In anticipation of this year’s AMIA Conference in New Orleans, our UCLA AMIA Student Chapter organized an informal Q&A over pizza with Professor Snowden Becker. She shared her tips, experiences, and patiently answered our questions. Here is a brief synopsis of what was covered, as well as some helpful links:
ELEVATOR SPEECHES are crucial and should be prepared in advance. You may also want to rehearse what you want to say. Some other guidelines to help you craft your elevator speech are as follows:
- Always introduce yourself with both your first and last name.
- Be specific, memorable, concise and helpful. The person you are talking to shouldn’t have to tease the details out of you about who you are.
- Distinguish yourself but do not bore. Your elevator speech should be a sentence–two at the most. This is not a monologue. It is a brief introduction.
- Knowing what you want and why you want it is crucial. One thing Professor Becker really drove home when she spoke with us was that by being concise and direct, you are respecting someone else’s time. People at conferences have a lot of other people they want to talk and meet with. If you don’t seem enthusiastic about your interests and goals, others may assume you are a poor investment of their time and energy.
- You never know who you are talking to or who someone is going to be. Meeting someone early in their professional career is not a waste of time. It’s important to make connections early and to maintain them as you go out into the job market. If you’re not sure who someone is, play it safe and keep it professional––you never know what connections another professional has, and many times are happy to refer you to others relevant to your interests and goals.
- Be aware that words can mean multiple things. The term “archives” is an interdisciplinary term, so you need to understand what context a person is referring to when discussing it. There is an informative post by Trevor Owens on one of the Library of Congress blogs that elaborates on these different meanings. Another example of this is how restoration (returning an item to its original form), preservation (action taken to anticipate, prevent or stop deterioration) and conservation (making choices to maintain an item that involves reversible intervention) all mean very specific things, but are often used as synonyms when they are not.
- Bring up your issue paper or current research in conversation. It will help make your exchange memorable and you might get some resources to help you with writing it.
- It is fine to ask, “Would it be alright for me to follow up with you after the conference?”
Examples of some of our AMIA Student Chapter’s elevator speeches are:
Hello I am Brianna Toth; I work for the Conner Family Trust and am also studying the restoration and stewardship of moving image artist collections at UCLA’s MLIS program.
Hi my name is Adam Foster; I am the archivist at the Marionette Theater and am also a student in the UCLA MLIS program studying restoration and preservation within community archives.
More examples of elevator speeches from Prof. Becker’s blog post “Elevator speeches and more” (which I would highly recommend reading) include:
I’m Anna Casitas, I’m studying preservation of early Latin American feature cinema in the NYU MIAP program.
I’m Padma Gunasegaram. I’ve been working in software sales for the last few years, and now I’m looking to transition into more public-facing work in archives.
I’m DeAndre Williams, I just finished my undergraduate degree in film studies at Wesleyan, and I’m applying to grad programs in media preservation for next fall.
SAA also created a visual guide for elevator speeches that is quite helpful.
BUSINESS CARDS are highly recommended. Students from our cohort had good results using online business card sites, that provided affordable design templates, like MOO and Vista Print. However, there are lots of creative alternatives that you can use to make your cards if so inclined: order a custom stamp, use old lantern slides, modify gift tags, etc. In addition to making a business card, it is strongly recommended that you make a LinkedIn account before the conference, or check that your blog/website is up to date. Professor Becker also recommended googling yourself to see what comes up. These are all potential places people will look to find out more about who you are, especially if you’re on the prowl for a job. Someone in our cohort told me at the beginning of the quarter, she googled everyone before classes started to see who her peers were.
You want to dress to make a positive impression. This means different things to different people, but what it boils down to is that you should wear something that makes you feel comfortable and empowered. The people at this conference are the people you will be working with, so dress business casual, but don’t hide who you are. Sometimes people prep for a conference with a little self-care. Graham Marshall, one of our second years, stands by a practice learned from his father––to be conscious of his hands’ appearance and always get a manicure before going to a conference (where he’ll be giving lots of handshakes).
During the AMIA conference there will be multiple mixers and cocktail parties scheduled. This does not mean you need to buy a new wardrobe, but do dress a notch better than what you would normally wear. A full costume change is not necessary. This being said, GO TO MIXERS AND COCKTAIL RECEPTIONS organized throughout the conference. This past year there was a Networking & First Timers Reception, Opening Night Reception, Cocktails at the Vendors Cafe and the Closing Night Reception. All of these are opportunities to meet people you don’t already know. And many times, these occasions are where the most effective networking happens, since people are often more relaxed around each other at these events.
