À Propos: You Never Forget the First Time—A New Attendee’s Experience at the ATA Conference

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As a first-time attendee, I thought I would write about my experiences at the ATA conference last year in Chicago. I am a beginning translator, so I debated whether or not attending the conference would be worth my while. It’s not that I didn’t think attending would be a good experience for me, but at times I wondered if postponing it until I was more established in the profession would be a better one.

In the end, I realized there were two main reasons for attending: 1) to make as many business connections as possible, and 2) to learn as much as I could about the profession. Once I officially registered, I began pouring over the conference schedule to select interesting sessions. This was a good idea, even though I ended up making a lot of changes later since some sessions were cancelled and new ones scheduled. The tightly-packed schedule often made it difficult to decide between two appealing choices.  Thankfully, the conference app offered speaker notes to fill in some of the gaps.

Fortunately, although I decided to attend the conference at almost the last minute, I was able to streamline my costs in order to make the trip as affordable as possible.

Upon arrival, I collected my conference badge and ribbons, including the one for first-time attendees. Some may frown on the practice of identifying ribbons, but I loved them. They helped to generate interest and conversation. I must admit, I tend to be an introvert, especially in settings with lots of people.  Having the ribbons, and a tag that said Canada, was a definite conversation starter, and it helped me to make connections with people – new colleagues and potential employers, alike – without  having to try so hard.

For me, the highlights of the conference were the Welcome Reception, the Brainstorm Networking and the Resume Exchange.  Spread out over different days of the conference, all three helped me to make a lot of important connections, which everyone needs when starting out as a professional.

I liked how the Welcome Party was set up: food and socializing on one side of the room, and Division tables on the other. I was a bit disappointed with the displays at the Division tables, however. With so much mingling and exchanging of information going on, I would have liked to have a handout to take away with me to read later on. [Editor’s note: Fortunately, Divisions will be offering handouts at #ata56 in Miami!]

The Brainstorm Networking was fun. The concept allowed language professionals to exchange business cards and discuss pertinent business practice issues with employers. I was able to meeting a lot of people in a short amount of time because we were “forbidden” from being at a table with someone we knew.

The Resume Exchange was also interesting – and hectic! I could see how a newbie could feel overwhelmed. If you don’t proactively try to reach out to employers, they will turn to the person who is trying to get their attention. A lot of translators gave up trying to speak with each employer and just left stacks of resumes on their language or subject table. At first, I thought I would prefer putting a face to my name and speaking to them, but I quickly realized that some employers were actually looking at those resumes. I ended up doing both.

As a first-time attendee, I wasn’t sure what to expect with respect to the sessions. I found that there was ample selection to choose from, but heard from others that there had been even more in past years. In reviewing the schedule, I noticed almost immediately that there didn’t seem to be many sessions for beginners. There were a lot of interesting topics that I wanted to attend but that were rated as advanced. After asking my mentor, Karen Tkaczyk, about it, I decided not to pay much attention to the assigned levels.

Being a beginning translator sometimes means that you are still developing specializations. Currently, I have three: medicine, finance and human resources. I found there was a vast array of choices for medicine, while sessions on finance were lacking, and those on human resources were non-existent. On a more positive note, this offered me the possibility of attending sessions relevant to anyone, regardless of level, experience or specialization.

It was surprising that there weren’t more sessions specific to French translation and interpreting. It’s unfortunate that the division’s invited Distinguished Speaker had to cancel at the last minute as I had been looking forward to those sessions. Apart from them, I had not planned on attending any other French sessions. I decided to focus on sessions pertaining to medicine and translation. In addition to learning more about translation and how to be a competent professional, I learned that those who are the most successful also give back a lot to the profession by being heavily involved in the organization and its initiatives.

[Editor’s note: Speakers at the conference are volunteers. We encourage all FLD members to consider submitting a presentation proposal for 2016. The more proposals received, the more likely that French-related topics will be well-represented.]

When I returned home from the conference I had a lot of work to do. I wasn’t about to put everything I had learned aside and slip back into my old routine. I spent the month after the conference following up with all of the people that I had met and planning my professional goals for the upcoming year.

Being at the Chicago conference gave me a fresh, new perspective on myself and my place in the translation industry. In the past year, I’ve definitely made the transition from seeing myself as a translation student graduate, to a translation professional. I’m looking forward to the 2015 conference in sunny Miami. I’ve been to Miami numerous times and won’t feel like a stranger there. To me, attending the ATA Conference seems like a great way to build on that and continue to grow.

Charlene Johnson

Charlene Johnson started her freelance translation business in 2014 and works from French and Spanish into English, focusing on medical, financial and human resource documents.