By Jen Guernsey
Every year SlavFile publishes an article encouraging our fellow SLD members to attend the ATA Annual Conference and providing tips for newcomers. Why is that? you ask. Do we get some sort of referral discount? Nope! Does the rate get cheaper when attendance is higher? No (though I am sure there is a critical mass of attendees required to keep rates reasonable). Why, then, do we keep bugging you about going to the conference?
There are two reasons: one altruistic, one selfish. The altruistic reason is that the conference has been a terrific experience for us, and we want you to be able to share in that experience. Don’t take our word for it; read about the experiences of our conference newcomers of recent years in the SlavFile Preview.
The second, selfish, reason is that your presence makes the conference a richer experience for us. Getting to know our colleagues is the best, and ultimately the most productive, part of the conference. If all we wanted was educational sessions, we’d attend webinars. Instead, we invest the time and expense to go to the conference. For me personally, being able to commune with like-minded people, getting their sage advice, being able to refer work to them or share jobs with them, and having them refer work to me have all made an immeasurable difference in the success of my translation career, not to mention made it far more enjoyable. We regular conference-goers want YOU to come so we can get to know you and add you to our circle of colleagues.
How to Survive Your First ATA Conference
Actually, you aren’t going to SURVIVE it, you’re going to LOVE it! Below are some tips that will make it a little easier for you to hit the ground running.
First, here are a few pearls of wisdom from other first-time attendees:
If you’re introverted, never fear! There are plenty of ways for you to meet people and make connections without having to walk into a crowd of strangers and start cold. I signed up for the excellent “Buddies Welcome Newbies” program that partnered me with an experienced translator working, as I do, from Russian into English (hi Jen!) who showed me the ropes. She answered my questions, introduced me to people in the Slavic [Languages] Division, and was a very welcome familiar face in a sea of strangers. I also attended Slavic [Languages] Division events, such as the newcomers’ lunch, the Division dinner, and the Division meeting. The great thing about this is that people in the division know each other and as a result 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. – Natalie Mainland, 2016.
At the BWN [Buddies Welcome Newbies] program, all it takes is sitting at a table and saying “Hello” for all anxiety to disappear, because everyone is so welcoming, understanding, patient, really interested in what everyone has to say, and always happy to give advice. Having gained confidence, I went to the Welcome Celebration, where I experienced a second wave of anxiety, but found my way to the Slavic [Languages] Division table. What a relief! There were so many people who spoke my native language (Russian), and some were also wearing the pink ribbon saying “First time attendee.” There is no problem finding common interests when you know you are speaking with someone in your language pair. And that pink ribbon: it is the most powerful and magical thing for a newbie. It identifies you as someone who needs some guidance. People saw it and approached me at breakfast, coffee breaks, and other events. They made me feel welcome and asked questions. It would lead to the most amazing conversations. – Daria Toropchyn, 2015
First on my list of events was “Buddies Welcome Newbies,” part of a program in which seasoned conference-goers adopt first-time attendees and show them the ropes. My “buddy” was an experienced technical translator who seemed to know everyone else by name. He gave me advice on how to approach the conference (in a nutshell: relax and get to know other translators) and introduced me to people I wouldn’t otherwise have met. — Christopher Tauchen, 2015
So, prospective newbies, here is your pre-conference to-do list:
1) Register for the conference BY OCTOBER 6 to take advantage of lower rates.
2) Download the conference app. I find it very helpful for planning my conference and finding event locations. You can input your resume and other profile info to help both colleagues and prospective employers find you.
3) Review the conference program to get an idea of the sessions and events you’d like to attend. A list of presentations in the Slavic languages track and by SLD members can be found in the SlavFile Preview.
4) Join Buddies Welcome Newbies to be paired up with an experienced conference-goer who will show you the ropes. All three of our newbies quoted above mentioned this helpful program, scheduled for Wednesday 4:45-5:30 (Debriefing Saturday 12:30-1:30) https://www.atanet.org/conf/2017/newbies/.
5) Reserve your spot at the SLD Newcomers Lunch. This solves the question of lunch for your first conference day: you already have prearranged colleagues to eat with! Some of us old-timers come as well. On Thursday, October 26, we will meet at 12:20 PM in the lobby of the hotel and proceed together to the restaurant, or you can just walk there on your own. Meals are not prearranged; we just order off the menu and pay for our own. To expedite service and food preparation, we will order from a limited menu of around 15 dishes. Our destination this year will be:
1666 Connecticut Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20009
To reserve your place, please email email@example.com by Friday, October 20. Please specify any dietary restrictions.
6) Reserve your spot at the SLD Dinner (see information here). It’s a nice chance to get to know your SLD colleagues better while enjoying a lovely meal. I didn’t sign up for the dinner my first year, and regretted it (and have gone to every one since!). If you follow a special diet, check it out anyway, as accommodations are possible. Thursday 7:00–10:00 PM.
And while at the conference:
1) Wear your pink First Time Attendee ribbon with pride. It will spark a lot of conversations…kind of like wearing a “Please Welcome Me” sign on your forehead…but more comfortable.
2) Come to the Welcome Celebration. It is huge! It is crowded! It is loud! It is daunting! Never fear—just seek out the table marked SLD. You will encounter some familiar names, soon to be familiar faces, and introduce yourself. Plus, hey, free food and a couple of drinks. Wednesday 5:30-7:00.
3) Attend the SLD meeting. This is another good way to get to know people in the division, as well as learn what is going on in the division. We usually have a little time at the end when we encourage first-timers to introduce themselves. The meeting will be 4:45-5:45 on Thursday, October 26.
4) Volunteer to write for SlavFile. Every year, SlavFile publishes reviews of all of the Slavic track sessions and any others a potential reviewer considers of special interest to our members, as well as printing the impressions of a conference newcomer. Volunteering to write one of these is a great way to get involved and get your name out there. Any other contributions from new members, including profiles introducing yourselves to readers, are enthusiastically welcomed.
5) Don’t get boxed in. While we in the SLD would love to have you with us for the entire conference, there is no requirement to stick with one group of people or one track of sessions. Explore! The conference has so many interesting sessions, and so many interesting people – you can’t go wrong!
See you at the conference!
Jen Guernsey is a Russian>English translator and longtime SLD member with 14 conferences under her belt. She is the SLD Leadership Council member responsible for newcomer activities.