What to Do? Where to Go? And What to Wear?:
Tips for Navigating a Convention

Anthony Coy
Ferris State University

A student, dressed in jeans and a polo shirt, rushes up stairs fumbling a notebook while trying to search for a room number in a program. He finds it and quickly picks up his notebook as he heads through the double doors into the lobby of the hotel. He asks the desk manager the location of the room and rushes off in the direction indicated. Upon arriving to the room, it is clear the session has begun and upon entering the entire room of 100 turns around, wondering what the racquet is. The disheveled student, embarrassed, finds the nearest empty seat and the lecture continues. This student was clearly unprepared for the convention he was attending and while attending your first psychology convention is daunting for most, it does not have to be. With a little organization and planning you can make the most of your convention experience and look professional while doing it.

What to Do?

One of the toughest parts of attending a psychology convention is figuring out exactly you want or need to do. This does not have to be as difficult as it first appears to be. The first step is locating a convention program. Most of the time, these are available a few months before the convention is schedule to take place on the convention’s website or is mailed to you upon registering for the convention. For the upcoming APS convention in San Francisco, the program is available both online and inside of the Observer. If both of those options fail you, a program should be available upon your arrival to the convention.

The first night of most conventions, including the APS convention, is a social which is typically held in a common area of the hotel where the convention is hosted or a nearby restaurant. This “night off” should give you an opportunity to sit down with the program and plan which events you want to attend. Try to figure out which sessions will be the most useful to you and attend those. If you are attending the convention with a group and there are two sessions you would like to attend taking place at the same time, split up and cover both sessions and then exchange notes later. This will help you get the most out of your experience.

Where to Go?

After figuring out which events you would like to attend take advantage of that night of relaxation to find the rooms where those events will be held and the quickest way to get from one to the next. This will allow you to stay after and speak with those around you, or the presenters, if you thought the presentation was excellent. Remember for undergraduates and all conferences attendees, this is an excellent opportunity to network. Don’t be afraid to ask questions at the appropriate times, and socialize.

What to Wear?

When attending a convention always “dress to impress.” Others attending and presenting at the convention include potential graduate professors, collogues, and publishers so you must always be ready to impress those around you. One of the easiest ways to do this is to look professional. Those around you will take notice and come to respect you more quickly than if you look like you just walked in off of the street. On that note, always dress at least semi-formally when attending any event at a convention and if it says formal dress for events such as a dinner, be sure you are dressed formally. A good rule of thumb is, “it is better to be overdressed than underdressed.” Always dress to impress.

Getting the Most Out of the Convention

So now that you know what to do, where to go and what to wear how do you get the most out of the experience. My suggestion is that you take notes on everything the speaker says just like if you were in class. Remember, these speakers have been chosen by a committee of their peers; they are some of the best and brightest in psychology and know what they are talking about. Since this is the case, those in the session, especially undergraduates interested in the area, should act like a sponge and soak up every piece of information possible. At the same time, students should not be afraid to ask questions at the appropriate times or even to approach the speaker at the end of the session to ask. In many cases, the presentation is representative of the presenter’s life work to that point and most times they are more than happy to discuss their work with you. Going back to the social at the start of the convention and the formal dinner to end it, these are prime times to circulate yourself amongst others at the conference and get your name out there for potential graduate school advisors. At appropriate times, undergraduates may even want to approach those professors they are interested in working with and introduce themselves. However, if you plan to do this be sure you have read some of their research as they may be interested in why you want to work with them and it is important that you can articulate the reasons. Remember that first impressions, while not everything, are something. One thing that may prove useful is a student business card, I know that Ferris State promotes the use of these and I recently purchased some. Students can typically purchase these at the copy center on their campus and they are relatively cheap. It will give the professor a way to remember you when your application comes across her/his desk.

It is now clear that with a little preparation it is easy to make your convention experience a success. Be sure to plan ahead, figuring out what sessions you would like to attend as well as where the rooms are and how long it will take you to get from one session to the next. Be sure to dress professional, to impress, at all sessions and dinners you attend. Also, take good notes in those sessions and ask questions at the appropriate times. Finally, do not be afraid to approach speakers and others at the convention and introduce yourself. A student business card may prove useful when doing this. All of these techniques will help you improve your experience and avoid being that disheveled student, rushing to arrive at their session late.

Author Note

Anthony Coy is a student at Ferris State University.