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The I-Opener: Hey Students and Also Everyone Else

Eleni Lobene and Steven Toaddy

The I-OPener


Hey Students and Also Everyone Else: Go to SIOP’s Annual Conference
(and Here’s Why and How)


Eleni Lobene, Aon Hewitt

Steven Toaddy, Louisiana Tech University

For many of us, SIOP’s annual conference is the central justification for our being involved in this organization—and we’ll demonstrate this point by referring to that conference as “SIOP” through the rest of this column to no ill effect. Watch:


Going to SIOP is many things: exhilarating, rewarding, expensive, daunting, eye opening, exhausting. Because of this combination, it is perhaps like Disney World—

one has to decide whether to expend the resources to go and, once there, one may want to have a game plan regarding how to use the limited (and expensive!) time one has to maximum effect. So the second part of this article is something like the unofficial guide to SIOP for everyone from graduate students to late-career professionals, but the first part is the argument for going to SIOP in the first place. Instead of just stating our opinions, we sought input from a range of subject matter experts with moderate to high immersion in the I-O world who have attended SIOP as little as one or as many as “more than 10” times. Our modest sample included 11 interviewees, with a mix of academics and professionals. 


Why You Are Definitely Going to SIOP This Year


Skip or Sell Your Blood


We asked these seasoned attendees what you should do if you can’t make it to SIOP. Only three of them actually stated what you should do if you can’t make it, and everyone else suggested creative ways to make it to SIOP. These responses speak volumes and we’ll summarize bothvaluable perspectives for you here. First, do everything you can to get to SIOP. Here are some tips:


  • Find a roommate and share a room… several respondents have shared with up to 4 other graduate students! (Perhaps this should be considered a rite of passage)
  • Register and book early to save on fees
  • Carpool, take a red-eye flight, look into train options (including discounts!)
  • Talk to your employer or university to learn about possible funding and sponsorship opportunities (look early in case presenting at SIOP is a requirement!)


Across the board, experts agreed that there is no better or cheaper development opportunity or career catalyst available to I-Os. The networking opportunity or concentration of thought leadership is not replicated any other place any other time of the year. 


However, if you exhaust your options and can’t make it work, consider two things: (a) exploring local networking opportunities and (b) leveraging the SIOP program brochure. On the first point, look into regional conferences that may be closer by and less cost prohibitive (many metropolitan areas have one!) Remember that the conference program brochure is an invaluable resource. Consider asking a colleague to pick one up for you, so you can get an overview of what is being presented and know who to reach out to for information on topics of interest. Of course, the online searchable program is an even more easily accessible electronic version.  Regardless of how you access it, the program will allow you to specifically search out presentations of interest and contact the session chair or authors to obtain copies of presentations. You can also search out submissions by perusing the SIOP website, butthen you lose out on the interaction.


Our interviewees attended SIOP for the first time at different points in the career cycle. More than half attended for the first time as a first-year graduate student, one as an undergraduate student, and the rest as early- and mid-career professionals. When we asked what these interviewees would recommend, most stated that early graduate school is an ideal starting point as a SIOP attendee, but several actually upped the ante and recommended first attending as an undergraduate student if possible. This trend points to the benefits of immersing oneself as early as is feasible. So, no matter your career stage, attendance is beneficial. But for the record, no one recommended selling your blood to attend.


The Long, Winding Road


We asked SIOP veterans how their experience has changed over time. Many commented that their perspectives and practices have shifted. Some spend more time catching up with old colleagues and less time actually attending sessions. SIOP vets know how to parse the program and select the sessions that are most interesting to them. They spend less time trying to attend everything and more time focusing. SIOP vets also tend to present more and attend less. Seasoned practitioners also have work-related obligations, like attending their company’s booth or meeting with clients. Financial pressures also subside as time passes. 


SIOP vets also want to be helpful to those in earlier career stages. They are happy to field questions and to be approached! (They don’t bite.) SIOP vets like to see early-career professionals and students with a hunger to learn and to maximize the SIOP experience.  Melissa Henderson, of Aon Hewitt, states that “If we are actively looking to hire, then I am very interested in those folks who are looking for a job and what they have to offer our organization. If we are not actively looking to hire, I am looking for what types of innovative ideas folks are working on.” Similarly,April Cantwell,of FurstPerson, is happy to be approached by students and young professionals looking for opportunities but rarely hears from them after the initial, brief interaction: “If they are really interested, I assume they will follow up with me, do some investigating about who I am, what my company does, and how they can contribute (what they can do).” SIOP vets appreciate the energy, insights, and perspectives of new I-Os, but it’s up to each and every one to drive his or her own experience. 



