demonstrate that you have the capability to organize and carry out research, and interpret the results within a theoretical framework.  This means that you should keep your reach question as simple and your research design as straightforward as possible. Take it from someone that had 13 hypotheses and sub-hypothesis – Simplicity is your friend! If you can prove or disprove something with two hypotheses and two sub-hypotheses. DO IT. Keep your research question simple and above all feasible! While it may be very interesting to do DNA analysis on human remains from a Pueblo site, for example, chances are you will not be allowed to do so. When coming up with a research question keep in mind access to data and time and money restrictions. Is your data overseas? Can you access it? How will get access to it?  Are you allowed to publish on it? What about your methods – are they destructive? Do they take a long time? Are they expensive? Do you have access to certain tools and instruments you will need? It took me 5 months to collect and work with my data, and I was working with secondary sources and open data that could be accessed online.

 

  • Use your coursework to help you

I wrote my thesis while taking classes. This can be difficult at times, but what helped me make progress in both my classes and thesis, is that I would use my coursework to aide my thesis research. You have to write a paper for you GIS class, great – write it on the history of GIS in Albanian archaeology. Need to analyze data for your stats class? Great, use your thesis data! I tied my thesis research to every class I had to take, even Middle Eastern Cultures (I wrote a great paper on interconnectivity in the Mediterranean and world systems theory – the main theoretical framework I used in my thesis – WIN!). By the time I finished my coursework, I had written papers on the history of Albanian archaeology, world systems theory and interconnectivity, GIS application in archaeology and Albania and done multiple projects using my thesis data for both my GIS and my stats classes. Using your data for classes is so useful as it allows you to really get to know your data, and facility with your data is key!

 

  • Deadlines and progress

I remember being in my first semester of classes and thinking about my thesis as if it was some monster. It was overwhelming, how does one get to a polished, bound, approved thesis in just two years. The answer, dear friends is to break it up into manageable chunks. This is how I broke down my thesis:

  1. Background reading
  2. Thesis proposal – Literature Review, Methods and Materials
  3. Collect data
  4. Analyze data
  5. Interpret data
  6. Write results
  7. Conclusions, limitations

I gave myself deadlines to adhere to for each part outlined above. They were not set in stone, and they were sometimes unrealistic, but they helped keep me on track. My deadlines were often super early, so even if I missed them, I would still be on track. I am a very visual person, so once I had an approved thesis proposal I create this board for myself. I know, sounds lame, but I swear to you this thing kept me from going crazy.  I went to Walmart, got a cork board, some push pins and cue cards and sat down on the floor of my room one September day and planned out my thesis writing process. At the very center of my board when my thesis statement. This was not an original idea. I remember from my professionalization class, Dr. Zuckerman telling us to write down our thesis statement and to put it over where we will be writing. Having your thesis statement direct over your head as you are writing is a great way to keep yourself on topic, and helps keep your writing concise and to the point. The next for que-cards around these statements consisted of important information that is pertinent to your research. I had the descriptions of my categories up; my time periods, site designations etc. Finally, were the posts with deadlines and progress.  I gave myself hard and soft deadlines and made note of things that I had completed. The latter was helpful for morale – even through my to-do list was very growing, seeing the completed list grow as well always made me feel a little better. The most important deadlines, however, where the department and program deadlines. Write these in BOLD RED. Know them, live them, have them memorized. Do NOT miss these deadlines.

 

  • Don’t take it personally

One thing that I quickly learned is that when you have a complete and approved thesis proposal, 1/3 of your thesis is done! Your proposal consists of a problem statement, a literature review, methods and materials, those are the first few chapters of your thesis. Of course, you will have to add and edit certain parts, but a big chunk of your thesis is ready. Once you have a first draft you really are past the hard part. Now all you have to do is go through the rounds of edits with your supervisor and committee. There are some things to keep in mind during this part of the process. First, draft one will never be perfect, so get ready to edit a ton. And two, thesis edits are not to be taken personally, they are meant to make your work stronger, so if you committee suggests you change or add something, my advice would be to do it. I added entire sanctions to my thesis to meet the requirements of my committee and I am so glad that I did because now I think I have better and stronger thesis.

