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10 October 2013 @ 11:12 pm
WMA/UMA 2013 Conference, Day One  
I drove up to Salt Lake City yesterday to attend the Western Museum Association's annual conference. I was lucky enough to receive a scholarship to cover the cost of the conference, and one of the former Anasazi State Park interns was kind enough to let me stay at her place, so there were no hotel costs, either.

There was, however, an unexpected expense. An e-mail that I received a few days ago from the WMA reminded me to bring business cards to pass out. I don't have business cards! I ordered some from Staples – they have a ton of templates, by the way, and they can print up a batch in four hours so it's very convenient – and picked them up in Salt Lake City, only a few blocks from the hotel where the convention was. I struggled a bit over what to put on them – I don't want to put “Intern” since they aren't from the Anasazi State Park, but “Museum Professional” sounds so blah and undefined. I ended up using the title “Museum Specialist”, which was suggested by Mike, and followed up with “Collections, Education & Retail Sales”. We'll see if these cards do anything to help me get a job...

Anyway, so I picked up the cards and had just enough time to shove a few into my wallet before running to the registration desk to pick up my paperwork. Then I was off to Conference and Networking 101, a session required for my scholarship. I was a few minutes late, but people just seemed to be chatting, so I went up to a group and introduced myself. When the speaker called us to attention a few minutes later, she basically told us to be confident and feel free to talk to random strangers, because it was expected at a conference like this. She went through a list of potential conversation starters, and emphasized again and again that we should strive to make personal connections with as many people as possible and hand out business cards like candy. If we saw someone standing by his or herself, we should feel free to approach – they might be desperate to talk to someone, too. At the end of the session, she gave everyone a handful of fortune cookies that she promised would spark networking opportunities.

The opening reception was next. My attempts at networking, I'm afraid, did not go particularly well. Most of the people I talked to were also looking for jobs, and once they realized that I was not in a hiring position quickly wanted to move on. That was fine – I'm trying to find a job, too!

At one point, I spotted a man standing by himself at a table. I went over and said hello, and asked him where he was from. He launched into a long-winded story about how the pipes at his place were not flowing properly because they were old and it was really expensive to replace them. I was confused – did he work at some sort of plumbing museum? After a good five minutes, during which I had an increasingly perplexed expression on my face, he concluded with, “-so that's at my house. I work at the Pioneer Museum.” He then turned away without even asking my name to talk to someone walking by. Thanks for wasting my time, buddy. I was polite enough to at least listen to your pointless story – you could at least say good-bye. Ugh. So networking. Not my thing.

After the reception, there was an Emerging Museum Professionals group dinner at Squatter's Pub Brewery. By this point I had managed to meet up with my roommates, a curator at a museum outside Salt Lake City named Megan and a graduate student named Susannah, so we all went together. Dinner was fun! Most of the people at my table were, like me, either in entry level positions or looking to start their museum careers. It was a lot of fun to talk to people my own age – I haven't really been hanging out with too many twenty-somethings in Boulder.

Side note: The food at Squatter's has a pretty good reputation, but I was really disappointed. My fish 'n' chips were so soggy and bland that it was virtually inedible.

After the dinner party broke up around 9:00pm, I went back to Megan's house and we all compared notes on the night. Susannah had a funny observation: “Did you notice how there were way more women then men, but the men always dominated the conversation? I hate that!” It was really fun to get to know them, though – all three of us have been interns at the Anasazi State Park, but our experiences have all been quite different.