The SHA Conference in Leicester, England, was the experience of a lifetime! The idea of attending such an event as an undergraduate was exciting, but a bit intimidating. The reality of my experience was that the SHA is a community that truly welcomed students and provided arenas for us to network with archaeologists who have similar research interests and learn about current issues, ongoing research, and new technologies. Immediately after arriving at the University of Leicester for the conference I met two senior archaeologists with distinct research interests. They were welcoming and sincere in their interest in who I was and what I was interested in. Only in the conference setting can you have the opportunity to meet so many professionals from around the world who are doing archaeology! Within a few minutes of my arrival at the conference I felt more like I was among peers than a lowly undergraduate and I commend the members of the SHA for this.
The presentations given at the conference covered a wide variety of topics. I enjoyed the breadth of topics as well as papers on sites close to home, which fit my own interests in colonialism, mining, and military history. I attended presentations on experimental archaeology in the re-creation of canons, talks on unfamiliar locations like Saint Eustatius in the Caribbean, fascinating underwater sites, Shakespearian theatre settings, and the presentation on vaginal douching in the late 19th and early 20th centuries by the student paper prize winner, Ashley Morton. There was certainly a topic to interest everyone!
The Conference presented opportunities to learn about contemporary issues for students in the field of historical archaeology. Thursday morning I attended a panel specifically for students, titled: Navigating the Field: Education and Employment in a Changing Job Market. The discussion was sobering at times, and I left a little discouraged, but after ruminating over the discussion, I found it to be very useful. The current job market is difficult, but I learned the importance of learning necessary job skills and the importance of making the most of your opportunities.
Another highlight of my conference experience was a symposium, titled: Reconsidering Archaeologies of Creativity, which was chaired by Dr. Scarlett. The discussant following the session was Dr. Krysta Ryzewski, of Wayne State University. The discussion format was unique and captivating because Dr. Ryzewski instead of presenting a paper synthesizing the work presented in the symposium she hosted a dialogue between her and the presenters that was excellent, and enlightening.
During the course of the conference I had many productive conversations. Some conversations resulted in possible opportunities for future work. One discussion focused on a potential summer field project. Just one example of the opportunities that came from my conference attendance, this highlights one of the most important reasons for a student to attend a conference… networking!
The benefits of attending extended beyond my time in Leicester. In reviewing my notes from the conference, I found several notations referring to different archaeological theories. Seeing the use of theory in presentations and experiencing the ensuing discussions sparked a fascination with archaeological theory, which was something I had only a rudimentary understanding of beforehand. I now find myself using every spare minute to study different theoretical subjects.
I strongly recommend that any student attending a conference attend as many student events as possible. I personally wish that I had attended more than I did. The people that you meet at these events are your future colleagues, and the relationships you create at the conference can lead to collaboration in the future. I was able to meet some great people at the Past Presidents’ reception, and I have maintained contact with several of them. I also spent much of the rest of the conference with two of the students I met that evening, and we had some great conversations in which I learned a lot about what a Master’s Program is all about.
Another tip I recommend students take advantage of is to visit the Technology Room. I spoke with Tim Goddard. We talked about how the Technology Room is designed to be an accessible place for people to learn from fellow archaeologists about the latest technologies, and their strengths and weaknesses. During my visit to the technology room I found that this was the case, the people manning the tables were accessible, and excited about the technologies on display.
A few more tips that I learned about the conference are: to bring business cards, plan to attend the talks that interest you as well as those on subjects you don’t know much about, and take good notes. Business cards are handy to hand out to different people that you meet even if you have to make your own. Going to papers on subjects you don’t know much about will expand your knowledge and possibly interests. For example, if you are interested in historical archaeology in the American West, attend some presentations on underwater archaeology, or European archaeology, you may find that you learn more from the different perspectives given in these talks than on presentations on subjects that follow your personal interests. While there your brain will be swimming with information by the end of the conference, by taking good notes you can sort things out after the conference.
Personally, attending the SHA conference opened doors I never imagined possible. During the conference, I had the opportunity to meet Dr. Doug Scott, who recently retired from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. He gave a talk on a project he had completed at Pecos Pueblo, an area in which I have a lot of interest. When I returned home from the conference and was considering which institutions I would like to attend for graduate school, I decided to look at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. The program seemed to fit my interests perfectly, so I chose to apply. I was accepted and will be attending their program in the fall. I was grateful to have Dr. Scott’s honest opinion of the University and I am appreciative of the time he took to discuss the graduate school process with me. These types of opportunities really make the whole conference experience invaluable.
My attendance at the conference would not have been possible without the help of Dr. Crowther at ASU who provided the financial assistance necessary to make the trip to England possible. I also have the deepest appreciation to Dr. Dick Goddard, and Tim Goddard for presenting the idea of attending the conference, putting me up in Leicester, and being amazing friends, teachers, and mentors. This has led me to some questions: for those of you who attended the conference in Leicester, did you receive any assistance to help you to participate in the conference? What are some resources out there to help with expenses? What were some of your conference experiences? How can we encourage more students to attend, and participate, in future conferences?