Making the Most of Professional Conferences: More than Presentations

January 27, 2014

Many early career scholars attend conferences to present their research and learn about the work of others, but there is much more to conferences than just research. With the NASP convention fast approaching, scholars should plan to take advantage of the numerous networking and professional development opportunities offered. In particular, these conferences provide distinct occasions to network with individuals from throughout the nation around topics related to one’s professional interests and goals. Early career scholars should keep in mind the value of breakfasts, business meetings, social hours, receptions, and other social events as opportunities to meet scholars and clinicians whose interests overlap with their own. In addition, do not underestimate the value of the informal networking that occurs in hotel lobbies, lounges, and restaurants. Sometimes the best experiences can happen when you are just hanging out.

Attending conferences is a valuable chance to meet people, so early career scholars should take the time to get to know other scholars, be it introducing oneself to respected researchers, potential mentors, prospective collaborators, or future colleagues. Conferences are also a great place to become acquainted with people with whom you might later interact with when applying for internships, post-docs, or faculty and clinical positions. You can prepare for these interactions by planning your “elevator speech” to quickly (approximately 1 minute) summarize your training and interests to others. It is useful to think ahead about how you want to present yourself to others in the field, even though you may tailor it for specific individuals.

For more introverted individuals, this can be challenging, so it may be helpful to set goals to encourage mingling (e.g., 1. Introduce myself to Dr. Smith, 2. Talk to three interventionists, 3. Attend the SSSP Early Career Forum events, etc.). The key is to be as intentional about networking as you are in selecting sessions to improve your knowledge or skills in a particular substantive area of research or practice.

Conferences also often provide opportunities for very targeted professional development relevant to early career scholars. At some professional meetings, these include methods or statistics workshops from brief workshops to multiday intensive trainings focusing on the development of technical skills, typically at reasonable costs. Professional conferences also offer diverse career development opportunities relevant to pursuing academic positions in school psychology and related fields, such as conversation hours and speed mentoring. We at the Early Career Forum are busy preparing such events for school psychology scholars attending NASP and APA.

For graduate students and other prospective faculty, conferences can provide valuable opportunities to learn more about faculty roles and the nuances of engaging in the various stages and responsibilities of academic positions. Make time to talk to current faculty (most people are happy to meet up for coffee) or attend relevant sessions.

So now that NASP is just a few weeks away, take some time to think about all of the non-presentation related activities you’ll be doing at NASP. What’s on your list?

An earlier version of this blog appeared in the July 2013 issue of APA Division 16’s The School Psychologist.

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