How to Get the Most Out of the HSS Meeting
Written by HSS Executive Director Jay Malone and GECC Co-Chair Jacqueline Wernimont
The structure of the meeting
The HSS meeting is held in the last quarter of the calendar year, typically in November. In even-numbered years, we meet with the Philosophy of Science Association, usually in the same hotel, which makes for an even larger gathering, close to 1000 attendees (you are welcome to attend both the HSS and PSA sessions). The HSS meeting is always a Thursday arrival/Sunday departure affair, with the opening or plenary session starting Thursday at 5:30.
The plenary session is one of two events at the meeting where everyone is invited to a common session, the other being the distinguished lecture on Saturday evening. The opening night we host a newcomers’ reception where you can learn more about the meeting and ask questions and ask to be introduced to others. We have three receptions: Thursday, Friday and Saturday evening. The first two feature food and cash bars. The Saturday reception is cash bar only.
Even though the HSS is a smaller meeting, we have interest groups comprised of individuals who focus on a particular period or research area: SIGs in HSS range from the Forum for the History of Science in America, the Forum for the History of Human Sciences, the Women’s Caucus, the Graduate Student and Early Career Caucus, the Earth and Environment Forum, the Early Science Interest Group, the History of Mathematics, and several others. These groups have business meetings during the conference where you can learn more about them and get to know people.
When the preliminary program appears online and in the July Newsletter, go through it quickly and note papers or posters that look interesting. The program is constructed so as to allow you to pass among sessions and hear different papers – don’t feel that you must stay in a room just because you came for the first paper. Many of the sessions are comprised of papers that were submitted individually and have the loosest sort of association. These are the sessions where no organizer is identified and the papers may encompass broad areas. There are more interesting papers than you’ll have time to hear; take the official program home with you and use it as a resource to identify and contact scholars whose work you find interesting but whose panels you missed.
Events that may be of particular interest to graduate students include the Graduate and Early Career Caucus meeting, the graduate student party on Friday night, Women’s Caucus meeting, and the “Dissertation to Book” panel.
Some Conference Pointers
Getting to know people
While there are many fantastic sessions at HSS, they are secondary in importance to the time you spend talking to people. Many academics are introverts (even those who are smiling and talking in groups) so remember that as you introduce yourself to someone. Tell him or her where your interests lie and ask them about their own interests.
Although masses of people conversing in small circles at social events can be intimidating, remember that the beauty of the HSS conference is that you have a relatively small number of people (compared to conferences like the American Historical Association) who share an interest in the history of science. So there is a strong likelihood that you have read many of the same books as most of those people at the meeting. This can be your entry point into a conversation.
Try to stay in the conference hotel (the HSS offers a limited number of discounted graduate rooms), but don’t remain there the whole time; make sure that you venture out and sample the city. Remember though, that if the main goal is to meet people (and it should be) then it makes sense to focus your time where the people are. I have seen many encounters in elevators that have led to published articles, conferences, books, and dinner. Never underestimate the power of the elevator (especially when they are full and slow, as they will be) and be prepared to offer a succinct account of your work, the so-called “elevator speech.”
Although the HSS is small, the meetings are large enough that not even those who have attended for 30 years know everyone. The name badges are the equalizers, providing new comers the same information as the veterans. You may experience the name-badge jerk, where someone will look at your badge and look away quickly but do not let that bother you. We are not running a popularity contest and your primary goal is to make contacts. There are many people who will be interested in your work. Also, name badges are fun, since, in this age of e-mail, you finally get to see someone with whom you have been corresponding or whose book you have read. Don’t be afraid to introduce yourself to the “big names.” I still recall a fellow graduate student approaching Sam Westfall at the 1986 meeting, telling Sam that he was using The Origins of Modern Science in a class, and Westfall sitting down with him to provide pointers on how best to use the book (make sure you keep a notepad and pen in your pocket or bag).
Everyone should bring business cards. They are inexpensive to make and offer an efficient way for people to have your contact information. When you receive a card, write on the back how you should follow up with the person.
Ultimately, enjoy your time at the History of Science Society annual meeting (and the Philosophy of Science Association biennial meeting). It is a wonderful opportunity to meet outstanding scholars in your field, other junior scholars, and to explore a new city. It is a genial and welcoming meeting — take a deep breath and plunge in!
Last Updated: 2008