 

  • Love yourself

This became my motto and words of advice during my last semester. I finished my program in two years but it is designed to be three. Most people take courses for two years and then write in their third. I, however, had classes, TA’d, volunteered and wrote and defined my thesis in one semester. And while I did it, I sometimes think my mental and physical health suffered for it. Of course, there have been people before me who have done the same, and there will be many people after me who will successfully defend in two years. This is something that is determined between each individual and their committee. But my advice to everyone who asked me if they should do it in two years is to think about why they want to finish in two years. Do you have a job lined up?  Do you have another program to start? Do you have family or someone waiting on you back home? Does your supervisor think that you can successfully complete the program in two years? If the answer is yes, and you yourself want to finish the program in two years, then do it. I know you can. Otherwise, love yourself more, and work at the pace that you’re comfortable with. Remember, it is not a race and you are not competing with anyone, the impotent thing is that you do good research. Also remember that it is ok to take breaks, to cut yourself some slack and to love yourself. Believe it or not, it will get done, it always does.

 

  • You are not alone

Cheesy as this sounds, you need to remember that you are not alone. You have an entire department behind you. Your supervisor and committee have a vested interest in you succeeding, after all, your success reflects positively on them. I cannot count the number of times I had to go to my supervisor for help when I was stuck on a method, when my data would not process or when my stats were wonky. And every time, my supervisor sat down with me, walked through the problems with me and helped me come to a solution. We ended up changing major parts of my thesis by the end of it, and my thesis is only the stronger because of it.  Aside from your committee and your supervisor you also have your peers. There were countless times when I would sit up and talk theory or methods with my colleagues. What I loved most about my department is how much we care about and help each other. One person’s success is all of our success. My colleges and I would help each other find resources, edits drafts of our work, and even just be there for moral support. I remember I was so stressed one time that my roommate went out and brought me a little “happy” bag filled with my favorite chocolates and kombucha and a fuzzy blanket. Some of my best memories are of paint nights in with my friends to celebrate finishing a chapter or getting back thesis edits.

Now take this with a grain of salt, I am not a professional and this little list is not meant to be exhaustive. But the point is, writing a thesis does not have to be a terrifying task. If you come at it with a clear and simple research question, break it up in manageable parts, and chip away at it consonantly, you can get it done. After all, it’s just another essay, and you’ve written hundreds of essays by now.

The Art of the Conference

The 119th Annual Archaeological Institute of America conference was held in Boston Massachusetts this year. Seems I am making my way through all the states that start with an “M.” Next stop, Missouri? Yours truly almost didn’t make it to Boston because of the massive winter storm that hit the Eastern Seaboard on the 4th. Boston was shut down, every flight into the city was canceled. I managed to get an 8 o’clock flight the next day that would get me in Boston before 10 am. The poster session which I was participating in began at 11 am. To make matters little more interesting, the guy sitting across the aisle from me realized that he did not have his phone AFTER the cabin door was shut. We landed at Logan International Airport slightly after 10 am, late, of course. By some miracle, I made it to the conference hotel by 11 am and was able to have my poster up only 15 minutes late, I patted myself on the back – “way to go E.” This was not the first time that I had attended the AIA’s. But this was an especially exciting conference for the Albanian Archaeologist because it was the first time that I was presenting, rather than just attending – a big step forward in my opinion. I’ve noticed that every time I attend a conference there is a certain theme that pops up each year, last year it was drones and 3D modeling of sites. This year it was “the long duree.” I found this to be quite fortuitous because my own thesis research encompasses quite an extensive time period, from 1100 BC to 395 AD. So, I guess you could say that my research was “en vogue” this year.

