For those of you who don’t know me, my name is Alice Rogers, and I am the outgoing secretary/treasurer of the SEM Student Union. I have been involved with the SEM Student Union for four years, starting when I attended my first national conference in New Orleans. Every year, I can’t help but get excited for the conference; I get to meet new people, learn about new trends and topics in ethnomusicology, and discuss important issues for our Society. Though I am still relatively new to the world of conference-going, I thought I would make a list of tips for first-time attendees.
1.) Do not overbook yourself. This is perhaps my biggest piece of advice to first-time SEM attendees. I remember, for my first conference, I attempted to see a paper at every single time slot available. There are always interesting papers being presented, and so why not attend something at every single opportunity? Perhaps some people have the mental energy to do this, but I think for many students, it’s best to schedule in some breaks to relax, recharge, and reflect. Taking time to do these things can really enhance your SEM experience, because they will leave you fresh for the papers you do attend.
2.)…But do take the time to figure out a schedule. I definitely tend to be a bit disorganized in my schedule, but when it comes to SEM, I do my best to figure things out at least a little bit ahead of time. I will highlight events in my program, or use the conference app on my phone to quickly figure out where I need to go and when. Deciding on the fly can sometimes lead to missing out on papers that you really wanted to see.
3.) Take notes. Few things are more frustrating than remembering that a paper had an interesting concept/topic you wanted to look up, and yet you cannot remember the key details. I don’t think detailed notes are needed for all papers, but it’s good to have a pen and paper handy to jot down a few things, in case something strikes you as interesting.
4.) Attending parts of panels is okay. Sometimes, you just need to see one paper from one panel, and then run over to another room to see a different paper. This is generally okay, but just make sure to be as respectful as possible when leaving one panel and going to another: sit near the back if possible, and exit quietly.
5.) Be prepared to do a little networking. You will meet lots of different people at the SEM conference: established scholars, up-and-coming academics, public sphere ethnomusicologists, and of course, students. While this can be intimidating, in my experience, ethnomusicologists are a rather friendly and fun bunch, so take some time to meet people at SEM Student Union events (shameless plug) or at some of the parties hosted by various institutions, if they are open to visitors (which many are). The people you meet might have some interesting perspectives on your work, and vice versa.
6.) Get business cards. You may not feel “professional” enough to need business cards, but they can really come in handy. I have had a number of fruitful conversations cut short during the conference, and it’s useful to be able to quickly exchange business cards so that the good thoughts can continue over email. This doesn’t mean that you have to give a business card to everyone you talk to, but they can be a good tool for continuing academic exchange beyond the half-week we get to exist in a world of ethnomusicologists.
7.) Indoor weather is unpredictable. Plan accordingly. This might seem like a no-brainer, but I always find that I underestimate how different the temperature can be inside a conference center or hotel, rather than outside. Suit jackets, sweaters, vests, and scarves can be helpful to allow for the flexible temperatures of a conference environment.
8.) But seriously, come to the Student Union events! These events give you an opportunity to share your experiences, meet other students, get some free food and coffee (generously provided by SEM), and help shape the direction of the Student Union. You can also get involved in some of our committees or even with the blog you are reading right now. And I can attest that it’s a lot of fun, and you get to meet students from all around the world. Our events are as follows:
- Morning Coffee/Tea: Thursday, December 3rd, 7 AM – 8 AM, Room 602.*
- First-Time Attendees and New Members Reception: 5:30 PM – 6:30 PM, Salon F. [This is not sponsored by the SU, but if this is your first time attending SEM, I would recommend this reception. Many friendly, seasoned ethnomusicologists are there to help you feel at ease for your first conference!]
- Business Meeting: Thursday, December 3rd, 7:30 PM, Room 602.
- Roundtable: Friday, December 4th, 4 PM – 5:30 PM, Salon F. “Social Media and Ethnomusicology: Research, Teaching, and Performing Careers.”
- Student Lounge: Thursday-Saturday, 6 PM – 12 AM, Room 614.
I hope that you find these tips useful, particularly for those who are attending for the first time! For those students out there who are more seasoned: any advice?
And, on a parting note, I want to thank you all for the opportunity to serve as the SEMSU secretary/treasurer. It has been a pleasure and an honor to be a part of our collective student voice we have here at the Society. I look forward to continuing to work with the SU and to help our field and our Society grow.
See you all in Austin!
* These rooms may be subject to change, so please make sure to check the official program and the SEM board at the conference.