Learn from My Past Mistakes: Tips for First-Time AAS Attendees

My first time attending an AAS conference was in 2010, when I was a second-year PhD student, and I’ve only missed two since then. Even before I began working for the association, I frequently told people that AAS is my favorite scholarly meeting: it’s my intellectual home and also gives me the chance to catch up with friends whom I might only see once every few years.

But much as I enjoy AAS, I’ve also found that it’s easy to burn out before the conference is half over (this is especially true if, like me, you’re an introvert—four days of social interactions can be wearing). There are plenty of guides out there that offer advice on conference networking, presenting, and other professionalization topics, so I won’t duplicate those recommendations here. Instead, I’m sharing a few tips and strategies that I’ve developed over the years to keep my energy levels high throughout the weekend and thus have the best AAS experience possible:

1. Pack lots of snacks. It’s way too easy to spend the conference running on a diet of caffeine, carbs, sugar, and alcohol. I enjoy all of those in small quantities, but consuming too much of them gives me a headache, interferes with my ability to focus, and makes me cranky. What I’ve learned over the years is that my mother is right: always pack snacks. I buy most of my AAS rations before I even leave home, so I can plan ahead and look for sales; nuts, crackers, jerky, a couple of energy bars (convenient, but I get tired of them quickly), and other small pick-me-ups don’t take up much space in my suitcase. If your hotel room has a fridge—those at the Marriott Wardman Park all do—you can also make a grocery store run after arriving and grab pre-cut or portable fruits and vegetables, hummus, cheese, and more.

2. Similarly, breakfast is the most important meal of the day. A lot of us fall into an AAS pattern of staying up too late, hitting the snooze button a few times the next morning, and then either skipping breakfast entirely or picking up coffee and a pastry and hoping those will carry us through until lunch. Again, some planning ahead can help you avoid this: try to have some more filling foods on hand in your hotel room so you can grab them as you run out the door. When I go out to dinner during the conference, I’ll often order an appetizer and entrée, then eat the entire appetizer and half the entrée so I can take the rest to go for breakfast the next morning.

3. Make time to go outside. If you’re staying at the main conference hotel, it’s entirely possible for a day or two to pass before you realize you haven’t left the building since the conference started. Nothing invigorates like fresh air! If a friend asks you to coffee, suggest a quick walk around the block instead (weather permitting, of course). Taking just 10 or 15 minutes to stretch your legs can be restorative.

4. Don’t expect to get anything else done. I learned this lesson the hard way: again and again, I’ve packed multiple books that need to be read, agreed to deadlines either during or immediately after the conference, and told myself that I’ll “get up early” to take care of emails. Inevitably, none of this actually happens as planned and I come out of the weekend feeling anxious and hopelessly behind. To the best of your ability, try not to make any other work-related plans or promises for the days of the conference (and one or two after, if you can manage it, though that’s a stretch). Being at the conference is your work during AAS; the hours when you’re not participating in it are meant for sleep, exercise, socialization, and relaxation, so don’t set yourself up for failure by thinking that you’ll get other work done.

5. If/when you need a break, take it. With over 440 sessions, the film expo, exhibit hall, keynote address, special panels, receptions, and more, there’s a lot to do at AAS 2018, and chances are you’ll want to go to as many panels and events as possible. And you should! But you also need to keep in mind that “as many as possible” is going to be a different number for everyone, and no one gets a perfect attendance award if they attend a panel in every timeslot. If you’re tired, overwhelmed, or feeling off your game, forcing yourself to sit in a session because you think you “should” isn’t going to improve the situation. Try to build breaks into your conference schedule, and be open to the possibility that you might need to add a spontaneous time out here and there. This year we’re pleased to introduce a Quiet Room for conference participants in search of a meditative space—you’ll find it at Park Tower 8209 on the lobby level of the Wardman Park.

All of these tips are things that I’ve worked out through trial and error over the years—some of them more recently than I’d like to admit! I hope it doesn’t take new AAS attendees as long to learn their own personal dos and don’ts for the conference.

But seriously, pack snacks. Lots of snacks.