Attending a psychology convention is tremendously beneficial for students. While there, you are able to network, learn about the newest research, and many of you will have the opportunity to present your own work. As for the benefits, you don’t have to take my word for it because Phillips (2014) surveyed undergraduates who attended a convention and found that all were glad to have had the experience presenting their research (94.74% strongly agreed and 5.26% agreed). Networking stood out to them as they either strongly agreed (68.42%) or agreed (31.58%) that they were able to interact with other students and professionals during their presentations. Conventions are an integral part of the way that psychologists communicate their research; in fact, disseminating work is part of the scientific method.
To get started, it is helpful to understand the size and scope of the conventions that exist. Phillips (2014) echoed this, suggesting that you evaluate which conventions are best for your travel preferences and abilities. The American Psychological Association hosts the largest convention every August, in a different city, alternating with Washington DC. August 2017 was the 125th Annual Convention, and it featured more then 1,000 sessions, 50 social hours, and programing from all 56 divisions providing current information from the entire field of psychology (APA, About Us, 2017).
As the Director of Regional Programing for Division II, The Teaching of Psychology, I suggest not only attending the large APA Convention, but also considering attending one of the smaller regional conventions. There are seven regional conventions across the country that host more intimate and outstanding programing (APA, Regional Psychology Programming, 2017). These smaller conventions are typically student friendly and allow you to get up close with big name researchers in psychology (the ones you read about in your textbooks). Other conventions worth noting are domain specific such as the Society for Research in Child Development (SRCD, 2017), which hosts a convention biyearly, or the Society for Personality and Social Psychology (SPSP, 2017), which hosts a convention annually. These specialty area conventions are quite large and allow you to dig deeper into the specific subject matter you are most interested in.
After choosing a convention to attend, you must prepare yourself. It is essential that you make a great impression and that you get the most academic and personal paybacks you can. Psi Chi has online resources to help you. Start by visiting the webpage “Resources: Attending and Presenting at Conventions
” (Psi Chi, 2017). From this webpage you will find a link to help you create a poster presentation including templates and samples. There is also a link for tips to prepare paper presentations, and numerous links to the various psychology convention deadlines and informational pages. Having traveled to over 25 conventions myself, starting during my undergraduate years, I have some ideas for you as well. The following list focuses on strategies for how to present yourself at a convention, how to put your best foot forward, and how to get the edge up, eventually skyrocketing your future career as a psychologist.
1. Ready, Set, Goals
Why are you attending the convention? Is it to learn, make a research presentation, or to network? Is it all three of those things? What is the most important goal you have? By setting goals, you are more likely to get the most out of your convention experience.
2. A goal without a plan is just a dream
The best way to achieve your goals at a convention is to utilize the convention program. Some conventions use hard copy books while others put the program online or use an App. Study your program like you would a textbook. Plan out what sessions you are going to attend, who you want to meet, and where the free food is. Make sure that your plan matches your goals.
3. Self-confidence is the best outfit, rock it and own it
You earned the privilege to attend a convention. This is a big deal, congratulations! Be confident and dress yourself to match that confidence. Wear shoes that feel good all day long. Go professional for your presentations and business casual for the rest. Last but not least, pockets are always helpful!
4. “I always feel like, somebody’s watching me” (Rockwell, 1984)
When you are at a convention, a potential colleague, graduate school advisor, or esteemed researcher is always around. You could share an elevator with someone important, stand next to your psychology idol in line for coffee, or share an airport shuttle with the director of a graduate program you want to apply to. You might not know who they are but if you make a bad impression, they will remember you. Always be professional from the first minute of the convention to the last.
5. Success is at the other side of your comfort zone
Step out of your bubble to meet someone new every day. Networking can be scary and can make you nervous. Growth requires calculated risk. Sometimes things won’t work out, but staying in a safe space can be just as detrimental to growth as recklessness. One way to start networking is to ask a thoughtful and inquisitive question. That’s a great way to get in to a new conversation.
