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Conference Crafting: Making the Most Out of Your Disney Adventure

Thomas Sasso, Jessica Sorenson, and Grace Ewles

TIP-TOPics

 

Conference Crafting: Making the Most Out of Your Disney Adventure

 

Thomas Sasso, Jessica Sorenson, and Grace Ewles

Attending the SIOP annual conference is a highlight for many, and although the yearly trek is beneficial for many reasons, it is important to plan ahead and tailor your conference experience in order to maximize the benefits. In particular, it is important to recognize that your personal needs and goals change as your career progresses. Whether you aim to network for a potential career, search for project collaborators, or want to gain insight into an emerging area of research, the specific aspects of the SIOP conference that you choose to capitalize on will change over time. In this TIP-Topics column, we present you with some important considerations and “TIPs” on how to craft your ideal conference experience. So pack your bags for Anaheim and the 2016 SIOP conference.

 

Set a Conference Goal

 

Everyone has different goals when it comes to the annual conference; it is important to reflect on what you want to get out of your time in Anaheim and choose your activities accordingly. Through our own experiences at the conference, we have identified four types of SIOP conference attendees. These categories are not mutually exclusive, and most individuals fluidly experience the different categories at different points during the conference.

 

First, there arejob hunters, which represent individuals seeking opportunities to secure employment by demonstrating their skills and connecting with various organizations. Next there are networkers,who want to build connections with individuals from other institutions or organizations with the aim of becoming well-associated in the I-O field. Whereas the previous two categories were focused on making connections, some individuals attend the annual conference as knowledge seekers, with the goal to attend as many sessions as possible in order to be exposed to the great learning opportunities available. Last, there are adventurers, which are individuals who want to experience everything the conference has to offer in some way, shape, or form. 

 

Whatever kind of conference you want, there are many ways to ensure that you make the most out of the few days you are there.

 

Be Proactive

 

The annual conference can be overwhelming. There are thousands of attendees, hundreds of sessions, and a buffet of I-O topics that provide you with seemingly endless choices. This can be intimidating, even for a seasoned conference goer. Our recommendation is to create a tentative schedule before you arrive. 

 

A tip from TIP-Topics: Know what sessions you will find useful and which ones you will find interesting; use a color-coded highlighter scheme in the program booklet to help you organize your schedule (e.g., yellow indicates a session related to your research, blue indicates a session of interest not related to your research, and orange for sessions to attend if you do not have any scheduling conflicts).

 

There are a number of ways you can establish a plan. Return to your goal to determine whether research or practical sessions will be beneficial. By reading the abstracts and looking at the affiliations of the session presenters, you can usually get a sense of the audience to whom the talk is going to be directed. Use the topic index in the program to help narrow down which areas are of most interest for you.

 

Another important technique for establishing a plan is to know what kind of sessions you will find most beneficial. In general, we have found that symposiums and panels are great ways to learn about up-to-date research and issues facing researchers and practitioners. If you’re looking to connect with other researchers, poster sessions or roundtables can be great opportunities to have engaging conversations directly with researchers about their topic.

 

A tip from TIP-Topics:Even the best-organized plans should allow for some flexibility. Don’t be afraid to change your schedule in the moment based on how you are feeling. Consider breaking out of previous conference routines by trying new types of sessions or checking out new topics.

 

Challenge Your Comfort Zone

 

Walking into the annual conference can be daunting. So, it makes sense to search for a familiar face and stick with them instead of meeting new people, but we cannot emphasize enough how important it is for you to challenge your comfort zone. Resist the urge to spend your conference with individuals from your institution. How often do you have the opportunity to meet individuals from organizations and institutions across the globe? For most of us, the answer is “seldom.”

 

You do not need to be extraordinarily profound when you first meet someone at the conference, just be authentic, respectful, and sincere. From our experience, sometimes a simple conversation has spawned meaningful friendships, collaborations, or mentorship opportunities. 

 

A tip from TIP-Topics: While you wait for a session to start or you are in line for coffee, talk to the people around you. Looking for something to say? We have some ideas for you: Where are you from? (Hint: they have a nametag that tells you this, but we all recognize this question as an acceptable way to break the ice.) What is your favorite part of the conference? Have you been to any good sessions so far? Or, in truly Canadian fashion: How about this weather? [Note: you can exchange weather for any miscellaneous, noncontroversial topic (e.g., local sports team, etc.)]

 

Connect and Stay Connected

Building off of our last recommendation of stepping outside of your comfort zone, we also suggest making an effort to connect with individuals before the conference starts and stay connected postconference. 