I stood proudly by my poster, in the very rumpled clothes I had traveled in. It didn’t matter anymore, I was there, and my poster was up. And within minutes of setting up, I had my first observer come up. Not only did he like my poster but he was specifically keeping an eye out for it after reading about it in the program! The content of my poster focused on the preliminary results of my thesis research, which of course is focused on Albanian prehistory. I am looking at the settlement patterns in Albania from the Iron Age, through Greek colonization and Roman integration. Essentially looking to see if there is a change in the settlement pattern between the three periods and if so, what is the nature of the change. My preliminary results show that through time the amount of clustering of sites increases, and the location of these clusters changes. The biggest change is in the clustering from the north to the south for the prehistoric period to the Greek and Roman periods. Also of note is the presence of a linear cluster along the Via Egnatia during the Roman period. I’ll explore these patterns more in my thesis – dropping May 2018 so stay tuned folks.

Conferences are an interesting thing. For the seasoned experts, they are like a big reunion. They are fun, a way to reconnect with old colleagues and present their latest findings.  For a newcomer like myself, they can be a bit daunting. Think “little fish, big pond”. Yet, no matter how daunting they can be, I urge every newcomer, myself included, to swallow their fear and take the plunge. The more you go, the more comfortable you become, and the more opportunities you open up for yourself. Conferences are a great way to stay up to date with what is going on in your field. What methods people are using, what discoveries they have made and what conclusions these new methods and discoveries lead too. They are also a good way to network and meet new people. This is especially important if you want to make a career for yourself in academia. You can meet professors who teach at the universities you might apply to, maybe even your future PhD advisor. Or meet the directors of projects you might want to attend. They are a great way to put faces to the countless papers you read in classes, and an even better way of putting a face on your future PhD application.

While I am by no means a conference wiz, in fact, I am quite the opposite. I have come up with a set of guidelines for myself as I navigate the art conferencing which might also be useful to anyone else new to the process.