6. Avoid the floppy fish
Handshakes make an important first impression. The floppy fish handshake (too light with no grip) is just as bad as the handshake that cuts off circulation or rips someone’s shoulder out of the socket. Practice how to introduce yourself in 30 seconds or less. Tell the person who you are, where you’re from, and get to the point of why you approached them.
7. Show up
If you say you’re going to be somewhere, be there 10 minutes early. Don’t make anyone’s time less valuable than yours. Be the real deal and do what you say. Don’t skip out on sessions while at the convention. Take planned brain breaks, but make sure to attend as much as you can. Soak it all in. Although it’s tempting to go explore whatever new city you are in, leave sightseeing for after convention hours, and when doing so be on your best behavior (see #4).
8. Put down your phone, look up, breathe in
I am not suggesting you completely unplug, that’s not practical. We use our phones to know what time it is, where we’re going, to utilize convention program Apps, and even to network via social media platforms like Twitter. What I am telling you to do is be thoughtful in when and how you use your technology (i.e., not during the middle of a session). Mindfulness practice teaches people to be present in each moment. To get the most out of the convention, take advantage of this idea.
9. Leave a trail
Send a thank you message to your advisors and fellow presenters. Reach out via e-mail to someone you met. This is how people will remember who you are.
10. Keep calm and do your best
Attending a convention is both complex and simple. Although it’s a new experience for many of you, remember that you have help. Utilize your faculty mentors; you shouldn’t go it alone the first time. Always remember how much you love psychology and the potential you have to learn.
That is a comprehensive list I hope helps you prepare for your first, second, or even twentieth convention. Are you still not quite sure where to start? Talk to the professor who taught your favorite class, your academic advisor, or your mentor. They are there to guide you and can provide you with opportunities to attend a convention. The only thing left to do is pack your bag. Need help there too? Wong (2016) has a list so you won’t forget anything. Good luck, Psi Chi students. I look forward to seeing you at a psychology convention soon.
American Psychological Association. (2017, July, 17). About us. Retrieved from http://www.apa.org/convention/about/index.aspx
American Psychological Association. (2017, July, 17). Regional psychology programming. Retrieved from http://www.apa.org/about/apa/organizations/regionals.aspx
Phillips, L. A. (2014, July). Teaching applied psychology: Students’ experiences presenting at conferences. EPoster and brief oral report presented at the 28th International Congress of Applied Psychology, Paris, France.
Psi Chi. (2017, July, 17). Resources: Attending and presenting at conventions. Retrieved from https://www.psichi.org/?RES_ConvPresent
Society for Personality and Social Psychology. (2017, July, 17). 2018 SPSP Annual Convention. Retrieved from http://meeting.spsp.org
Society for Research in Child Development. (2017, July, 17). Biennial meeting. Retrieved from https://srcd.org/meetings/biennial-meeting
Rockwell. (1984). Somebody’s watching me. On Somebody’s watching me. Detroit, MI: Motown Records.
Wong, J. (2016). The undergraduate researcher’s guide to conferences and packing [Blog post]. Retrieved from https://undergrad.research.ucsb.edu/2016/01/undergraduate-researchers-guide-conferences-packing/
Bethany Fleck, PhD, received her doctorate in developmental psychology from the University of New Hampshire. While there, she also earned a master’s in the science of college teaching. Her research centers on cognitive development in childhood education and university classroom contexts. Both lines of research draw on developmental theory with the overall goal of enhancing the learning environment for students of all levels. Recently she has been working on a project that measures growth and fixed mindset in 6th through 12th grade urban youth. In the classroom, her research as of late focuses on the effects of service learning, grading systems, syllabi manipulations, and the integration of social media. Bethany is currently an associate professor at Metropolitan State University of Denver teaching courses in the human development and psychology majors. In her courses, she is committed to an active, learner-centered approach to teaching.
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