Professional Organizations and Finding Your Niche

soda.hotglue.meOne of my service gigs currently involves sitting on the membership committee of the National Council of Public History (NCPH).  If you’ve followed my blog for awhile you probably know that this is one of my favourite professional organizations and that their annual meeting is something I really look forward to.  I’ve served on the membership committee for a couple of years now and recently started acting as the co-chair of the committee.

As a committee we’ve been working on a handful of projects this year many of which revolve around making sure new members feel welcome to NCPH as an organization and to the annual meetings.  Professional conferences where you don’t know anyone can be intimidating – but they can also be amazingly rewarding experiences.  The first NCPH conference I attended was in 2012 in Milwaukee.  I went solo but knew other Western Public History alumni and students would be there.  Despite only knowing a few people at the conference it was a hugely welcoming experience where I felt like I belonged.  Granted, part of this had to do with my love of the NCPH meeting format and the flexibility of the sessions.  But it also had a lot to do with people just being helpful.

Conferencing, networking, and putting yourself out there can be exhausting – regardless of how many times you’ve done it.  As a new NCPH annual meeting attendee I found the mentorship program helpful in orienting myself with the conference. It also took me a little bit to find my group – archivists and museum professionals who define themselves as public historians.  But they existed and were welcoming.  I think that’s another reason I love NCPH there is a such a range of professionals who attend from community historians to academics that you’re bound to find your niche. NCPH also encourages technology usage during sessions – so if you’re on twitter that can be a great way to connect with other attendees.  I personally love the “Hey, I know you from twitter” moments.

What were your experiences as a new conference attendee or new member of a professional organization?  Did specific events make you feel welcome at a conference? I would love to hear other people’s perspectives on first time conference attendance and building relationships within a professional organization.

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