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How to Get the Most Out of the HSS Meeting (2007)

Dear Graduate-Student-and-Early-Career Group,

With the November History of Science Society meeting approaching, I am looking forward to seeing many of you.  The Graduate and Early Career Caucus has been working with Jay Malone, HSS Executive Director, on specific programming for you, and you’ll hear more from them about the NSF grant workshop, discussions of forming an official element with HSS, and, of course, the Friday night party.  The agenda for the first Caucus meeting is posted at https://hssgecc.wordpress.com/firstmeeting/.

I am writing to make a few suggestions about how to get the most out of the meeting, if this will be the first or one of the first you will have attended.  Although I have our meeting in mind, the suggestions apply to most professional society conferences.  So even if you are not coming to HSS, you might find some of them useful.

1.  Go to lots of session and find out what’s happening in your field and in many others.  This goes without saying (I hope).  The meeting is a forum for exchanging, discussing, debating scholarship.

But it is also a venue for professional development and networking.  So:

2.  Plan ahead.

a.  If you are in a session, and no one else has suggested it, write to the other participants and propose lunch or tea or whatever fits before or, preferably, after your session.  These are people working in somehow related areas from different institutions, with whom you may develop a long-term professional relationship.

b.  Whether or not you are giving a paper, read the program in advance.  Do you spot the name of someone you have met and would like to speak with again?  E-mail and propose having a meal together.  Do you spot a paper title that looks right up you alley?  Plan to go to the paper.

c.  If, among these, there are individuals whose work you have read and who seem Too Big to approach directly, tell faculty members from your program in advance that you would like to be introduced–then remind them at the meeting.  (In principle, this should not be necessary, but. . . .)

d.  Think about (and ask your advisors or colleagues about) which presses might be interested in your work, when it becomes a book manuscript.  See 3.c below.

e.  Depending on what stage you are at, you might consider bringing a couple of copies of your dissertation or book prospectus, and, if you have one, a business card.

3.  At the meeting.

a.  Even though it is easier to hang out with people you know from your own program, take a deep breath and introduce yourself to others.

b.  Go to special non-session programmed events.  Teaching workshops, the Women’s Caucus, the Forum for Science in America, etc. are places where a lot of productive thinking and networking gets done–about the subject and profession of History of Science.

c.  Take advantage of the social events.  They are not just filler, but rather cleverly-designed opportunities for people to find old AND make new acquaintances.  Lots of people are standing or wandering around alone, trying to look as though they are not.  Make a clever remark about the toothpicks or the noise and introduce yourself.  This may be easier to do if you pair up with someone you know, and you agree on the project.  Note that there is a special welcome for first-time attendees, Thursday at 7:30, if you will have arrived by then.

d.  Spend some time at the book exhibit.  There you can browse and survey the current and coming things in the History of Science and related fields.  It’s also a good place to meet people–those you have made plans with and those you do not know but bump into over the latest book on the history of quantum mechanics.

e.  Peddle your (actual or soon-to-be actual) book manuscript.  The publishers’ representatives at the book exhibit are not salespeople, they are (or are deputized by) the presses’ acquisitions editors in our field.  Their job is to discover and nab the best potential books–your dissertation included.  Introduce yourself to one or more during the meeting.  Mention, very briefly, the topic you are working on, and ask if they would have a moment some time to speak with you.  They may invite you behind the table right then, suggest another time to meet, or give you a business card and invite you to send your prospectus.  When you speak with them, they are likely to ask about the significance of and audience for your work, as well as its substance.  Even if you are not quite there, talking with a publisher will give you some idea of what’s involved.  It is good practice for you, and it is useful to them to know what is happening in your area.

4.  After the meeting, follow up.

a.  E-mail the folks you met and would like to stay in touch with.

b.  Send people stuff:  “You mentioned you were interested in x.  Here’s the reference I was trying to think of.”  Or, “Thanks for asking about my work on y.  Here’s the latest draft.  I’d be grateful for your suggestions.”

c.  Ask people for stuff.  Same as the previous point, only in reverse.

These are miscellaneous and idiosyncratic suggestions.  If you have others based on your own experience, you might share them with each other through the Graduate and Early Career Caucus blog: https://hssgecc.wordpress.com.  Let me or Jay Malone (jay@hssonline.org) know if you have any HSS-related questions.

All the Best,

Joan

Joan Cadden
President, The History of Science Society
Professor of History
University of California at Davis

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