SOME HELPFUL DEFINITIONS:
Committee Meetings: Informal focus groups are open to anyone who is interested. Some of the committee meetings for this past conference included the Open Source Committee, Cataloging and Metadata Committee, Nitrate Committee, Copyright Committee, Projection and Technical Presentation Committee, Education Committee, and a Student Chapters Meeting. It should also be noted that although AMIA’s Committee Meetings are open to all, this might not always be the case with other conferences or larger organizations.
Poster Sessions: An informal exchange between attendees and students presenting posters illustrating current research and/or projects. Throughout the conference these posters are changed out and new ones are put up to cycle through presenters. While their posters are up, presenters stand by them to answer questions and elaborate on their topics with attendees. This is a good first contribution to make to the AMIA conference. Students are encouraged to see one, do one and then teach one. Poster sessions are designed to serve as a stepping stone to help integrate students and new professionals into the conference program and current archival dialogue. More details, FAQ, and how to apply are on the AMIA Poster Session page of their website.
Symposia: Symposia, unlike conferences, have a single stream of programming. Everyone is in the same room listening to the same speaker/s the entire time. Conferences on the other hand, have multiple concurrent sessions that require attendees to move around from room to room, in order to catch the various sessions you’re interested in during each time slot.
At AMIA, symposia are often a presentation of a work in-progress, formatted as more of an exchange between the presenter and audience members. Other symposia with a similar informal structure include the Bastard Film Encounter and Northeast Historic Film Summer Symposium. However, long running symposia that have more of a Film Studies focus are more formal. An example of this kind of symposia would be The Robert Flaherty Film Seminar. For these types of symposia the dress code may also be more formal.
Workshops: Similar to a class with a specific outcome that people should walk away with. For this reason, workshops have less of a participatory format. Workshops may also carry a separate additional registration fee to that of the conference. Often these are part of “pre-conference programming,” which happen a day or two before the conference’s official opening night. Make sure you check the program carefully before you schedule your travel so these are not overlooked.
Professor Becker also provided us with a one-sheet of frequently asked questions about attending professional conferences. In it is pretty much everything you need to know. Here is a sample of some of the pointers she discusses at more length in it:
- Read through the conference program in advance–mark it up and create an A&B option for prioritizing events you would like to attend, especially ones that are at the same time.
- Don’t feel like you need to attend something every minute of every day. Breaks are good and can also be an effective use of time.
- Tag teaming sessions with people can be helpful, since multiple sessions are scheduled simultaneously.
- Meet new people. Don’t spend all your time with people you already know. The point is to make new connections or strengthen those with individuals you haven’t seen or talked with since a previous conference.
- GET YOUR ELEVATOR SPEECH DOWN! Be able to articulate what your research and professional interests are concisely and directly.
- Conference tweeting can help raise your profile, but be sure to use official conference and session hashtags! This is especially true if you’re live-tweeting.
- Dress to make a positive impression.
- Don’t make it weird. KEEP IT PROFESSIONAL. When in doubt, don’t hug! Use a practiced handshake.
- ALWAYS be safe in an unfamiliar city, and if there’s an emergency call 911 first.
- If someone makes you uncomfortable it is OK to say something. AMIA has its own Code of Conduct, which also has instructions on how to report something if you are in a situation where this code has been violated.
Another helpful handout that Prof. Becker provided us, was an open letter “Why Attend an Academic Conference?” written by Peter Rollins (PCA/ACA founder) that was originally posted to the PCA/ACA listserv.
LAST BUT NOT LEAST:
YOU CAN VOLUNTEER FOR THE CONFERENCE TO WAIVE THE ADMISSION FEE!
Inquire early if you’re interested in doing this! Volunteer opportunities are available, but they are also limited. Prof. Becker also suggested that if you have helpful skills (i.e. AV tech experience, local knowledge, administrative and organizational skills, etc.), these can make you a more desirable candidate!
We hope to see you at next year’s conference in Portland, Oregon!
Although I am sure you have seen Portlandia, you can start getting hyped with TimeOut’s Guide of the 20 best things to do while you’re there.
– Brianna Toth
UCLA MLIS MAS ‘19
AMIA Student Chapter Web/Social Media/Outreach Coordinator