The psychology convention season is just around the corner—a year away at most. So it's not too soon to be thinking about attending a convention. As it turns out, we both returned a few months ago from a convention in Washington, D.C.—the seat of power, the focal point of decision making, and the locale of unending bickering and hostility. (No, we're not talking about the White House and Congress, we are talking about the American Psychological Association and the American Psychological Society.)
The convention we attended was the largest one in psychology, the meeting of the APA—and what a grand event it was! We both presented scholarly papers. The first author presented an overview of the theoretical and empirical bases for splitting the General Psychology course into two separate courses: Major General Psychology and Lieutenant General Psychology. And the second author presented his historical paper that traced the origins of managed care back to Freud's classic paper, "Analysis Reimbursable and Non-Reimbursable."
We had great fun at the APA Convention in Washington. Everyone should attend APA at least once a decade, especially if it is located in a city you want to visit and/or you have friends or relatives who will let you sleep over for the duration of the convention.
At first we were intimidated by the size of the convention; because of the thousands of attendees the convention was spread out across several hotels that are some distance from each other. But we had nothing to worry about. APA put a fleet of shuttle buses into service, and after a short wait of only three hours, we were soon on our way from one session to another. And what a stroke of genius it was to purchase bus tires from Firestone and hire a crew from Amtrak to create the schedule and supervise the entire system.
Of course, transportation was not the focus of the convention. It wasn't even the workshops, symposia, or our own paper sessions. No, the focus was the awards presentations. And there were plenty of them! By our count, only 12 people attended APA who returned home without an award. The president of each division presented a distinguished service award to the immediate past president, who then presented the lifetime achievement award to the past-past president, who presented the early career award to the president-elect, and so on.
But we must admit that the major reason we attend is to listen to ourselves tal . . . no, wait, to listen to OTHERS talk about their cutting-edge research. It took us days to wade through all of the enticing presentations in a program that is so large that we had to check it on the airline. We felt like little children in a candy store, just ready to pounce on every morsel of knowledge.
Not every session was worth attending, however. Because many of you are not yet veteran conference participants, we thought we might spare you some time by highlighting some sessions you can avoid. So memorize the following list, as it could be the difference between attending the conference of your life and just another conference.
It is not a good idea to attend a session at all if:
you hear crying coming from a meeting room;
the lights are out when you arrive (and you are on time);
the title of the session runs for more than a page in the program;
it's presented by the Bob Knight Anger Management program;
the number of people on the panel outnumber the number of people in the audience;
you hear snoring from the dais, especially from the speaker him or herself;
the chairs are arranged in a circle, but they're facing the walls;
the session has both the word "Jung" and the word "rat" in the title; and
the session requires you to sign an Informed Consent or a Disclaimer form before entering the room.
Once you decide to attend a session, be alert for some signals of things that have gone or may go wrong:
If the introduction lasts for 15 minutes, the speaker probably left the presentation on the plane. If the introduction lasts for 30 minutes, the speaker is in the bar and has started a conversation hour.
If the speaker leaves in the middle of the presentation, this is not a good sign.
If the presenter begins the presentation by passing out a box of slides and a flashlight, you might want to slip out and find another session.
Likewise, the session is showing signs of losing it's magic when the presenter stops to answer his or her cell phone.
So, to what kinds of sessions SHOULD you go? Here are some tips:
If you happen to wander into a session with the word "Award" in the title, get in line. We're sure they'll have something for you.
Always go to talks by faculty members at your own college or university. It is amazingly refreshing to listen without having to worry about whether the stuff will be on a test.
Workshops with the word "Internet" in them might be good bets; even if they're boring you might still be able to check your e-mail.
And finally, any session that has refreshments in the back of the room.
Have a great time!