9 Tips for Navigating an In-Person Convention

9 Tips for Navigating an In-Person Convention

By Amanda Wisinger, APAGS Convention Committee

A return to in-person conferences is likely bringing about a mix of emotions for students – both positive and negative. Many of us have spent the better part of two years attending classes and seminars behind computer screens. For some of us, our entire graduate school experience has been spent in virtual spaces with limited opportunities to connect in-person with our peers and professors. We have grown adept at navigating a variety of typically in-person events being held virtually, such as dissertation defenses, interviews for practicum and internship, and even professional conferences.

If you are attending the APA Convention in Minneapolis this August in-person, it may be your first in-person conference ever. Or, your first in-person conference in a few years. While virtual conferences provided us with many benefits (e.g., reduced travel and lodging costs, the ability to refill your coffee by simply taking a few steps into your kitchen, attending sessions in your sweatpants, etc.), there were undoubtedly many opportunities that virtual events did not provide – including the ability to form new professional relationships and contacts through in-person networking.

Here are my top tips to boost your networking skills and make the most of an in-person Convention:

  1. Start browsing the Convention program online and create a schedule. You cannot be everywhere at once, and knowing where you want to be each day in advance can allow you to attend as many symposia, workshops, and/or poster sessions as possible that align with your goals and interests. If you notice conflicts in events that you want to attend, considering offering to share notes with a friend who is attending an event that conflicts with the one you plan to attend.
  • Download the APA Convention App! This will allow you to browse and search the entire APA 2022 program with ease.
  • Be sure to check out both APAGS and other Division-specific programming. Your Divisions of interest will likely have their own programs and socials listed on their website or social media channels. You can also check out this Division highlights page. Find Divisions by topic here.
  • Visit the Emerging Leaders Network (booth 105 in the Solutions Center) to connect with other graduate students and pick up some cool swag. There will be a lounge area for you to network with your peers and special programming for students and ECPs.

2. Consider pre-networking. If you know of someone who will be at Convention (e.g., a prospective PI of a lab you are interested in or internship training director) you may want to attempt to connect with them ahead of time either via cold emailing them or connecting with them on social media. If you decide to set up a meeting at Convention, ensure you have specific questions prepared to make the most of your time together.

3. Stay in the Convention hotel, if possible, to increase your visibility and make sure you can conveniently attend social hours and other events that are typically held in the evening after most of the formal programming. This increases the possibility of “chance” meetings with fellow students/trainees and/or leaders in the field during non-Convention activities and may lead to opportunities for a conversation later at Convention.

4. Wear your Convention badge even when you have stepped away from the Convention (like to grab a coffee at the hotel Starbucks). This badge will usually have your first and last name, pronouns, and your current institution (either graduate or undergraduate). Your badge will identify yourself to potential contacts. Some people will also have fun badge ribbons identifying them as “student” and/or “first-time attendee.” It can serve as a great conversation starter in the coffee line!

5. Get social! Attending in-person social hours is an excellent way to meet and connect with fellow students/trainees, as well as leaders in the field. Interactions at these types of events are where new collaborations and/or projects can be fostered. While it is tempting to stay in our comfort zone and socialize with people we know already, be bold! Try and set a goal for yourself to meet one new person at each event you attend. 

Some ideas for conversation starters:

“What have been some of your favorite sessions/speakers so far?

“What sessions/speakers are you looking forward to?”

“What other conferences are you planning to attend this year?”

6. Craft a 2–3-minute “elevator pitch” that you can provide to new people you meet at social hours and/or people who come up to your poster during your poster session (if applicable). This could include where you go to school or if you are planning on applying to graduate school, what your clinical and/or research interests are, what your career goals are, what you are hoping to get out of Convention, etc.

7. Ask for ways to contact people and be prepared to pass over your contact information as well. Remember that if you are not using your school-affiliated e-mail as your primary contact, whatever e-mail address you provide should be professional. In your follow-up correspondence, be sure to reference when/where you met one another at Convention and include a few details of what your discussion entailed. For this reason, it may be helpful to jot down a few notes at several points during the day of people you spoke with and what you discussed with them.

8. Engage with Convention on social media. If you are on Twitter, be sure to follow and contribute to the Convention conversation by searching for the Convention hashtag #APAGS2022 and using it in your Tweets about the conference. Ensure you are able to view consistent updates leading up to and during the Convention by following the official APAGS Twitter account or follow APAGS on Instagram.  

9. Pack accordingly! Convention days are long, and there are not always ample opportunities to return to your hotel room to grab essential items in between events. Be sure to bring a small backpack or handbag and pack snacks, medications, Band-Aids, chargers for your devices, and a pen/paper to take notes during sessions and to record contact information of new people you meet! 

Unfortunately, not everyone is able to travel or afford to attend the in-person event this year. If you are unable to attend APA Convention in person, APA and APAGS have got you covered. Don’t miss out on the action – join us virtually! APA is hosting 70 hours of virtual programming as well as three Pre-Convention Emerging Leader Days with programming specifically for students and early career psychologists. Register for the virtual conference here.

I hope these tips have ignited your excitement for an in-person Convention (for first-time attendees) or refreshed your memory as to what in-person conferences have to offer for students at all levels (for those who have attended in the past). I am looking forward to seeing you all there!

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