 

If you have planned your conference schedule early enough, you have an opportunity to connect with new colleagues before the conference begins. If you are interested in the topic of a session, consider sending an email to the individual before the conference. Tell them that you read their abstract and are really excited to attend their session. If you would find it valuable, consider checking to see if they would have 5–10 minutes to chat about their research during a coffee break in the conference schedule. Many presenters are very busy and might not have time to do this, but it does not hurt to ask. 

 

During the conference, whenever you meet someone new with whom you have developed a meaningful connection, make the most out of that situation. Exchange business cards or contact information. There is nothing worse than having a fantastic conversation with someone, agreeing you should stay in touch, and then after the conference forgetting who they were and having no ability to reconnect. Also, ensure that your LinkedIn profile and contact information are up to date before the conference. Use this opportunity to showcase your latest accomplishments.

 

A tip from TIP-Topics: A technique to help ensure your postconference email is responded to is to reference what you were talking about at the conference. Whenever we get someone’s business card, we take a minute to write on it what we talked about so it will refresh our memory days later.

 

Utilize Conference Resources

 

The annual conference is developed to make you feel comfortable and to facilitate opportunities to meet new people. In our experiences, the best opportunity for new attendees is to sign up for the Ambassador/Newcomer program. This program pairs you up with a seasoned SIOP member who will talk with you before the conference, meet with you during the conference, and be a resource for all of your conference questions. This individual can help you network and connect with individuals you might not otherwise meet, and if you are lucky they can become a long-term friend and colleague.

 

For returning attendees, or individuals looking for some more specific resources, be sure to check out the placement center, preconference workshops, the Friday Seminars, the exhibitor hall, and the continuing education opportunities. These conference resources can be invaluable with helping you achieve specific conference outcomes. Also, be sure to check out the vendors during your breaks, you can find some unique resources, and at a discount too!

 

During the conference there are many receptions offered. Some receptions are private and require invitation or association with an institution or region (so check to see if your institution hosts a reception/gather) but there are other receptions available to attend. The closing reception, the international reception, and the Committee on Ethnic and Minority Affairs and LGBT social hours are fantastic ways to meet new people in a social setting. You don’t need to worry if you don’t know anyone there; these opportunities typically involve great chances to mingle with new folks.

 

A tip from TIP-Topics: Use your connections with people you know to connect with others. Don’t be afraid to ask people to introduce you to someone else you want to get to know. Similarly, help others connect with people you know.

 

Take Care of Yourself!

 

Depending on how you schedule your conference, it can be exhausting. Attending sessions all day, meeting new people, rushing from room to room, staying active on SIOP’s social media, going out in the evenings to network with newly met colleagues, it is easy to run yourself into the ground. Recognize that the conference is a marathon not a sprint; so keep the following things in mind:

 

1.     Schedule time to eat.Ensure you have three meals a day and some snacks with you for in between. You don’t want to be trying to network with someone while your stomach is grumbling.

2.     Sleep is a necessity.It can be tempting to stay out all night with colleagues enjoying the local novelties and exploring Anaheim. But there is nothing worse than fighting back yawns during a symposium the next day or oversleeping and missing an important session. Make sure to be well rested.

3.     Dress to impress, comfortably.You want to look professional as you walk around the conference but not at the expense of being uncomfortable for three days in a row. Make sure you can function in your shoes, that your clothing will keep you at a comfortable temperature, and that you are presenting yourself in a way you wish others to see you.

4.     Know your limits.It is impossible to attend every session or meet every person. You might come into the conference with a few goals, and some of those might not be achieved. That’s okay. There will be another conference next year. You can always seek information or connections after the conference is over. If you know that you can only focus for 2 hours before you need a break, schedule in breaks for yourself. There is little point in sitting in on a session if you are a zombie. Take time for you. Prioritize self-care during the conference.

 

Perhaps most importantly, remember to have fun with whatever you decide to do and make the conference what you want it to be.

 

See You at SIOP 2015 Anaheim

 

Whether you’re searching for a whole new worldor wanting to be where the people are, join us and be our guestat SIOP’s 2016 conference. In order to discover the magicof SIOP’s conference, start with setting goals for the conference, utilize conference resources, make sure to challenge your comfort zone, and make/maintain connections. To truly appreciate the conference, however, you must remember to take care of yourself and have fun. If this isn’t your first time, make sure to pay it forward, help others discover everything that SIOP has to offer. Last, but not least, if you see us at the conference, come say hello!

 

Article Teaser

 

Building on our conference experiences, we hope to highlight the importance of and the specific strategies behind gaining international experience as a graduate student. Whether from collaborations, exchanges, and/or practical connections, international experience is a great accompaniment to any education. Feel free to send us any questions or comments regarding this or any of our columns to jsorenso@uoguelph.ca.

 

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