By Natalie Mainland
Photo from Unsplash by Daria Shevtsova
It’s that time of year again! We’ve come back from vacation, summer is drawing to a close, and translators across the country are wondering, “Should I go to the ATA conference this year?”
If you’ve never been, and you’re on the fence, perhaps my experience as a newcomer to last year’s conference can shed some light on it for you.
I have to admit, I wasn’t sure about attending the 2016 ATA conference. I have a degree in translation and have been translating for a few years now, so I didn’t know how useful it would be, and I am—like I think many translators are—extremely introverted. Given the choice between getting a root canal or chatting up a room full of people I don’t know, I’ll take the root canal, please. However, I keep in touch with my former classmates, and not a single one of them has said that attending the conference was a waste of time or resources. I wasn’t sure if going would be helpful, but I figured it couldn’t hurt.
What next? Well, my personal philosophy is to always have a plan. Once I’d decided to attend the conference I immediately started planning so I could get the most out of it. I had a look at the first-timer’s guide in the ATA’s “Savvy Newcomer” blog, downloaded the conference app, and immediately began organizing my schedule. By the time I landed in San Francisco, I had each day planned for (supposedly) optimum effectiveness.
Educational sessions held throughout the day are organized into subject-specific tracks and are a major part of the conference. I’m trying to expand my business, so I planned to attend sessions in the “Independent Contractor” track. These were great, and I picked up tips and tricks for getting more work and running my business smoothly, but by the second afternoon I was feeling burnt out…so I decided to change things up. I went to a few medical sessions, even though they focused on language pairs other than mine. Were they helpful? You bet! Although the target language examples didn’t apply to me, I still learned strategies to improve my medical translations. Overall, I’m pleased with how much I learned, and in the months after the conference I even put that knowledge to use when I worked on a large medical project.
The other major part of the conference is networking, and that’s the part that worried me. I went to the Welcome Celebration on the first night, where everyone from the ATA divisions can mingle and learn more about one another, and I honestly felt a bit like a deer in the headlights. However, the whole process became markedly easier when I realized one obvious thing: everyone else is here to network, too! They want to meet new people and talk with them, and all the people that I spoke with were wonderfully welcoming. After making it through that first hectic evening, everything else—such as talking to agency reps in the Exhibit Hall—was no problem at all.
Now for the big question: do I think going to the conference was worth it? I absolutely do. I picked up new skills and met other people working in my field. This profession can be a solitary one, and having actual, face-to-face contact with other humans was, for me, one of the best parts of the entire experience.
So, now that I’ve (hopefully) convinced you to go, what are my suggestions for your first conference?
- Go. I was on the fence about going, but I’m glad I did. Although I’m no neophyte, I still learned a lot of things that will help me improve my craft. I also met a multitude of wonderful and interesting people, and found new prospects for my work.
- Leave. Just because you’re at the conference doesn’t mean you need to attend every single event. In fact, that’s a good way to wear yourself out. At the conference in San Francisco, none of the early morning events made my ‘must-do’ list, so every morning I took a walk along the bay instead. Not only did I get fresh air and exercise, I also got a chance to take a break from being ‘on’ all the time. This helped me recharge and gave me the energy to do all the other things that I wanted to do.
- Participate. If you’re introverted, never fear! There are plenty of ways for you to make connections without having to walk into a crowd of strangers and start cold. I signed up for the “Buddies Welcome Newbies” program, which partnered me with an experienced translator and conference-goer (hi Jen!) who showed me the ropes. She answered my questions, introduced me to people in the division, and was a very welcome familiar face in a sea of strangers. I also attended division events. The great thing about this is that people in the division know each other and know that you’re new, and they really do go out of their way to be welcoming. My worries of being the silent person standing awkwardly in the corner never materialized.
- Ditch the plan. Or rather, be willing to ditch the plan. I had my entire conference schedule laid out before I stepped off the plane. Yet, some of the best experiences happened when I deviated from that schedule—skipping a mass networking event to go to dinner with some newfound colleagues, for example.
All in all, my first conference was a resounding success. I’m glad I went, and I would encourage anyone else to do the same.
The ATA 58th Annual Conference is fast approaching! This year’s conference is in Washington, DC, on October 25-28, 2017. Register by September 15th to take advantage of Early Registration Rates.
Natalie Mainland holds an M.A. in Translation from Kent State University. She currently works as a freelancer, translating Russian into English (with a focus on medical texts) as well as Finnish into English. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. This post was adapted and updated by the author from an article that appeared in the Fall 2016 issue of SlavFile.