For graduate students, APA's Annual Convention can be daunting. At almost every event, you're surrounded by senior psychologists and eminent researchers. But don't let timidity keep you from taking advantage of the meeting's networking and educational opportunities, says Gerald Koocher, PhD, a former APA president. Here are some tips to get you started:
Make business cards. Get a few dozen printed before convention and hand them out to help people you meet reach you later. A simple design with your name, phone number, e-mail address and college affiliation will do nicely. For a low-cost option, buy card stock and print them yourself.
Wear your nametag. You may feel dorky wearing one, but your nametag is crucial convention attire, says Karen Kersting, a psychology grad student at Virginia Commonwealth University and head of the APAGS Convention Committee. Without one, you won't get into the exhibition hall. But nametags also help people remember your name while you dazzle them with a quick description of your research or professional interests. First-time convention attendees' nametags are navy blue with gold lettering, so you can identify other newbies and strike up conversations with them, Kersting says.
Arrive to presentations early. That way you guarantee yourself a seat, says Elizabeth Vera, PhD, the current chair of APA's Board of Convention Affairs and professor in the school of education at Loyola University Chicago. After the presentation take a deep breath, walk to the front of the room and introduce yourself. A line as simple as "Hi, I'm [your name], a grad student at [your school] and I am interested in your presentation topic" will do the trick. If the presenter is already mobbed with colleagues, linger if you have the time, but if he or she or appears to be in a hurry to pack up, try to catch up with him or her later.
Attend social hours. It's a great way to take a break from sessions and refuel with free snacks, says Kersting. These casual meetings are sponsored by APAGS, APA's 54 divisions and other groups, and they are open to all convention attendees. You can also drop in on coffee hours especially for graduate students and orientations for first-time convention attendees. Search for these events via the online convention program. A few great sessions include:
- Convention Q&A Session, Thursday, Aug. 12, 10-11 a.m. in Room 1B, Upper Level, San Diego Convention Center.
- First-time attendees social hour, sponsored by APA's Board of Convention Affairs, Thursday, Aug. 12, 4-5 p.m., Room 11B, Upper Level, San Diego Convention Center.
- "Making the Most of Convention," Thursday, Aug. 12, 9-10 a.m., Room 1A, Upper Level, San Diego Convention Center.
- "Flying Solo Social," Thursday, Aug. 12, 6-7p.m., in the APAGS Suite, is a chance to network and meet with other graduate students attending the convention, particularly first-time attendees.
Set goals and reward yourself. Try to chat up two strangers at every event, says Vera. Simply say, "Hello, this is my first convention and I am trying to meet new colleagues," or approach someone whose work you're familiar with. Afterward, take a moment to acknowledge your bravery — talking to strangers, especially well-established psychologists, is difficult even for extraverts.