I mentioned that I'm excited for NEMA, right?
I've combed over the program to create a track that I think would provide a good first time experience for a Young or Emerging Professional. This track will take an attendee from Tuesday night right through to Friday, but shouldn't be one-size-fits-all; you definitely will want to take a good look at the full program to make sure that your dream panel isn't happening on the other side of the hotel at any given time.
With that in mind, here's my suggested schedule for a new museum professional at NEMA, keeping in mind that I'm speaking for myself, personally, and not for NEMA or the YEPs PAG. (Warning: really long.)
7:00 - 9:00 p.m. PechaKucha Night
I didn't make this last year, but I'm hoping to this year. It sounds like a great icebreaker and a good way for a first timer to meet people even before the conference starts.
8:00 - 9:00 a.m.: Welcome Coffee & Baked Goods in the Exhibit Hall
Absolutely essential. Eat early and often, especially if you're a broke young nonprofit professional. Bring your own reuseable coffee mug to keep liquids warmer longer and to have a way to seal them and prevent awkward spillage during a session.
9:00 - 10:30 a.m.: Coming Back Stronger: How Museums Can Prepare, Survive, and Thrive After a Major Disaster
There are some good sessions in this time slot, but for my money this is the best for a new professional. It promises to be a good combination of theory and case study with lessons learned in recent memory. Disaster preparedness sometimes takes the back seat in planning, but it can be vitally important.
10:45 - 12:15 a.m.: Keynote Speaker Michael Jager
Keynote speakers have been hit or miss for me, but you should still be there, if only to have talking points for the rest of the week. Check out Jager's invitation video to learn more of what he'll be talking about.
12:45 - 1:15 p.m.: Opening Lunch
Definitely go to this. Stretch yourself a bit and sit at a table with people you've never met, and strike up a conversation. Opening lunch food is usually pretty good, too. Don't be like me and sit underneath the puppet performance, though. That was awkward.
1:15 - 1:45 p.m.: Dessert and Coffee in the Exhibit Hall
My first rule of NEMA: always go to the dessert breaks.
1:45 - 3:15 p.m.: Strategize Me: Making a Career Plan
If you're not going to come see me at the ECHO Lake Aquarium, then this session is a no-brainer. Linda Norris is behind the terrific blog The Uncatalogued Museum, she's smart and savvy, and she's a good person to know. This session looks like an ideal one for young professionals who are still figuring out the field.
3:15 - 3:45 p.m: Snack Break in Exhibit Hall
Are you sensing a theme? Seriously though even if you feel like you couldn't eat another bite, take this time to explore the exhibit hall. Get your exhibit hall card signed off by various vendors - it may seem a little silly, but two years ago I won a free registration and last year I had friends who won other great stuff. Plus, the vendors are nice people who will give you free samples and will teach you about cool things.
3:45 - 5:15 p.m.: Conversations About Advocacy
Making a case for your museum in your community is a really big deal, and with the trend toward decreased funding for museums, community support is crucial. This isn't going away anytime soon, and hearing about it from people on the front lines is a great opportunity.
5:15 - 6:15 p.m.: Exhibit Hall Reception
Same as above. Eat and chat. This will be quite crowded though, so if you're feeling burnt out from the day and need to get out of the hotel or just be alone in your hotel room for a while, skip it.
6:15 - 9:00 p.m.: Welcome to Burlington! An Evening at ECHO
The NEMA evening events are always a good time, and if you can spring for the $50 price tag, this is well worth it. Though the description says there will only be hors d'oeuvres, I've never left a NEMA event hungry.
8:00 - 9:00 a.m.: Welcome Coffee in the Exhibit Hall
More free food. Take this opportunity too to get your exhibit hall card signed.
9:00 - 10:30 a.m.: Sexual History: Exploring Interpretive Opportunities at Historic Sites
This looks like a great, balanced, researched approach to a tricky topic. As more and more research is done into the "alternative" histories of traditionally interpreted sites, sexuality and gender will become interesting and valuable topics to explore.
10:30 - 11:00 a.m.: Coffee Break in the Exhibit Hall
Go grab a quick drink, take this time to connect with someone, or check email quietly. Mid-morning recharges are key.
11:00 a.m. - 12:30 p.m.: Your Best Foot Forward: Personal Skills for Professional Success
No-brainer for emerging professionals. Dan Yaeger, Executive Director of NEMA, is presenting this session, which will be hugely valuable for YEPs especially.
12:45 - 2:20 p.m.: PAG Lunches
I can't make a recommendation about these, as they're all very different. I've gone to several over the years, and always enjoyed myself. Choose the one most relevant to your interests.
2:30 - 3:00 p.m.: Exhibit Hall Closing Reception and Raffle Prize Drawing
Definitely attend this. Make sure you turn in your filled out exhibit hall card to win a cool prize.
3:00 - 4:00 p.m.: Career Conversation with Michael R. Taylor
These are a fairly new addition to the NEMA schedule. I attended one last year out of curiosity and really, really enjoyed it. This is a great opportunity to have a more personal conversation with a smaller group of professionals, all of whom are seeking some kind of career advice.
4:45 - 5:30 p.m.: Newcomers Reception
This cocktail event is sponsored by the Tufts University Museum Studies program, and therefore I have absolutely no bias in encouraging you to attend. Seriously, though, this is exactly the kind of event that young professionals can benefit from. It's free, and it's a room full of people in the same place you are.
6:00 - ? p.m.: Dinner Discussion: Set Yourself Apart for Success
This is an evening conversation at the Bluebird Tavern organized by the Young & Emerging Professionals PAG and co-hosted by yours truly. It's really planned with emerging professionals in mind and should also be a fun, informal meet & greet.
8:30 - 9:00 a.m.: Coffee & Baked Goods in the Exhibit Hall
Breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Again, bring a reusable mug and fill up for the rest of the morning.
9:00 - 10:30 a.m.: Is the Customer Always Right? Sharing Curatorial Authority with the Public
I was really torn on this session, I have to admit. But when I asked myself which session would be best for a new professional, this one stood out. Sharing authority is a big hot issue in museums right now and we're poised at the edge of a new way of doing things that could be really exciting. I attended a session based on the same source book - Letting Go? Sharing Historical Authority in a User-Generated World - at AAM this past spring and it was really terrific.
11:00 - 11:45 a.m.: NEMA's 15 Minutes of Fame!
I didn't attend this last year, as I wasn't sold on the concept, but crowdsourcing the speaker this year seems to have worked well and there are some really interesting candidates. Based on the way they've chosen the speaker, it promises to be a clever, high energy session.
12:45 - 2:00 p.m.: Annual Luncheon Meeting
Good way to wrap up a busy week. The food is usually pretty good, and it's always interesting to see how NEMA conducts business. Connect with everyone you've met one last time before heading home.
If you are able, try to stay in Vermont through the weekend. It's one of the greatest places on earth - no exaggeration - and it has some terrific museums. Drive down Route 7 to see the stunning scenery of the Champlain Valley, or down 89 on the other side of the mountains for some great museums in Waterbury, Barre, Montpelier, and Norwich.