to Make the Most
By Janet Davis, Whitman College and Christine Alvarado, University of California San Diego
Students who attend academic conferences can broaden their horizons, increase their commitment to the
discipline, find role models and mentors, and gain concrete
opportunities for work and study. However, attending one’s
first conference, particularly while still an undergraduate,
can be an overwhelming experience. We as faculty often
focus on the procurement of funding to send students to
conferences, and do not much consider what will happen
once they get there. This article considers how faculty can
select the right conference and students, prepare students
to attend, support students during the conference, and
follow up after the conference.
WHY TAKE UNDERGRADUATES TO
The motivation for taking undergraduate students to
conferences might not be immediately obvious. PhD
students attend conferences to present their research and
to begin to participate in their broader research community.
For undergraduates, conferences provide other benefits.
Presenting their own research can help undergraduates build
their confidence and practice their communication skills,
even if the student does not continue research in the field.
Conferences can expose students to real-world context for
the concepts they are learning in their courses, and can make
the abstract and mysterious idea of “being a researcher” more
concrete. Conferences can help students make their first
professional connections beyond their college or university.
Finally, conference attendance can increase student retention
in the major [ 1].
Attending one’s first conference can be daunting, however,
particularly as an undergraduate. A conference may include a
student’s first public presentation, first job interview, or first
networking opportunity. Choosing sessions to attend, dressing
professionally, and even traveling out-of-state may be novel experiences. While many articles provide advice to PhD students
attending their first conferences, this article aims to help faculty anticipate the challenges their undergraduate students may
face. Planning and preparation will help students feel confident
and make the most of the conference.
Consider your goals for bringing students to a conference. Do
you expect students to present their research? Broaden their
professional network? Gain new skills? Seek employment or
experiential learning opportunities? Learn about a specific research area or the breadth of computing applications? Compete
in a research, design, or programming contest? What conference will best afford those opportunities?
Conferences can expose students
to real-world context for the
concepts they are learning in their
courses, and can make the abstract
and mysterious idea of “being a
researcher” more concrete.