By Ania Szremski
CAA is an amazing opportunity to see the field’s top practitioners present their latest work, but it’s also about reconnecwting with old colleagues and classmates, schmoozing and networking, and most of all, finding a job. Even as scholars expound on new theories in conference rooms, the hotel rooms above are buzzing with nervous energy as hopeful job candidates conduct interviews with potential employers. That’s right, in hotel rooms.
SAIC’s own Professor Daniel Quiles (Art History) went through this unusual cattle call himself, stating, “Most interviews take place in the hotel rooms where the interviewers have been staying, which is probably the most disconcerting thing about them!” In order to beat the stress, Quiles counsels, “I would say that for me the dead time around the interviews was far more stressful than the interviews themselves, which tend to be cordial and quick. Dealing with friends who are also stressing out, however, can be toxic. You have to either avoid it completely or just charge through; luckily, there’s always a bar.” Professor Adelheid Mers (Arts Administration) also emphasizes the strangeness of the hotel bedroom interview, and advises bringing plenty of extra resumes, just in case.
Quiles and Mers each presented at this year’s CAA conference, a quasi-obligation for those pursuing careers in art history or criticism. Both professors are old hands at presenting under these circumstances, where time is short and the audience is restless. To students pondering their own future presentations, Quiles suggests keeping it brief: “There is nothing more humiliating than having the chair of the panel slide a note from presenter to presenter until it gets over to the podium, whereupon you must face the withering scrawl: ‘SPEED IT UP.’”
Despite the professional need to present at the CAA, both professors caution against hoping for profound, meaningful exchange. Mers says that presenting is mainly “a networking tool. The best discussions have happened at dinners or other social occasions among panelists.” Quiles agrees, stating, “Don’t expect a life-changing exchange of ideas afterwards the tone at CAA tends to be combative and tense, and often there is very little time for questions.”