Sam’s tips for graduate students at the AAG

At this year’s AAG in San Francisco I started to feel like I understood a bit better how to approach this giant conference as a graduate student. Here I’ll just provide a few tips that might be helpful for students attending their first AAG. I’m certainly no expert, but I am slowly learning how this thing works and thought I’d share a little bit.

  1. One major thing I’m learning is to not go overboard. Though if you look at my last post of the highlights you’ll see I’m still not great at that! Each year I go to fewer sessions though. I have a pretty wide range of interests and am a total nerd, so the desire to go to everything is there, but I’ve learned that there are only so many arguments you can absorb in one day. Try to pick your battles so that you don’t spend all day in a conference room.
  2. Related to the above point, try to escape the conference at least a few times during the week. I know many people probably don’t need someone to tell them to go do some exploring, but I have noticed that academic “fear of missing out” made it hard for me to do that. I got over it partially by planning out my week in advance so I could see when I had some dead zones in the schedule. This year I spent one half day just walking around the city and saw some great stuff: City Lights bookstore, the WPA murals at Coit Tower, etc.
  3. In terms of forming your schedule, I’d suggest being strategic and prioritizing a few different things:
    1. Try to see most of the sessions very closely related to your empirical area of study; it’s likely there will be a few. This is especially useful if you pick sessions with some scholars you have read, but haven’t met yet.
    2. Try to see some sessions in a related area you are interested in, but don’t know much about.
    3. Be very careful when picking sessions to attend just because there are some “big name” scholars presenting. I’ve seen that these can vary widely in quality and are usually packed and uncomfortable. The named lectures (IJURR, Antipode, Progress in Human Geography, Urban Geography, etc.) don’t always have a lot of public information out there, so try to get a sense of what you’re getting into before going.
  4. In case you weren’t aware, there are also lots of organized social events, many with free food and sometimes drinks – good for grad students. Most of the named lectures have a short reception afterwards. There are usually parties hosted by different departments occurring each night and if you have friends there they will often welcome guests.

I’ll keep this post short after the last one, but those are some initial thoughts on how to approach the AAG. I might come back and edit this later to put in some advice on choosing accommodation, but for now I think this is a good start.

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