  1. Start small – if you, like myself, are a bit on the socially awkward, shy, side when it comes to these things, don’t leap head first into a big (and expensive) conference that is far far away. Instead, go to a local conference for a day. Walk around, listen to some talks, and try to ask at least one question or introduce yourself to one person.
  2. Apply for funding – everywhere! Exhaust all of your resources. There are a wealth of grants, scholarships, and funding opportunities out there, so apply to all that you can. Start within your department, and then branch out. Don’t forget to see if the conference you’re attending offers funding too! Boston cost me about $200 out of pocket. The combined funding, I received from four different sources almost entirely covered plane tickets, ground travel, food, and hotel costs. It’s possible friends. Of course, this doesn’t mean you can spend lavishly, but if you budget and plan, its possible friends.
  3. Get involved – by this I mean, make your way into the program. Now, this doesn’t mean you have to get up there and present a paper, but presenting something is a good way to network. I suggest starting small in this case as well. Maybe present a poster the first time, do a lighting session presentation the next time and then a paper presentation, whatever you are comfortable with. Personally, my next step is to participate in a lightning session round. Five minutes to talk about settlement patterns in Albania to a room of strangers? Sign me up. Talking in front of people has always been a fear of mine. But like all things, you get better and more comfortable with the experience. So, put yourself out there. Remember they are people too.
  4. Volunteer – this is a really good way to meet people and network. I find it is easier to interact with people when I have a job to do. if it is my job to greet and check people in, then I do it, surprisingly well actually.
  5. Always double check your poster before you print it – always. Ask your supervisors, your colleagues, your sister, why not, even ask Nona to look at it? Everyone. The more eyes you have on your poster before it goes to print, the lower the chance of having some embarrassing typo. Your poster is your way of presenting yourself, how terrible would it be if you have a typo in your title? With this said, we are human, we make mistakes. So, if there is a mistake in your poster, accept it, don’t let it defeat you. Now you know for next time. And if you’re wondering….yes there was a mistake on my poster. Let’s not talk about it.
  6. Consider traveling with friends or colleagues- if you know someone who will be attending, contact them to meet up for a coffee and catch up. Travelling with people can not only help cut down costs ( such as splitting hotel fare) but makes the whole process more fun. you have people to go to talks with, to grab dinner or explore with. if you. Of course, you don’t need to, especially if you’re comfortable doing things alone. I have become especially good at going to conferences by myself, and don’t get me started on my eating alone skills – expert.
  7. Introduce yourself – if you see someone who you want to meet or whose work you admire, go, and introduce yourself. What’s the worse that could happen? They could half-heartedly shake your hand and walk away? That’s not so bad. This doesn’t mean you should just march right on up at any time, however. Bathroom? Yea, not a good place to say “hi”. Look for an appropriate moment. One of my profs told us once that the book room is the best place to introduce yourself as often people that are there are killing time. At the AIA’s I met one of my former professor from the University of Toronto. Not only was it pleasant to say hello, but I found out about a new program that is launching at the university that would be perfect for my PhD. An opportunity that I would not have known if I had not gone up and said hello.
  8. Dress appropriately, for you – this doesn’t mean full formal attire and perfectly ironed lapels. We are archaeologists. I think the important thing here is to find a nice balance between what you are comfortable in and what you think “appropriate” is. My opinion on attire has changed a lot over time. I used to think only a certain type of dress was appropriate for a conference, but then I found myself thinking one day, who decided this? The more I thought about it, the more it seemed that the rules of what to wear and what not to wear pertained mostly to women. Interesting, no? Many of my male colleagues could show up in jeans and an (un-ironed) button down and still be considered professional. But the same does not apply to women. You can’t show too much skin, you cant wear something too tight, because that is inappropriate. You can’t show up too relaxed either because then it seems like you just don’t care. Without knowing, my own opinions were influenced by patriarchal thought (that’s how deep the patriarchy runs). I even remember judging a woman once because she came to a conference in blue velvet thigh high boots. Not my proudest moment. But I remember being horrified. I remember the people in the room giving her glances. Now I ask myself why? Internalized misogyny maybe? If she felt comfortable in those boots, who am I, or anyone else for that matter to tell her that they are not appropriate? So, I guess this point is more for my ladies (or all female identifying individuals). Wear what you are comfortable in, and what makes you feel the most confident. If it is blue velvet boots, then you rock them! You are an adult and can decide what is appropriate for you and we need to stop letting these unsaid rules (created by a patriarchal society) dictate what we can and cannot wear, and what is and is not acceptable.
  9. Have fun – all this aside, remember that this is supposed to be a positive experience. So, enjoy yourself. And if you are in a new city or country, do some sightseeing! After the last set of talks, yours truly put on five layers and went out to explore Boston. First stop – get some clam chowder. When in Boston, right? Next,  I wandered around a bit and looked at pretty buildings until my fingers started tingling from the cold. I spent the afternoon at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, which is really easily accessible via the public transport (a one-way bus ticket only cost $2 by the way). If you’re a student, the museum gives you a (slight) discount and you can go back within 10 days for a second free visit. I’ve been to a few museums in my time, but this was my first time alone, and honestly, it was one of the best times I’ve ever had in a museum. I put my phone away and made my way through the exhibits. Three hours of just me and the art. It was sort of funny to see the crowds of people shuffle from painting to painting, or exhibit to exhibit, barely even looking at the masterpieces in front of them, snapping a picture and moving on. This seems slightly ridiculous to me. I think we have forgotten to be in the moment. A beautiful painting can take you to another world. In the three hours that I wandered around, I went to docks in France, the English countryside, the scenes from the great classical writers, old kingdom Egypt the Cyclades, Rome, Papua New Guinea, even Monet’s backyard. I swear sometimes I could see the scenes moving, hair fluttering in the wind, eyes smiling, waves rippling. I did end up taking some pictures, I made a second round through the exhibits and took a picture of the paint its that really captivated me. My favorite hands down was this blue-grey painting by Monet of ships at dock. Breathtaking.

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Good luck to all the novices going to conferences this year, knock ‘em dead! And if you’re wondering about the guy and his phone, he decided he would not stall the plane. His good karma paid off as it turned out the phone had fallen between the seats behind him. Guess it was a happy ending for everyone.