RU GSE Student Blog

A Student Perspective

Lions, Tigers and Conferences, Oh My!

Student affairs graduate students learn pretty quickly that national conferences are pretty darn important. I’d even go so far as to say they’re the super bowls of the field. Professionals from institutions nationwide have been preparing all year to showcase their best work.

Whoa, did I just use a sports analogy? My Dad would be so proud; yet, I’m so ashamed…

Minus the whole trophy aspect of the super bowl, I think that my analogy makes more sense than I’d like to admit. Conferences are the big dance for aspiring, new and seasoned professionals alike. Whether graduate students attend to get their networking feet wet, job search, gain presenting experience or (dare I say it) learn, the conference circuit is a hot topic in the graduate student community.

Now, please join me for a ride down the yellow brick road of the grad student’s conference-driven mind. Please keep all hands and feet inside the vehicle and remain seated at all times. 

Stop 1: No, but really, is it worth it!?!?!?! 

Let’s be honest. Conferences are NOT cheap. Even the graduate student rates can run upwards of $300 for a
national conference. Thankfully, there are scholarships, grants and programs that provide options for grad students to apply for funding.  Regardless, the conference-goer absorbs a pretty significant financial commitment.

Deciding whether or not to go during your first year of grad school is also tough. Personally, I say: “Go for it!” If you can swing the financial and time commitment, then you really can’t lose by going. Plus, it’ll give you a major heads up if you plan on participating in any conference job placements.

Stop 2: Nobody understands why this is so ridiculously important!!!!!

Welcome to the world of student affairs, of which most citizens have little to no understanding. I know I struggled to explain to my parents why it was so important for me to go to a national conference last year. If I thought that was hard, I had no clue what was coming when I would try to convince them to help support me going to THREE this year! Geez—what was I thinking?!

For other careers (even those in education), conferences don’t have the same prestige and weight that they do in higher education and student affairs. So, it was hard to get my middle and high school teacher parents on board.

Good luck to you!

Stop 3: Do I reeeeeeeally want to go trough the trauma of conference job placements?

5, 10, 15 interviews in two to three days! That sounds like some sort of twisted torture. Alas, it is not. It’s a reality. But, I really don’t think it should deter you. The more interview experience, the better! It’s sort of like the whole ‘apple a day’ saying…Ok, that’s a stretch, but you get what I mean…I hope.

If you’re at all interested in expanding your job search nationally, your best bet is to just take the plunge and sign up.

It’s also a great idea for first year grad students to volunteer at conference job placements as a way to get a behind-the-scenes glimpse into the process.

Stop 4: Am I enough of an “expert” to present on ANYTHING?

Short Answer with lots of enthusiasm = YES!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Long Answer = Let’s demystify the whole “you have to be an expert to present at a national conference” myth right now. Really, you just need something to offer to the great conversation of your topic.

It’s probably a good idea to start small in the presenting circuit whether that be at a Rutgers conference (insert shameless plus for the Careers in Student Affairs Conference this November 2, 2012 sponsored by Future Leaders of Student Affairs & The Jersey Alliance) or a regional conference.

Whether or not you start small, I encourage you to challenge yourself! You can do it!

Ok. Go look into the mirror and repeat after me:

I am smart.

I am capable.

I can do this.

But, here’s a caution. National conference program proposal deadlines approach rapidly in the fall. So, plan, plan, plan ahead! And, make sure you edit, edit, edit.

Here’s a quick & general reference guide to writing conference proposals.

You never know. If you submit, you may find yourself as pleasantly surprised as this little fella…


Stop 5: So, what do I do now?????????????

Well, if you like lists, you’re in luck:

  • Gather all the dates/locations of conferences that interest you
  • Research pricing info (including hotel & airfare, if applicable)
  • Look into funding options! (some departments may even have funding for graduate students)
  • If you want to present: find partners, pick a topic, do your research & start writing your proposal EARLY
  • Talk to grad students and professionals who’ve attended conferences. Pick their brains!

Wait, a second! I almost forgot something incredibly important!

Stop 6: Don’t let them bite! 

Once you decide to attend a conference, you must, MUST….M-U-S-T do all that you can to ensure that you choose a hotel that is bed bug free. I would post a real photo of these creepy crawlies, but then I’d have nightmares, so instead learn more about them here: EWWWWW

I’m not joking about this. Check the official Bed Bug Registry (yup, that’s right. It exists…) to see if your hotel has had any reported cases of bed bugs recently. Of course, this is not fool proof. These disgusting creatures can be ANYWHERE, but it’s best to cover your bases.

Call me crazy (maybe), but I always check around my hotel room for signs of bed bugs (including but not limited to under the mattress).

Better safe than sorry…

Last Stop: I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore…

Reality check: Conferences have NOTHING in common with lions, tigers or bears.

So, don’t stress. Just follow your own path down the yellow brick road to the conference of your dreams.


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