It's not uncommon for newcomers to APA's Annual Convention to feel a little overwhelmed by the meeting-and understandably so: the typical five-day meeting is attended by roughly 10,000 psychologists and students, held in three venues and offers more than 1,000 sessions.
Size notwithstanding, veterans say some strategizing and advance planning helps. They offer some tips.
CREATE A SCHEDULE. Crack open APA's Convention Program-a 400-page book mailed to attendees before convention-and study the APAGS program well before the meeting to digest options and choose sessions, say convention experts. Use the city map and hotel and convention center layouts to familiarize yourself, they say.
APA President Diane Halpern, PhD, who has led APA's participant orientation session at the last two conventions, notes everything in the program is open to attendees. For example, an "invited address" is a talk by an invited speaker-not the invitation-only session some first-timers think it is.
The convention schedule is also available online at the APA Convention Web site and can be downloaded into a personal digital assistant for easy scheduling.
GET ORIENTED. Attend an APA or APAGS orientation seminar on the first day of convention to learn meeting ins and outs.
"I was amazed at the breadth of coverage in the program and at how much easier it made everything during convention," says Patrick Bennett, a fourth-year social psychology doctoral student at the University of Nevada, Reno, who attended orientation at his first convention.
The APAGS session, "Making the most of APA convention: strategies for graduate students," will be held at 9 a.m. on Wednesday, July 28. The APA session, "Convention survival techniques-getting the most out of APA conventions," is held that same day at 10 a.m.
CARVE OUT FREE TIME. Pad your schedule with enough open time to grab a cup of coffee with an undergrad pal or a publisher interested in your book idea, or to just rest, says Bennett, who was APAGS convention chair in 2002. He suggests students attend four or five convention sessions each day. Since Hawaii sessions end at 2 p.m., says Bennett, attendees can spend some of their free time sightseeing.
MEET PEOPLE… Take advantage of the countless networking opportunities between sessions and at social functions. They can lead to lifelong colleagues, future collaborators and potential employers, say veterans.
"You need to be a little bit assertive with talking even if you are a quiet person," says Halpern, who encourages students to head home with no less than two new friends or professional contacts. "It can be as simple as inviting someone to dinner," she adds.
Students should take networking as seriously as they do attending sessions, adds Bennett, noting the high likelihood of meeting mentors at APAGS events. He encourages students to introduce themselves, attend specialty-area social hours and bring networking tools, such as curricula vitae and business cards.
…BUT DON'T MONOPOLIZE THEM. Don't ask someone to read your dissertation on the spot or ask the person endless self-focused questions-especially at a social hour or group dinner, says Louis Franzini, PhD, who co-authored the book "Convention Survival Techniques: Practical Strategies for Getting the Most Out of Your Professional Association's Meetings" (Sage, 1997). He or she may have a line of people waiting, another social obligation to attend or prefer not to talk shop during a social hour. Follow the same rule between sessions, he says, because many attendees schedule back-to-back obligations.
"Ask if you may contact them later, by phone or e-mail," he says.
FOLLOW THE RULES. Show consideration for presenters by leaving between speakers if you have to step out to another session and don't chat with fellow attendees during a talk.
"Cell phones and beepers are a no-no at sessions," says Halpern. "Turn them off."
BRANCH OUT. Expand your interests by attending a session on what's hot in industrial-organizational psychology even if your focus area is developmental, say experts.
"This is students' big chance to learn about topics they know little or nothing about," says Halpern.
STAY FOCUSED. While time for sightseeing is a plus, "don't allow external interests such as staying with family in the same town…detract from what convention has to offer," says Franzini. "Those activities can be scheduled before or after the meeting."
Most importantly, notes Halpern, "Have a good, safe time," she says. "These conventions are an important part of your professional development. Welcome to the profession!"
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