As first-year Population Health Service Fellows, Bailey Murph and I
recently attended the American Evaluation Association (AEA) conference in
Denver, Colorado and the American Public Health Association (APHA) conference
in New Orleans, LA. While attending, we came
up with some tips for attending these big, national conferences.
Here are our top tips for attending big, national conferences:
Use this opportunity
to explore public health topic areas that you are interested in.
It is difficult to
find presentations that will give you skills or a deep knowledge in a topic
area that you are already working in. Explore
other topic areas of interest. Bailey and I
attended a set of presentations on food waste, a topic we both are not widely
familiar with, and we walked away with new and interesting knowledge. We also found that immersing ourselves in a
new topic area was quite enjoyable, and we had a desire to learn more.
state-specific events and work at an information booth.
This can give you a
chance to meet others working in your state.
It is always funny how you sometimes have to travel somewhere else to
meet people from your area…but sometimes this is the case! Before you leave the exhibit hall, be sure to
wander around and see who else is in the room. Reason one: there may be a free
water bottle or cool pen you want from a prospective employer or university.
Oh, and food. Also, food. Reason two: there are people in the room that you
want to meet and you should meet. This is a perfect networking opportunity.
Plan out the talks
you are going to go to ahead of time, with considerations about time needed for
travel between locations.
The sheer number of
presentations at these national conferences can be overwhelming. Start looking at the presentation topics and
speakers at least a few days beforehand.
Do the research and prep work! Make
sure to look up both topics and people you are interested in. Don’t feel like you have to book your
schedule solid. You’ll soon discover that there is just too much going on, and
you need to give yourself a break. Take it from two introverts.
Don’t be afraid to
walk out of a presentation.
Even after all of
your research and preparation, sometimes the presentations are not what you
thought what they were. This happens,
and it’s understood by conference attendees and presenters. Don’t be afraid to walk out of a presentation
if this happens.
shoes. Comfort > Fashion.
These big national
conferences require a decent amount of walking.
Bailey and I both found ourselves walking in subpar footwear and had to
face the consequences.
Keep good notes.
Bring paper, an iPad
or etc. You can also take pictures of
slides. If there are handouts, make sure you grab them! These are great
resources to take home and share with your colleagues.
Attend a data
Go to a set of
rapid-fire presentations (~10 minutes each).
You can get a lot of
content in a short period of time. These
presentations are generally on “easy to digest” topic areas as well. …which can be nice after the intense theory
or data focused presentations you might attend.
Keep your business
cards on you at all times, if you don’t already.
You never know who
you might run into. I swapped cards at a
restaurant while waiting for a table while at APHA. Bailey met a woman from a
local Wisconsin town near where she lives, and the woman invited her to coffee
anytime she’s in the area. How cool is that?
breakfast and/or snacks.
It can save you a
lot of money and time to pack any snacks or meals. It’s expensive to eat when
you travel. However, don’t pack all your
meals/snacks. Also be sure to enjoy some
of the local cuisine!
There are some let
downs…so try to go with the flow.
Not all talks will
be what you hoped they would be. You
won’t network as much as you hoped. Not
as many people will look at your poster as you anticipated (even after all the
hard work you put into it!). No conference
is perfect. Try to reflect back every
day on the little nuggets of knowledge that you got…or the acquaintance you got
to know better.
If you have time,
make sure to take the time to look up restaurants to eat at and local sites to
see! Some things take reservations…so it
is good to think ahead. J
Conference going can be a grueling process, but reflecting back
you’ll realize how rewarding it was. Travel is difficult, crowds are
frustrating and never seem to move at the pace you’d like. Be open to learning
something new, plan ahead, take breaks, wear comfortable shoes and always have
a snack with you. Keep those points in mind, and you’ll be on your way to an
incredible conference experience.