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How to Get Undergraduate Students to Attend a Conference
by Cassie Cataldo - University of Florida
Categories: Chapter Growth | Promotion of Research
The Southeastern Psychological Association (SEPA) held its annual conference in Mobile, Ala., this past March . Each year the SEPA meeting is a place for students of every educational level to meet others who have similar research interests, to obtain information about the latest research, to learn about getting into graduate school (my personal favorite), and to see what poster presentations look like.
I took an informal poll and discovered that most undergraduates found this conference to be "student-friendly" for the following reasons: (1) It's easy to find your way around the posters (a result of good organization of research subjects); (2) the staff and faculty from other schools are happy to help you find your way if you do get lost; (3) no one talks over your head; (4) there is a wide variety of research subjects to choose from; (5) there are numerous events to attend from posters to film; (6) there is always a session devoted to getting into graduate school. All of these reasons and more are why the Psi Chi Chapter/Psychology Club of the University of Florida (UF) promotes this conference heavily to its members. In fact, UF begins promoting this spring conference during the previous fall semester.
While at SEPA, I was asked by both students and faculty how the UF Psi Chi Chapter/Psychology Club managed to get over 40 undergraduates to drive seven hours from Gainesville, Fla., to Mobile, Ala., for a three-day meeting. Well, it wasn't entirely easy, but it sure was fun! I'd like to offer the following suggestions for encouraging students to attend regional psychological meetings in 1999:
- Begin promoting the conference early! Start in the fall. If your chapter has a newsletter, say something about the regional convention in every issue. Start by reporting the date and place. Until you have details to report, talk about the host city and how wonderful it is. Call the convention bureau of the city to get more information.
- Delegate! Form a committee and assign a chairperson to organize your chapter's participation. The chairperson must assign to each committee member the responsibility of handling a different aspect of the conference (lodging, registration, transportation, etc.). Be sure these members are mature and responsible. Deadlines are very important (as we will all discover when we begin to publish research!), and your committee must be on top of them.
- Contact the regional psychological association (EPA, MPA, NEPA, RMPA, SEPA, SWPA, or WPA). Make sure you provide to the association a name and address to which they can send information about the conference.
- Be excited! The most powerful tools are your chapter/club officers. When they are excited about the conference, everyone else will follow.
- Raise money. Plan fundraisers to help subsidize the cost of attending the conference. Beginning early will help.
- Encourage undergraduates who are doing or have done research to submit their work for the undergraduate poster session.
Extra things to do to make participation in the conference more memorable and meaningful:
- Schedule a meeting early in the spring for those planning to attend to review details.
- Schedule another meeting three days before the conference to distribute hotel information and maps if necessary.
- After the conference, provide certificates of participation to each member who attended.
- Plan to share the information each member collects (including abstracts, summaries of talks, etc.) with the rest of the chapter/club, especially those unable to attend.
- To help encourage students to get excited about research, plan a preconvention poster session to give students an opportunity to show off their work.
For the University of Florida, the SEPA conference is the premier event of the year. We believe that undergraduates must learn about poster sessions and research as early as possible in their undergraduate careers. This conference provides much toward this education; therefore, our chapter/club has made it a priority to provide psychology students with this educational opportunity. UF's students come home with information about research and graduate school that many undergraduates do not get exposed to until graduate school. As a result, our students become more focused and savvy regarding poster sessions and getting into graduate school. It gives them career training and, in turn, will produce better psychologists.
If anyone would like more details on how to plan for regional psychology conventions, please feel free to e-mail me at email@example.com. Good luck!
Winter 1999 issue of Eye on Psi Chi (Vol. 3, No. 2, p. 24), published by Psi Chi, The National Honor Society in Psychology (Chattanooga, TN). Copyright, 1999, Psi Chi, The National Honor Society in Psychology. All rights reserved.