Navigation 101: Advice for Undergraduates Attending Large Psychology Conventions

By Leigh A. Bryant

Bucknell University

Attending a convention as an undergraduate might seem like an intimidating thing to do. However, being active in a professional organization can provide you with many memorable experiences and will likely create future educational and professional opportunities. Below are some observations that I have gathered while attending conventions as an undergraduate psychology student. They include suggestions for 1) managing your time, 2) connecting with professionals and peers, 3) getting involved, and 4) maximizing professional experiences while looking out for your personal well-being.

 Making the Most of Your Attendance

First, develop some realistic goals and determine what you want to get out of your convention experience. Is it a general overview of psychology? A more in-depth understanding of a particular research topic? Ideas for your next project? My first convention served as a way for me to explore and discover psychology. As a college freshman, I was unaware of the many aspects of the field, types of people in it, or the available career and educational opportunities. If you are new to conventions, I suggest that you do the following:

  • Identify what you already know about psychology;
  • Brainstorm questions that you have about research areas, clinical practice, statistical techniques, employment opportunities, etc; and
  • Determine what about psychology most interests you.

If you want to get a better understanding of the general atmosphere and functioning of a convention, consider taking in a range of presentations—research-focused lectures, panel events, roundtable discussions, and student workshops. Observing how scholars (and students) present their findings might better inform you of the research areas that you most prefer, as well as those styles of presentation to which you can most easily relate.

Once you feel confident in the functioning of conventions and are familiar with the various domains within psychology, consider narrowing your focus. Review the convention program beforehand—it’s typically posted online—and determine which events will be most beneficial or interesting. Also, consider which speakers appeal to you and which presentations match your own academic and career interests. For example, prior to attending my second convention, I decided to focus on developmental, clinical, and health psychology. I therefore selected lectures related to autism, eating disorders, and gene-environment interactions.

  • Narrow your interests in order to make navigation easier from the outset.
  • If you have previous research experience, be both a consumer and a critic. Identify studies’ strengths and weaknesses, and determine ways that you might replicate or change them. Exercising your critical thinking skills in this way will set you apart from peers who have not immersed themselves in these settings or who are afraid to question another’s findings and conclusions.
  • Collect the names of individuals whom you admire or find motivating. These may guide you in future research endeavors and/or in the graduate school search process.

Despite the fact that we often enter the field with the intent to help others, a convention can serve as a great time to turn your focus inward. Identify your ultimate objectives: Do you want to teach and do research? Do you want to establish an independent practice with adults or work on the pediatric wing of a hospital? Knowing which topics and environments you enjoy, and whether or not graduate school is right for you, will soon become crucial elements.

  • Trace the educational and career paths of inspiring presenters, and talk to professors about your own educational and career options.
  • APS student affiliates should attend the “Naked Truth” series. It provides a personal, comprehensive look at graduate school (both academics and student life) and provides helpful tips related to the GRE, application process, and interview preparation.

Making Connections

If you plan to apply to graduate school, do the necessary research on potential mentors. Gather information on programs and researchers to inquire meaningfully about each, either through email or in face-to-face conversation. Remember to follow up with the people whom you meet at a convention by sending short thank-you emails; such a gesture may open doors to future correspondence.

While professional relationships are important, it is also worthwhile to connect with peers. Casual conversations can provide you with a great social and academic outlet. Consider doing the following during the convention:

  • Attend the student-centered events listed in the program
  • Invite new acquaintances to join you for a coffee break.
  • Discuss your educational and career pursuits with each other. Inquire as to the kinds of work your peers are currently doing or aspire to do.

Getting Involved

The most ideal way to get involved in a convention is to present a paper or poster. If you have research experience (individual or collaborative), it never hurts to make a submission. I personally gained self-confidence from my poster presentation; it motivated me to continue to conduct research and apply for grants. Presenting gives you the opportunity to share your findings, as well as to defend your methodological choices, support your conclusions, and decrease your anxiety about public speaking. Of course, traveling and funding can be difficult, so do some investigative work:

  • Inquire in your department about funds available to assist you with convention costs.
  • Look into online applications for travel assistance (e.g., Psi Chi and APS websites).
  • Contact the membership or convention registration office and ask about volunteer work in exchange for your registration fee.

 Enjoying the Experience

As undergraduates, we often don’t take dress code too seriously. However, wearing the proper attire can help you to feel more relaxed and confident.

  • Men – Khaki pants and a nice dress shirt or a full business suit. Suit jackets are typically optional.
  • Women – Khaki pants or a knee-length skirt, paired with a nice blouse, or a full business suit. A light sweater is a great accessory because hotels and convention centers often keep their room temperatures cool. Choose comfortable yet business-appropriate footwear.

Personal contact information is also an important part of self-presentation. When in doubt, use professionalism. Provide new acquaintances with your school’s email address or create a professional account through Yahoo or Gmail.

Finally, time away from the convention itself can be healthy for your mind and body:

  • Grab a meal with peers or take a stroll through a nearby park.
  • Opt for a short nap or quick workout at the hotel.
  • Sightsee! Cities often boast an array of great art, music, and culture. Bring your student ID with you because some sites and events may offer discounted rates.


I hope that these personal insights and bullet points assist you in your navigation of any large psychology convention that you may attend. Best of luck in all of your future endeavors!


About the Contributor

Leigh A. Bryant is a psychology major with minors in philosophy and dance at Bucknell University, and she has served as an APS campus representative for the past three years. She enjoys sharing her passions for psychology, sports, and the performing arts with others and plans to attend graduate school following college graduation. She thanks the APSSC for giving undergraduates a voice in the social sciences as well as a valuable means to contribute to research and connect with professionals and peers.  She can be reached via email at:


Suggested Publications for Further Reading

Adler, A. (2010, April). Talking the talk: Tips on giving a successful convention presentation.

Psychological Science Agenda: The American Psychological Association. Retrieved from

Frequently asked questions for first time attendees. (n.d.) American Psychological Association.

Retrieved June 2010 from

Jackson, M. D. (n.d.) Make sure you attend professional conventions and conventions.

Retrieved June 2010 from

Online Funding Database Committee. (n.d.) Association for Psychological Science. Retrieved

June 2010 from