10 things I wish I knew before travelling to my first anthropology conference

Conference season is well and truly over for the moment, but listicles and cat pictures are forever. Here’s ten things you might find useful when preparing for your first conference:

#1: You might not think you’re ready to present, but you probably already are. At the Australian Anthropological Society (AAS) conference, the Australian Network of Student Anthropologists (ANSA) postgraduate sessions are designed for this exact purpose. They are a supportive environment where PhD candidates can test ideas and share a conference paper likely for the very first time. To help illustrate my point, this is Tama, who served as station master and operating officer at Kishi Station on the Kishigawa Line in Kinokawa, Wakayama Prefecture in Japan. A very important cat. By presenting your research, you too can be a very important cat:


#2: Going to an end-of-year conference in Australia? Be responsible and never overestimate your ability to tolerate the harsh sun. Australia has incredibly high rates of skin cancer. According to Cancer Council Australia, “two in three Australians will be diagnosed with skin cancer by the time they are 70”. Don’t add your name to those statistics. Remember to bring sunscreen and a wide-brimmed hat. A hand-held fan and a water bottle (preferably not a plastic one you got at the airport that will take hundreds of years to break down) are also great to have on hand. You can thank me later. Sunglasses and a cabbage leaf may also be useful, but what you do with the cabbage leaf is up to you:


#3: When you’re packing, don’t get too distracted by ‘how-to guides’ for how to dress at conferences that are found around the internet. Just be neat and well-presented, whatever that means for your personal style. That said, wear comfortable shoes. Also, an oversized scarf is a relief in unpredictable weather. It can double as a cardigan when the air-conditioning is too cold, protection from the sun when you go outside, and shield you from the rain. In a pinch, you could use it as a towel. Remember – clothing is inherently gender neutral! There are no rules! Scarves are for everyone (cats included):


#4: Read the program thoroughly, so you can use your first conference to find your niche and your people, then go see their presentations. This will help you have a better idea of what panel or academics you might want to try and present alongside the following year in the mainstream (non-postgraduate) sessions! By doing so, you too may also be able to find your academic family and become adopted into their networks, much like the heartwarming story of internet famous cat Lil Bub:


#5: Access all the resources available to you. Attend the postgraduate workshops (if there are any), get those free journals from the publisher stands, go to the keynotes, drink all the free coffee you can handle! On second thoughts, maybe don’t do that last one. Actually, maybe don’t overcaffeinate and blog, too. Otherwise who knows, you might just include an excess of cat pictures in your blog posts or something like that.

Cat With Laptop Funny Pic

#6: Chat to as many fellow postgraduate anthropology students as you can. You’ll end up seeing them the next year, and the year after that, and the year after that. You get the picture here. They’ll become your friends, peers, colleagues, collaborators, co-authors, co-conspirators…please ask your peers’ consent before picking them up and carrying them around like this racoon, however:


#7: Senior academics are generally always lovely and encouraging towards postgraduate students, so don’t be intimidated by them. With that in mind, it’s probably best not to corner them for an entire lunch break.


#8: Everyone else is probably a tired introvert too. If the situation is dire and you’re feeling anxious, you can probably just hide under the scarf you’ve packed.


#9: Asking questions isn’t scary! I mean, it can be…but if you are so bold, keep it short, to the point, and don’t be self-referential. If your research is on a similar topic to the person you’re questioning, throw in a brief ‘I’d love to chat with you later if you’ve got time’ or ‘can we exchange emails?’. In summary, just go for it and start those conversations, because if you don’t you might not get the chance to talk to them in person for another year. If all else fails, just tilt your head dramatically and that will indicate that you are confused and would like to know more:


#10: Conferences are exhausting. Not only are you doing mental cartwheels 24/7, you’re meeting new people every day for close to a week. You’re likely to be walking around a strange city because you don’t have another mode of transport and grabbing whatever small bites of food you can find between breaks. Sometimes you just need to skip a session to have a nap, and that’s completely ok! Just make sure you don’t accidentally miss out on a key session by an academic whose research you’ve cited quite a lot because you desperately needed a quick cat nap that turned into a two-hour long afternoon snooze. I have never done this, I swear…


Now go forth and present! Happy conferencing!

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