Some handy tips for students to ensure you get the most out of a AAA conference
By AAA student representative Rebekah Hawkins
Conferences are a melting pot of people from all over the world with different backgrounds, projects and research interests. So how can you join in and get the most out of your conference experience? Don’t be intimated – it doesn’t matter if you’re a student just starting your degree or if you’re presenting your thesis to a roomful of academics, we can all try to gain the most from conferences and come away with new ideas and new friends. Follow the tips below to make the most of upcoming AAA conferences!
Networking: this is what conferences are all about – sharing ideas, meeting new people, catching up with old acquaintances
- Don’t be shy: confidence is key! To walk up to someone who you’ve never talked to before and introduce yourself requires a bit of confidence. But don’t worry if you’re not the most confident person out there, a little bit goes a long way and so does enthusiasm. It’s getting the first words out that are the hardest part so if you prepare a few questions in advance, then you can assure yourself that you can hold a conversation. The person you’re speaking to will see past your nervousness, everyone has been there before and we all start somewhere!
- Ask questions: as mentioned above, if you prepare a few questions before talking to someone about a certain topic of interest this can make starting a conversation much easier. Writing these down ahead of time allows you to change them as you attend more sessions, especially the presentation of the person you want to talk to! Throughout the conference, and in particular during presentations, you may think of questions to ask, be it about research methods, data, future implications, etc. Having a notepad and pen handy at all times ensures that you can jot down these questions when you think of them. Asking questions shows that you’re interested and are thinking about what the presenter is saying. It’s a great opportunity to share your thoughts and start a discussion and as there is usually time for questions after presentations or at the end of sessions you have the chance to ask these questions.
- Speak to anyone and everyone: from academics with multiple degrees under their belt to event organisers (who also might have many degrees) and fellow students, everyone at the conference will have their own ideas, experiences, and networks. You never know what you might end up talking about or the unlikely friendships or exchange of ideas that might occur.
- Follow up: so you’ve made some new friends and survived a few conversations with academics, how can you make the most of these new connections? Once acquiring email addresses and linking up via platforms such as Facebook, Academia and LinkedIn, it is important to remain in contact, in order to ensure that as opportunities arise for research or to join field seasons, you’ll come to mind. Another plus is that as new ideas, data, and research is published, you will hear about it if you’re still on their radar or following them online. While it’s a competitive world out there, if you start to get to know someone they will be more likely to help than if you’ve never talked to them before. Don’t be scared to send an email asking for advice or opportunities to volunteer. Keep in contact and you never know what might happen!
Attend sessions, seminars and workshops
- Be prepared: Conferences can be pretty overwhelming – multiple sessions, numerous presentations, seminars, keynotes, workshops – so many things to see and do! Luckily, all conferences provide attendees with a conference program outlining the themed sessions and the presentations within these sessions. Have a good look through this program before the conference starts since AAA conferences have parallel sessions. It’s a good idea to highlight the presentations you’d like to attend so that when it comes to the day and time you know where you want to be.
- Think outside the box: attend sessions, workshops and seminars that might not be relevant to your research; theories, research methods, and background information can cross over and may provide you with new ideas for your own research. It might not seem helpful at the time but you never know what direction your research might take!
- Take notes: this is definitely an important and useful thing to do while attending sessions and workshops. Whilst sitting listening to a presentation you can easily write down questions coming to mind and make notes of information that might be useful for your own research. This makes it easier when it comes to question time for you to formulate your question. Remember also to note down what presentation or workshop it is, so that later on you are able to contact that person to follow up on a few details. Conference programs list the details of the presentations, seminars and workshops so it’s a useful document to keep when you return home.
- Meet the graduates: the AAA conference generally holds a session for recently graduated or soon to be graduated students. This session brings together students and consultancy companies from across Australia and is a great opportunity to network, pick up some business cards and some freebies. Printing off copies of your resume is a great idea as some might ask for it on the spot and if they can put a face to the name then and there the more chance you might be contacted for work in the future. Take time to talk to the representatives at each table, while the numbers fluctuate each year depending on the demand for work there are always a number of consultancies represented. Talk to your fellow students too, it’s an event that brings all the students into one room and you might strike up some friendships.
- Be confident and enthusiastic: as mentioned above, a bit of confidence and enthusiasm goes a long way. Be proud of your research and ideas and let the audience see that as you talk. It will make for a more interesting and dynamic presentation.
- Slow it down and talk to the audience: to ensure that the audience understands your presentation it is important to not rush through your talk and to deliver it to the people sitting in front of you. Make sure you gain eye contact and don’t talk into the screen or notes.
- Don’t have too much text on the PowerPoint: while it is important to put key details on the PowerPoint so that the audience can take notes, it is also imperative that you don’t fill the slides with text. The audience isn’t always able to read all the text during the time and instead they should be listening to you talk with the key details on the screen reiterating what you have said. It is distracting and can cause people to lose track of what your research is about. Photos, maps, diagrams are useful and combined with key points make up a presentation that is more powerful in pushing your message.
- Take on feedback and be ready to answer questions: question time is an important few minutes to show presenters that you know your research and are willing to accept and discuss feedback. The feedback you receive can be helpful and introduce new options to your research.
And last but definitely not least – have fun! Conferences are exciting events, with lots of people who have similar interests to you, you’ll meet old and new friends and have time to catch up. Enjoy!
This article is based on the article Preparing for WAC-8 Kyoto 2016 – how to make the most of your conference experience by Rebekah Hawkins and has been adapted to focus on the AAA conferences. For the original document visit: www.ijsra.org/making-the-most-of-wac-8