Spring is conference season in higher education. Whether you’re a conference newbie or a seasoned attendee, here are some tips for making the most of national conferences:
Bring business cards. In this electronic era, they may seem unnecessary, but many people still rely on the business card as a quick way to exchange contact information. You may be using social-media sites such as LinkedIn, Facebook, or Academia.edu, but your future boss may prefer to keep your contact info in her Rolodex.
Review the schedule beforehand. I aim for a mix of practical and academic sessions, along with a few that are completely out of my research agenda or professional arena but just sound fascinating. Many conferences also offer sessions on balancing work and life. Select sessions carefully, and give yourself some breaks, and you will be more likely to return to the campus with a renewed sense of purpose.
Understand the culture. Each conference has a slightly unique culture of dress, attendance, and socializing. That culture may be alienating if it’s not consistent with your own norms, in much the same way that first-generation college students may find themselves somewhat adrift during their first semester on a campus. If you’re a first-time conference attendee, find someone who knows the ropes and ask them to clue you in. Attend the newcomers’ orientation at the beginning of the conference.
What happens in Vegas becomes a source of gossip. Yes, the professional boundaries are loosened a bit during a conference, but ultimately, you’re still working. You would be well-served to remember that you could be dancing/drinking/flirting with your future supervisor, search-committee chair, or dean.
Decide what you want to accomplish at the conference. This is crucial. At different times in my career, I have had different goals for a conference. Early on, my goal was to soak up as much practical advice as possible. At other times, connecting with valued mentors and colleagues became more important. For future and new faculty members, conferences are ideal places for finding potential research collaborators.
Of course, those tips are not specific to the community-college sector, but like any field, ours is a small world. Do you have other tips for making the most of conferences?