Student Experience: First-time Conference Presenter

This post is part of the Student Experience series, which features current and former archives students as they reflect on graduate school, internships, and early career issues. If you would like to contribute a post for this series, please email me

Guest poster Irina Sandler, Simmons College student and archivist at the Baker Library of Harvard Business School as well as the Cambridge Historical Society, discusses her experience as a first time presenter at the New England Archivists Spring 2017 meeting

There is almost nothing as nerve-wracking as public speaking.

There you are, in front of a room full of peers, prospective employers, and humans who are all ready to listen and learn from you.

Your hands are shaking, potentially from the gallons of coffee consumed in the hours leading up to the presentation, potentially from nerves. Your immediate objective is to not spill the coffee you are clutching, because coffee is life. Spilling coffee on yourself would be embarrassing. Maybe you should just put the coffee down…

Everyone keeps telling you that you’ll do great. No one will notice if you mess up. Don’t be nervous. It’s easier after the first time.

I presented on the importance of institutional records management, because it’s the elephant in the room no one wants to feed but wants to ride. Records management forms the backbone of archives, and yet many institutions lack even the most basic records retention schedules. Want to publish an article or a finding aid online? You need the copyright and gift agreement for that. Where is that gift agreement? Somewhere in an unlabeled box? Does Jimmy from 5 years ago remember? You’re starting to get my drift now, eh?

Katherine Ishram of the Beinecke Library and Mary Yearl of Wellesley College were the other ladies on the panel with me, speaking about their institutional records management projects. We discussed how difficult it is to gain traction with records management, and just how worth it the process is.  

The actual presentation was the easiest part, having spent the previous several months taking photos, altering PowerPoint slides, coordinating with the other ladies on the panel, and stressing over all the “what ifs”. I was privileged enough to have a large support network at the conference. My mentors and SLIS friends were at the conference, my boyfriend came down to Hyannis with me for the weekend to keep me sane, one of my bosses was my session liaison.

The actual presentation went by in almost no time at all, and now that it’s over, I can heartily say it wasn’t so bad. Even being in the last session slot of the last day, everyone was engaged in the presentations and no one fell asleep.

Presenting in front of archivists is presenting in front of the nicest and most supportive people.

All the presentation pressure is what we put on ourselves.

Relax, take a deep breath. You’ll do great.

Irina (Rina) Sandler is a graduate student in the Archives Management program at Simmons College in Boston, MA, graduating in Spring 2017 with her MLIS. She is currently an archivist at the Baker Library of Harvard Business School as well as the Cambridge Historical Society. She has previously written for the SNAP blog on balancing work, school, and personal life; you can find her post here


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