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Attending Conferences

Posted on September 14, 2016
Image of a auditorium with people sitting in the seats

I love a good conference! And last week I attended the 3rd Annual Conference on Teaching and Learning Assessment organized by Drexel with sponsors such as AEFIS, chalk & wire, ETS, and many more. There are three reasons I believe conferences are beneficial.

Exposure to new ideas, trends, or approaches: The keynote speaker, Todd Zakrajsek, an Associate Research Professor and Associate Director of Fellowship Programs in the Department of Family Medicine at the University of North Carolina, opened the conference. He explored the idea of the engaged student and got us to think differently about what it means to be engaged in the classroom. I knew the keynote was beneficial when I continued to process his words and ideas as I chose my break out sessions, and later found myself applying those very ideas to my own work.

Networking opportunities: More than 800 academics (attendees and panelists) from over 140 institutions, 28 states, and a handful of foreign countries were in attendance. I had the opportunity to exchange ideas with folks from Johns Hopkins, Temple University, University of Scranton, University of Delaware, Cedar Crest College, Hood College, Berkeley, and Rowan University, as well as the chance to get to know fellow Drexel colleagues I had not yet encountered. To hear how my colleagues at other institutions resolve issues or approach different topics is both enticing and valuable.

Time away from the office to reboot the brain: Time away from the daily routine of the office is great. Being with like-minded people, diving deep into interesting and relevant topics is fun, and it allows us to entertain ideas and thoughts without the interruptions of the telephone or pending meetings. This time away is an opportunity to re-charge our intellectual batteries.

While this was an academic conference, these same benefits apply to an insurance conference or a marketing conference. Exposure to new ideas, trends, and approaches, the networking opportunities, and the time away benefits both the individual and his/her home institution/company.

The key to any conference is take advantage of all that it has to offer. If you are in an unfamiliar city and there is a tour, go on it. Even if you are shy or a little reticent, go to the cocktail hour, sit with people you don’t know at lunch and introduce yourself. Go to a wide variety of panel discussions or break out sessions. In other words, don’t skip anything!

Make sure you take notes. I find that my sidebar notes, the little epiphanies I have during a session are as valuable as the content the presenter is providing. When you return, you have to share what you learned, trends, or connections you made. And YOU MUST follow-up with those people you met. All those business cards you collected, send each one a follow-up email explaining how you enjoyed meeting him/her and how you look forward to connecting again in the future. If there was a personal conversation, highlight that. If one of them requested information from you, be sure you send it.

To put it simply, conferences are like a week of summer camp sans the archery or rock climbing for adults. The only hitch – there is work to be done when you return.

Anne Converse Willkomm
Director, Graduate Studies
Goodwin College
Drexel University
Posted in professional-development-career-tips