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Eye on Psi Chi: Winter 2016

How to Encourage Student Conference Attendance
Tammy Lowery Zacchilli, PhD, Saint Leo University (FL)
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Each fall, I tell the same story to my Research Methods I students. I clearly remember sitting in one of my master’s-level courses and being asked, “Who has presented at a conference?” I raised my hand and looked around the room. I was the only student raising my hand and remember feeling surprised that no other students shared this experience with me.
I always end this story the same way by telling students that their experiences will be different from mine. Most master’s programs expect students to have research experience. When students apply to graduate school, they will not be the only one in the pool of applicants who has research experience or who has attended a conference. That’s why it is so important to get involved. In fact, I encourage students to attend conferences in their first or sophomore year before presenting to gain that experience.
As an undergraduate, I was really not sure which area of psychology was the best fit for me. I had enjoyed my experimental psychology and social psychology courses, and the instructor of those two courses became my mentor. She encouraged me to enroll in research credit with her and assist with analyzing data that she collected. She was enthusiastic about research and social psychology, and she greatly influenced my approach to teaching and mentoring students.
I was fortunate to present my first study in the CEPO section of the SEPA Convention during the senior year of my undergraduate program. I even won a Psi Chi Research Award. The experience of presenting at a research convention was so exciting that I continued presenting throughout my master’s and doctoral programs.
Once I began teaching full-time, I became committed to getting undergraduates involved in attending conferences and presenting research. I should note that I teach at a teaching university with approximately 200 majors on campus. Students enrolling in our program often report that they want to become counselors, and very few have entered our program expressing interest in conducting research. In fact, many students express concern and even distress at the mention of research courses or statistics. I am sure other faculty members have experienced similar responses from their students. However, this should not discourage faculty members from challenging students to get interested and excited about research and attending conferences.
The goal of this article is to provide advisors with some tips to get students involved in research and conference attendance and also to provide students with tips on how to get involved. These tips are based on my own experiences as well as feedback from some of my current students.
Tips for Advisors
We have the responsibility to prepare our students for graduate school and future careers in psychology. Conferences provide students with opportunities to meet other psychology majors and learn about interesting new research in psychology. Below are some things that advisors can do.
Be enthusiastic. When I recently asked my Research Methods III students about what I had done to get them excited about research and conference attendance, the overwhelming response was “Enthusiasm!” Regardless of whether you teach the research courses at your university, you should be enthusiastic about research in your field and other areas of psychology. Students get excited when we are excited.
Build their confidence. Attending and presenting at conferences can be intimidating to students, especially if they have not attended a conference in the past. Offering words of encouragement and being available to answer questions can help students feel more comfortable.
Be flexible. Although my primary interests in psychology are close relationships, bullying, and social media use, I do not limit my students to working on these topics only. My students and I have presented on a wide range of topics. Students get excited about research when it is something they genuinely care about, so why should we make them only study what we are interested in studying? Although I may not be the expert in a given area, I want my students to study what interests them, and they can teach me in the process.
Bring in past students to discuss their experiences. I can talk all day about how wonderful conferences are, but at the end of the day, students need to hear this from their peers. I like to ask students who have attended a conference or presented to come into my research methods classes and talk about their experiences. Students tend to open up to each other and may ask questions that they didn’t want to ask me. When my past students share their experiences, their enthusiasm shows, which generates more interest in conference attendance.
Provide conference-like experiences. In all three of our research methods courses, students present in a poster session. In the first two courses, the poster sessions are not as formal, although students are required to dress professionally. These sessions take place in the classroom. In the third course, we like to invite other faculty members and students to attend, and we hold the sessions in a special location. These experiences are great practice for presenting at a conference and can help alleviate some of the fears of attending. We also have poster sessions and oral presentations in the spring as part of the university’s Academic Excellence Day. Experiences like this one can help students become more familiar with how conferences work, which helps them become more comfortable.
Discuss the importance of networking. I met my graduate school mentor at my first SEPA convention. My undergraduate mentor introduced me to her, I applied to the program, and I ended up going to the school and loving it there. Conferences have an amazing way of bringing people together and allowing us to introduce our current students to past students and even our past professors. Graduate schools send representatives to conferences as well. We need to make sure that our students are informed of the importance of networking at conferences, so share your own examples with them.
Support regional conventions. I strongly believe that we should support our regional psychology organizations. I have taken students to national conventions, but regional conventions offer a more personal experience that students can really benefit from.
Tips for Students
Psychology students have a responsibility to learn more about the discipline of psychology and to stay current in the field. Conferences provide opportunities for personal development that goes beyond what you learn in the classroom. I have included some tips below to get you started thinking about conference attendance.
Attend a conference before you present research. I encourage students to attend a conference early in their undergraduate careers. We always have a nice mixture of student presenters and student attendees. Attending prior to presenting can help you become more comfortable because you can see firsthand how a psychology conference works.
Ask questions. If you have questions, do not be afraid to ask. Your advisor is there to answer the questions you have regarding conference attendance. Also, it is a great idea to talk to students who have attended in the past. They can give you the student perspective of attending a conference. Our chapter always has an informational meeting in the fall to answer questions and determine who is interested in attending the regional convention. I highly recommend that chapter officers plan meetings like this to ensure that questions are answered. It might help to invite the chapter advisor to attend the informational meeting as well.
Get your friends involved. Traveling to conferences and presenting can be even more exciting when you are doing it with your friends. Consider working on team projects or getting a group of students together to attend. The additional support can make attendance less intimidating.
Apply for Psi Chi Travel or Research Grants. It is always a good idea to check with your department and university about resources to assist with conference travel. As Psi Chi members, you are eligible to apply for grants to help with your research study, as well as grants to help you travel to a conference. Be sure to check the Psi Chi website for the application requirements and deadlines.
Get excited! Attending conferences is an excellent way to meet new people and learn about graduate school. Even if you do not present at the conference, you can attend sessions on topics that are interesting to you, and you might even meet people who you have read about in your psychology textbooks! If you are presenting, this is your time to shine and tell others about your research.
Whether you are a faculty advisor or Psi Chi member, I hope you have gained some tips on getting involved in research and psychology conferences. I look forward to seeing you at the next conference!

Tammy Lowery Zacchilli, PhD, completed her doctoral degree in experimental social psychology from Texas Tech University in May 2007. She started teaching full-time at Saint Leo University in Florida in August 2007. She has served as the faculty advisor for the Saint Leo Psi Chi Chapter for 5 years and is also the faculty advisor for the Online Psychology Association. During her second year of teaching, she received the Faculty Teaching Award for the School of Arts and Sciences at Saint Leo. In 2013, she was the recipient of the Southeastern Psychological Association Mentor Award and the Saint Leo University Outstanding Publications Award. She was also a recent recipient of the Psi Chi Faculty Advisor Award for the Southeastern Region. Her primary research interests include romantic conflict, Facebook® use, teaching of psychology, and cyber bullying. She has presented at national and regional conventions with 50 undergraduate students, and 30 of those students are Psi Chi members. She resides in Dade City, FL, with her husband, Mike, two daughters, Alexis and Peyton, and her son, Brayden.

Copyright 2016 (Volume 20, Issue 2) by Psi Chi, the International Honor Society in Psychology


Eye on Psi Chi is a magazine designed to keep members and alumni up-to-date with all the latest information about Psi Chi’s programs, awards, and chapter activities. It features informative articles about careers, graduate school admission, chapter ideas, personal development, the various fields of psychology, and important issues related to our discipline.

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