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Itâ€™s Conference Time!
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by Vincent Prohaska, PhD - Psi Chi National President, Lehman College, CUNY
If my timing is right, you are reading this at the start of “conference season” when most regional and national conferences in psychology take place. If you are lucky enough to be in Boston, Irvine, Boise, Charlotte, Kansas City, or Chicago, attending your regional conference should be easy—it’s in your backyard. Boston and Chicago are extra lucky this year as the international conferences of the American Psychological Association (Boston) and the Association for Psychological Science (Chicago) are meeting in those cities as well. If you are not among these lucky ones, there is still time for some quick fund-raisers to help offset the costs (if you were not already raising funds during the fall). Why should you be spending your time and money to attend a conference? Several reasons:
- Conferences are where the newest ideas and research findings are presented, often long before they appear in journals. If you are looking for ideas for research projects, there is no more concentrated source of cutting-edge research than a conference. Several of my own projects have been inspired by research I have seen and heard at past conferences.
- Very often the invited speakers at conferences, such as the Psi Chi Distinguished Lecturers, are some of the most respected researchers and best presenters in psychology. These are the people other psychologists most want to hear. How do you know who they are? Look for the sessions with a single speaker talking for the entire hour.
- Networking is what conferences are all about. You will have the opportunity to meet faculty and students from all over the region, the U.S., and even the world. This can be especially valuable if you are looking for graduate programs or for a researcher in whose laboratory you might want to spend a summer. Talking with faculty and students from another institution is a fabulous way to learn about that institution’s programs and entry requirements.
- Most conferences also have programming specifically geared to student concerns, for example: panels on career opportunities, workshops on getting into graduate school, and sessions on conducting research and finding mentors.
Getting the most out of a conference requires some planning. If possible, preregister. Preregistering generally will enable you to skip the long registration lines and get right into the conference. Most conferences also send the program to preregistered attendees in advance. If you don’t or can’t preregister, check the conference website; many conferences are now putting their programs online. The advantage in having the program before the conference is huge—you can plan out your day and the sessions you want to attend. With so many sessions, conferences can quickly become overwhelming. Plan now or there’s a good chance you will miss precisely the session you most wanted to attend.
While at the conference, remember that you are at a professional meeting among professionals. Fortunately, that no longer means a high degree of formality (there is no truth to the rumor that while presenting posters men must wear tuxedos and women gowns). But conferences are not completely informal either (so pajamas and slippers are definitely out, no matter how comfortable they are; note to Californians: bathing suits are inappropriate too). In short, dress professionally and avoid extremely casual clothing choices. Resist the urge to yell to your friend who is down the hall and definitely turn off your cell phone during sessions. Remember, the person you accidentally bumped without saying “excuse me,” or whose conversation you interrupted rather rudely, or who asked you to be quiet during a talk, might turn out to be a member of the graduate admissions committee at your number one choice program, or even worse, the researcher you wanted to work with!
Attending a conference with other members of your chapter is a terrific idea, but try to resist the “herd mentality.” So none of your friends are interested in that talk on rat behavior, but you are. Go! You don’t all have to go to the same talks and sessions together. Meet up with them later. Don’t be afraid to split up. Finally, talk to people you do not know. As I said earlier, networking is what conferences are about. Everyone is there to talk about research and ideas for future research and collaborations. Generally, if you are polite in approaching them, faculty won’t bite (we’ve been somewhat socialized!).So get out there and attend a conference!