WHEN You Get There, Here’s How to Win at SIOPing


Highlighters and Running Shoes


Here are tidbits about how to plan:


  • Bring business cards. Get them made in advance, even if you are a student! 
  • Select 2–3 sessions to attend per day, in advance. Then, leave the rest of your day open for exploration and discovery.
  • Consider signing up for the ambassador program where you are paired up with a mentor who will help you navigate the SIOP experience.


Here are tidbits about how to select sessions to attend:


  • Choose sessions with presenters at all career stages so you can develop a mental model for success as you progress.
  • Choose sessions that sound interesting to you (don’t choose sessions to please your advisor, for example).
  • Choose sessions that represent a mix of academics and practitioners.
  • Don’t chase the “big names” all day.
  • If you can’t choose between two sessions at the same time, split your time between the two, but be sure to sit in the back!


Here are tidbits about how to spend your time when you’re there:


  • Hand out those business cards!
  • Balance going to sessions with topics you know a lot about with topics you know less about.
  • Don’t forget to eat something.
  • Go to sessions and to networking activities early and strike up a conversation with those around you (if they are not busy!).
  • Set a goal of learning something new or different every day.
  • If you’d like to meet particular people, wait until after they have finished a session and approach them with a question or try to find them at a reception.
  • Don’t be shy! Most folks are friendly. But don’t interrupt what appears to be a serious conversation or focused work.
  • Don’t stay at a hotel where you are the only person with a SIOP nametag.
  • Take advantage of all of the receptions and networking events available.
  • Step outside of your comfort zone and try to meet new people; you never know where your next job might come from (Yes, this is worth stating twice)!
  • Ask questions in sessions: engage!


Here are tidbits about how to follow up with folks:


  • Use LinkedIn. Connect.
  • Compare notes with friends who made it to sessions you missed.
  • Follow up with new contacts.
  • Strategize about sessions that would further the discussion next year.


The Measure of Success


You know you have succeeded at SIOP if you walk away with inspiration and a feeling for the pulse of the field. Our experts agree that you should have an understanding of the latest issues, and share and learn about the most cutting-edge research and practices. Walk away with an appreciation for what is going on and having gotten to meet with colleagues, classmates, and clients you don’t get to see often. Over and over again, our interviewees agree that one of the single most important things you can do is work to maintain the connections you have and to build your network. Even our most introverted interviewees agree on this point. 

At the very least, don’t burn bridges.




Text Box: SIOP is vast in topics covered, physically huge, and brings all of the top thought leadership to one place for a short span of time.  Be strategic and focus in on what will support your professional growth and personal growth/interests.-	Nick Martin

So, here is the bottom line: SIOP is a catalyst. It is a catalyst for personal and professional development. It facilitates the dissemination of the latest and greatest thinking in our field. It has something to offer whether you are an undergraduate considering I-O as a career path or a seasoned professional attending your 20thconference. In the words of Nick Martinof Aon Hewitt “be immersed” and “soak it up.” 



Michael Leytemof scitrain ltd. states that the most important thing you can get out of SIOP is “a greater appreciation for the field and the professionals who are dedicating their lives to make work a better place for all.” What is the most important thing you are going to take away this year? To take it a step further, what is the most important thing you are going to contribute next year?


Acknowledgements: many thanks to the experts who took the time to respond to this survey and offered their nuggets of wisdom to the I-O masses. These were April Cantwell,Reanna Harman, Melissa Henderson,Eden King, Michael Leytem, Nicholas Martin,Kathy McKay,Erin Mellynchuk, Kathy Stewart, Gary Travinin, and one anonymous academic.


1No, that is not going to get old.

2None of our interviewees, anyway. You know what you need to do.

3Seriously. It’s amazing how often one can forget this at SIOP. Plan ahead.

4This could be an entire article in itself, and perhaps it will be. Our field is small and information gets around. Instead of worrying about perception, though, how about trying to bea person who is known for being gracious and polite and truthful?

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