Publication Date

December 15, 2014

I heard a few stories while attempting to collect words of wisdom for this post (names have been changed to protect the dignity of the discipline). Let’s start with Sam, who slipped on an icy Chicago sidewalk at the 2012 annual meeting—it was dark, ok?—giving himself a conspicuous black eye before presenting at his first-ever panel. Or Barbara, who imperiously (her word) asked an esteemed historian at the Hilton breakfast buffet if he would refill the breadbasket, “pronto.” (What makes Barbara’s story even better is that the esteemed historian graciously complied, found her a bagel, and then gave only the slightest wink when she turned up at his talk later that morning.) How about Anika, newly pregnant during her first time on the academic job market at the 2006 annual meeting in Philadelphia, struggling to answer a difficult question and keep her breakfast down, looking across the room at her semi-circle of interviewers to see that the questioner had fallen fast asleep.

The emotion that accompanied each of these stories might surprise you more than the stories themselves. Instead of shame, a real sense of satisfaction emerged, along with the certainty that if you stuck with it—kept attending exhibits, panels, lunches, tours, even just hung around the lobby, Job Center, or your favorite poster sessions—you would leave the annual meeting more of a historian than you came. If this is your first conference, know that you will see people more accomplished than you but more nervous, too; you will meet historians at every stage of their careers; you will glimpse a significant part of your own work with sudden clarity at a moment you least expect it; and yes, you may well experience your share of more humbling moments as well.

The AHA can’t promise, for instance, that your first interviews won’t be nerve-racking, but we can help you get to them well prepared and on time, and embolden you to attend just about any panel or exhibit that you can fit into your schedule. To help you get ready, the AHA’s Debbie Ann Doyle and Susan Stearns of Northwestern University will present Friday evening’s session, “Getting the Most Out of the Annual Meeting.” They will help you navigate the meeting’s peaks and valleys, taking full advantage of opportunities for professional development without earning yourself a black eye in the process. The session will give you the chance to ask questions both momentous and trivial in an informal setting, while connecting with other historians attending their first meeting too.

And if you see Anika, introduce yourself to her eight-year-old daughter Anaya. Anika asks that I tell you this: her interviewer’s own snore woke him up. She didn’t get the job. But Anaya was born happily and without incident eight months later, and Anika eventually got the job of her dreams. This year, she’ll be conducting interviews rather than enduring them. Should you end up on the other side of the table, she promises to stay awake.

, Contributing Editor

This post first appeared on AHA Today.

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