Attending Professional Conferences as a Student
Published: October 25, 2021 by Leslie Parry
I recently attended my first professional association conference as a San José State University School of Information student. I’ll admit I was a little apprehensive. Would I be out of my depth? Would there be other attendees like me – students, newly arrived to the profession – and would our curiosity be welcome in lieu of experience? Thankfully, the Special Libraries Association Annual Conference (held virtually in August) helped relieve some of my impostor syndrome. I attended fascinating programs, met multidisciplinary professionals around the world and participated in fun icebreakers from the comfort of my living room.
Despite my nerves, I found that students are welcomed and encouraged at conferences. After all, we’re future LIS professionals, and associations are invested in building membership and fostering engagement. They’re also looking to cultivate peer-mentor relationships and connect members in useful ways.
With more conferences set to return to in-person this coming year, iSchool students can take advantage of generous travel grants from SJSU to help allay costs. A total of fourteen grants (seven in fall, seven in spring), are awarded each year (note: the deadline to apply for spring is in February), There are so many benefits of attending a conference as a student! Read on for more information about funding and opportunities.
The SLA Conference had a reception for first-time attendees, which proved to be a wonderful entry point. I got to meet other graduate students as well as longtime SLA fellows and seasoned directors, who offered great insight into both the organization and the LIS field at large. Not only did I have the chance to connect with leadership from my regional SLA chapter, I took advantage of roundtables that I wouldn’t otherwise have experience with or access to, including a compelling Astronomy Roundtable featuring librarians, curators and scientists from the National Air and Space Museum, Zooniverse and the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. Even though I have no formal background or training in science, I was riveted.
It’s worth noting that networking isn’t merely transactional, as iSchool Career Consultant Kim Dority has wisely observed. Sometimes it’s rewarding to connect with experts in other fields who are passionate about what they do. Whether or not it leads to an explicit opportunity, you can gain so much from their creativity and enthusiasm! My perspective on special libraries – including their advocates, users, collections and initiatives – was considerably widened.
You can read more of Dority’s excellent networking tips here.
Material for your resume and e-Portfolio
Beyond the professional exposure and knowledge a conference offers, you can use the opportunity to build out your skills and CV. Are there core competencies that you’re looking to fill for your e-Portfolio? Need a more substantive entry on your resume? Attending a conference gives you the chance to multipurpose your contributions and map this unique experience to other areas. Whether you’re presenting a project or working on soft skills like communication (even if it’s just practicing talking about yourself!), conferences can help you prepare for the culmination of iSchool and beyond.
If you’re looking for a good place to start, keep it local: consider submitting a proposal to the 2022 Online Student Conference, hosted by SJSU’s College of Professional and Global Education. The virtual conference, which takes place in February, will feature video presentations by students who are engaged in notable academic or professional projects. Your contributions (not to mention a potential award!) are excellent inclusions on either a CV or your e-Portfolio. Read over the conference details and consider submitting a brief abstract by November 19.
And if you’re awarded one of the iSchool travel grants, you have the chance to write about your conference experience for this very blog! Not only will your post help illuminate the process for fellow students, it’s another potential piece of evidence for your e-Portfolio.
The iSchool travel grants are valued up to $1500 each. Eligible students have the opportunity to apply twice a year. The deadline to apply for the spring February 17. You can view the full guidelines and requirements here.
Also, be sure to look into travel grants sponsored by other agencies. The iSchool maintains a helpful list of external grants, awards and scholarships.
And if you’re involved in one of the student groups, you can always check with your faculty advisor to see what kind of support might be offered. There’s a good chance funding opportunities are available from the association, the iSchool and beyond.
Here are upcoming events and conferences that might be of interest:
- American Library Association (ALA)
- Society of American Archivists (SAA)
- Special Libraries Association (SLA)
- Association for Information Science & Technology (ASIS&T)
And finally, you’ll need some good tunes to keep you energized while you fill out your applications. Straight from the Astronomy Roundtable, check out this awesome playlist inspired by Dr. Sally K. Ride. (Thanks, Air and Space Museum!) A good reminder to aim for the stars.