I spend four days this last week at a conference – the Society for Historical Archaeology annual conference in Leicester. These conferences are normally held in the United States, so it was good to be able to attend at minimal expense. I signed up as a student volunteer, so gained access to as many sessions as I wished for free, in return for eight hours volunteering.

The way the conference is organised is interesting and frustrating. There are always at least four sessions going on at once, with each presentation timed in parallel, so that you can, in theory, move from session to session in order to hear presentations that particularly interest you. Of course, speakers often overran their allotted 20 minutes, so presentations were often given against a background of people leaving and entering and crashing about, occasionally drowning the words. The sessions, which are usually four hours long, don’t allow questions until after the last speaker, which means that there is rarely any real discussion as one has usually forgotten the content of the first speaker’s presentation anyway!

Almost all the presentations I wanted to hear clashed with equally interesting papers, which was very frustrating, and I sometimes sat listening to one dull speaker and wishing I’d chosen to go to a different session instead!

As an impecunious student I couldn’t afford to attend the expensive paid-for workshops, tours and social events, but I did nevertheless hear some useful presentations and meet some great people. And I picked up a long list of abstracts and names that might be of use in the near future.

The research presented was sometimes rather dull, some of it pointless, and little was really inspiring, so I left feeling positive and excited about my own topic.

I also witnessed a wide range of presentation skills, from abysmal to entertaining! This was encouraging, as I realised that my own level is somewhere in the middle, and though it needs work, it hasn’t as far to go as that of some!

Next year’s conference is to be held in Quebec city, Canada, and I’m definitely going to see if I can present a paper at that meeting.