Professional conferences are a great way for graduate students to listen to experts in the field, meet like-minded professionals, and feel like you are part of a community. I recently attended and presented at my professional organization’s national conference. Here are a few tips for graduate students attending professional conferences.
- Review the program ahead of time. With hundreds of presentations over a few days, it can be overwhelming when you are handed a conference program the size of a textbook. Look at the website prior to the conference to get an idea of what you want to see. Besides the ability to browse the entire program, I was able to search the online program by presenter’s name and affiliation, keyword, subject area, session type and time slot. I always look up to see if the “big names” in the field are presenting and try to attend those sessions. There is something thrilling about seeing the person who wrote your textbook standing in front of you!
- Attend all types of sessions. The conference I attended offered sessions in different formats: roundtable discussions, expert panels and skill-building sessions were just a few options. You might be more drawn to a particular format based on your personality, but try out a different format and see how you like it. If you are presenting as a first time attendee, try to attend a session in the format you are offering prior to your presentation so you have an idea of what to expect.
- Find out what else is going on during the conference besides the presentations. The conference I attended also had resume and job posting boards, where you could hang up copies of your resume and view job possibilities; a poster presentation and reception; and professional development workshops. Build in time and bring supplies for any additional activities, like a stack of resumes for the resume board.
- Connect with those who share your interests. Many professional organizations have subgroups for specific interests within your discipline. Most professional organizations even have subgroups for graduate students. Attend any meetings or events sponsored by the subgroup as a way to meet new people and get involved.
- Network, network, network. Don’t be shy to talk to people at the conference. Go up to the presenter after her talk and tell her how much you value her research. Email her when you get home with additional questions. Talk to people between sessions, while you’re in line for coffee, or waiting for the elevator. People are passionate about their work and love to share it with others. Don’t feel intimated, they’re just people!
With so many presentations and events going on at professional conferences, you might feel like you are missing out on something. But with a little planning and preparation before you go and making most of the time you have while you are there, you will walk away with new knowledge and maybe even new opportunities.