*In addition to great tips and advice from my personal experiences, this post also contains a review of a sponsored product*
One of the great opportunities that you should take advantage of while in college is academic conferences. You can usually find these conferences through your department, or even better, the clubs you’re in. Clubs that are related to specific majors almost always go to a few conferences relating to that topic each year. It’s likely that your university even hosts conferences at your school, which are even easier to take advantage of!
Why go to an Academic Conference?
Conferences may seem intimidating, but they are great networking opportunities. You can connect to hundreds of people from all over the nation that are working in your future field! I’ve learned so much from professionals in my field by going to conferences. Additionally, it’s often possible to present your own work, which looks amazing on a resume and is a great thing to talk about in interviews. You can even compete for scholarships and prizes while there if you so choose!
Another perk is the traveling itself! Thanks to going to academic conferences, I’ve traveled all over the Midwest, as well as to conferences in Chicago and Seattle. The honors college at my university pays for student’s conference and travel fees if you are presenting, so I went to Seattle completely for free! A lot of colleges do very similar programs, because they have money to give students who are doing research and getting their name out there.
How to Maximize Your Experience
The most important part of having a good conference experience is actually going to the conference. A lot of people I know go to the conference and spend their time hanging out in their hotel room or exploring the city. If you are going to a conference, you should make sure to dedicate a good amount of time to actually going to conference sessions. It’s a delicate balance. While in Seattle, we would go to 4-5 hours of conference sessions each day, and spend the rest of the time in the city exploring.
To make sure you go to the most relevant sessions at a conference, look through the program. There will usually be something either in print or online that can help you find out what is happening every day at the conference. There are usually 5-10 sessions that run at the same time, so you have to choose one. Choose sessions that you are interested in, not just where your friends are going.
Present something! To really get the most out of a conference, you should present your own work! You have likely already done research during your college career, so why not turn that research into a presentation? Most conferences have either poster presentations or sessions. I presented a poster in Seattle with a good friend, and it was so much fun, and honestly it was pretty easy to put together. Now I have a great project to put on my resume and show future employers!
Going to an academic conference without doing any networking is a huge waste! There are so many people in your field from all over the country! Valuable connections beyond compare! Make sure you don’t spend the entire conference with the people you came with (definitely guilty of this). Sit down with new people, chat with people around you in your sessions ,and get the business cards of presenters that you really enjoyed. I would also recommend bringing your own business cards to the conference. I got mine from vistaprint, and they are so handy to have around for things like a conference!
If you don’t have a LinkedIn Account, you should make one before you go to any networking event, so you can look people up and give them your name. Connecting on LinkedIn is the modern exchanging of business cards, and you don’t want to miss out on that. Professionals will be impressed when you roll up with your business card and LinkedIn, and they will recognize how serious you are.
If you want to more about networking, check out this great post from Shelcy Joseph!
What to Pack
When it comes to a professional conference, you should plan to be in business professional at all times. Here’s my biggest tip – keep your outfits reasonable. I see so many girls wearing tiny skirts, low-cut shirts, and sky high heels. I get it, it’s fun to dress up and look nice. Yet outfits like this are not only unprofessional, they will turn many people off because they won’t see you as you a real professional in the field. As a college student, it’s really important that you maintain professionalism at a conference. Also, you’re likely going to be walking all over the conference center and the city, so you will want to be in reasonably comfortable shoes.
Pack a few skirts/pants and multiple shirts that can pair with them. A blazer is highly recommended because layers are everything and a blazer adds a touch of professionalism to every outfit! Limit your jewelry, a few nice pieces like a watch and a simple necklace make a better impression than layers of gaudy jewelry.
Dressing up for days in a row often requires wearing uncomfortable dress shoes, like heels. That’s where sole patches come in. You can put these sticky patches on your heel or sole to take away the pain from wearing uncomfortable shoes all day at conferences. I tried these patches out on my most uncomfortable pair of heels, and it they helped me wear them for much longer than usual and took away a lot of the pain from my toes cramping into the tips of my heels. Wearing heels at a conference is often expected, and it is really hard to find comfortable heels – sole patches can help!
- Lint roller for last minute clean ups – you don’t want lint making you look bad.
- Bring tights – just in case your skirt is a bit shorter than remembered.
- If your nails are painted, bring the bottle with you to cover up any chips. Also bring a clear top coat – if your tights get a run in them you can swipe this on and stop the run in its tracks.
- Bring an umbrella so you don’t get soaking wet while getting lunch.
- Bring a pair of walking shoes in case you get a chance to explore the city.
- Have a bag that can hold a notepad, the conference program, your wallet, and your phone. You don’t want to meet someone while you’re trying to hold all of your possessions.
What about you?
Have you ever been to an academic conference? What tips would you offer to those attending? Don’t miss out on taking every possible advantage your school has to offer! Academic conferences are an amazing tool for growth and should be a goal while you’re in college!