Supporting Undergraduates to Make the Most of Conferences
Be aware that some students will be traveling for the first
time. Be very explicit about when you will leave campus and
how you will travel together. Be clear about what is required for
travel, particularly air travel, including what constitutes a valid
government-issued ID. Give students plenty of time to obtain
this ID—believe it or not, some students might have to have it
sent from home, even from overseas! Identify students who are
experienced travelers, and encourage them to buddy up with
less experienced travelers. Share a handout with all travelers’
photos and cell phone numbers, or get students to use a group
communication tool such as Slack. If your institution is covering out-of-pocket expenses, make sure students know what
expenses are covered and what receipts they will need to provide to get reimbursed. If your institution is not covering all
expenses, offer to help students for whom extra expenses are
a challenge. Remind students to tip wait staff, taxi drivers, and
hotel staff, especially housekeepers; you may want to provide
students with small bills to make this easier.
PREPARING STUDENTS FOR JOB FAIRS
Partner with your institution’s career development office to prepare students for conference job fairs. Your colleagues can help
students refine their resumes and LinkedIn profiles, and remind
students to clean up their online social spaces such as Facebook
and Instagram. Your colleagues can also coach students on how
to approach recruiters, what kinds of questions they can expect
to be asked, and what kinds of questions they should ask of recruiters. Moreover, they can help students develop a strategy for
which recruiters they will approach in what order and how they
will use their time. Finally, colleagues in career development can
coach students on professional etiquette issues discussed above.
Remind students to bring copies of their resume and something professional-looking to keep them in. For students who
revise their resumes on the airplane, typically the conference
center or hotel will have facilities for printing (at a cost). Some
institutions provide business cards to students for a nominal
fee; coach students on how to use them effectively.
PREPARING STUDENTS TO PRESENT
You may be co-presenting a paper with your students, or your
students may be presenting a poster on their own.
Preparations to co-present should begin well in advance. Tell
your student what kind of audience and room setup to expect.
If you are bringing multiple students, they can split up for parallel sessions and share what they learned with each other. You
may want to ask students to report on three new things they
learn during the conference.
Coach students to
take advantage of networking opportunities. Remind students
that networking is just
talking to people [ 3].
have to have an immediate payoff; networking with peers can be
just as valuable as networking with potential
mentors, advisors, or
students to introduce
themselves while introductions are being
made. Encourage students to sit with people they don’t know,
while standing in line,
and take advantage of
sessions where they
will get to meet other
attendees such as topic tables, first-timers’ lunches, and birds-of-a-feather sessions.
Coach students on how to engage with presenters at poster
sessions. Attending keynotes can be surprisingly valuable for
networking, as you can then discuss the keynote topics with
almost anyone at the conference. You may want to ask students
to report on three new people they met during the conference.
Orient students to conference culture. How do experienced
attendees choose sessions to attend? Is it okay to change rooms
during sessions? Is it okay to skip sessions to stay out in the hallway and talk? Is it okay to use your laptop to take notes? When
will you get fed and when will you need to find food on your
own? Are conference receptions optional or is participation expected? When can you get homework done? Remind students
not to spend the whole conference doing homework, or they
will miss the experience!
Discuss appropriate dress for the conference. How will other
attendees be dressed? Will you need to walk between the hotel
and conference site, or will you spend the entire conference indoors? Will there be sightseeing, a dance party, or a pool party?
(Yes, we’ve been to conferences with these events.) Most importantly, what does it mean to dress professionally for a research talk or job fair? Consider students’ gender presentation,
and find a coach of the appropriate gender if needed. If there
will be a conference banquet, students may also benefit from
some instruction on table manners for business meals.
Figure 2: University of California, San
Diego students at the 2016 Grace Hopper
Celebration of Women in Computing.
Share a handout with all travelers’
photos and cell phone numbers,
or get students to use a group
communication tool such as Slack.