The SAA Meeting is not all about hearing presentations about exciting research in your field, or practicing your “Yes, this is interesting to me” face during really boring ones. Meetings are about connecting to people outside of your university. You can read important papers on the internet, and your “feigned interested” look gets enough workout in your classes and seminars; however, conferences are the best opportunity to extract as much knowledge out of the nation’s best archaeologists as possible. One of these knowledge sources is mentoring.
Most graduate students get some mentoring in their home programs, but as the number of people in any one graduate program is limited, this mentoring is a finite resource. Plus, there is also a chance that you have unique obstacles on which individuals in your program are not equipped to advise. This is where the SAAs come to the rescue! With thousands of experience archaeologists, there are countless opportunities for mentorship. This year, the Queer Archaeology Interest Group and Committee on the Status of Women in Archaeology formalized this process. They set up an event that allowed graduate students and junior faculty members to network and get advice from more senior faculty members in areas ranging from careers in CRM to balancing careers with personal life. These mentoring sessions were small, about one to two mentors to eight students.
I attended the session specifically designed to tackle discrimination in archaeology. We had robust conversations about handling discrimination in the field, how to discuss identity politics, and the challenges of navigating the academy. For privacy reasons, I will not get into any specifics. However, this was an invaluable opportunity to speak candidly with other archaeologists who have experienced similar things that I am going through right now.
Hopefully the mentorship programs will continue in future years, and perhaps expand to include a year-round mentorship program. For graduate students looking to network at future meetings, don’t forget about out of your way opportunities like this!