Gear Up for Summer Conference Season

naspa graduate associate program gap

Amanda Loh, University of Michigan

June 6, 2017

Last March, I had the opportunity to attend my first higher education conference, the 2016 NASPA Annual Conference! Leading up to the conference, I was apprehensive about what to expect. To alleviate some of these potential worries, here are some tips I picked up from conference pros and through my own experience.

Before going to bed each night, go through the conference schedule and determine which workshops you might be interested in attending the next day. Planning ahead means less stress the next day! I found the conference to be very high energy, but sometimes this meant feeling lost in the shuffle. Setting a general schedule the night before helped me get lost less!

When picking sessions, try to balance the topics that you select. To make the most of the conference, consider picking sessions that will benefit your education in multiple ways. I brought new leadership curriculum ideas to my assistantship thanks to some sessions specifically designed for my functional area. I also checked out sessions that piqued my interest based on the classes I was taking that semester. Finally, I checked out one session each day that was based on a topic I was completely unfamiliar. While these often felt like the most intimidating sessions to go to, I found them to be the most beneficial. These sessions helped me expand my knowledge and feel more comfortable with different material. People in these sessions are also genuinely excited to share their knowledge with you!

Step out of your comfort zone and meet new people. Sticking with people from your graduate program is an easy way to never leave your bubble. My fellow Michigan students and I made a pact to attend different sessions throughout the conference so we would be forced to meet new people. This tactic also allowed us to spread out and glean different pieces of information for one another.

Check out the different constituent groups! Attending an event – like a reception or coffee hour – sponsored by a knowledge community or NASPA region is a great way to network and expand your interests. I attended an event from a knowledge community last year on a whim, and their presentation ended up shaping both my professional and personal identity in the months to come.

Don’t be afraid to take time for yourself. Conferences have much to offer, but I also made sure to take a half hour for myself every day to relax. While I was worried that relaxing meant that I was wasting time, I realized that by practicing self-care I was more likely to absorb material from the conference sessions that I attended than by trying to cram in an extra session and feel exhausted.

Pack business cards and snacks! These were my two most valuable things in my bag throughout the conference. I connected with different people after the conference with the help of business cards, and my stomach never growled while I was in a session thanks to the granola bars I kept on hand!

Reflect, reflect, reflect! The biggest tip I learned from seasoned conference-goers was that it is important to reflect on the conference experience. Each session is packed with information, and as a graduate student I found myself thinking about how to apply each session to my internship and professional identity. However, it can be easy to get swept back up into your daily routine upon returning to your routine back at home. Taking time to journal and set goals for myself after the conference allowed me to feel like I took advantage of the information I learned. I would encourage you to also consider gathering with the other students and colleagues from your institution who attended the conference, as this meeting is a good way to hold one another accountable!

Overall, conferences are incredible growth opportunities as a graduate student. NASPA has a host of conferences and professional development events happening year round – register now and get excited! 

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