Attending professional conferences is an excellent opportunity for students to network, learn, and gain a greater understanding of how science works. Undergraduate students often attend conferences because they are presenting their work; however, attendance at professional conferences even if not presenting can open a variety of opportunities for students (Gopalan et al., 2018). Potential benefits of participation include content knowledge or application gains, exposure to different ideas, better understanding of how different areas of a field integrate, networking building, career exploration, and practice with professional interactions.
Prior to attending the conference, instructors should consider preparing students for attendance. Instructors should explain the purpose of professional conferences, highlighting the importance of the exchange of ideas and building professional networks. First time undergraduate attendees, especially, may be unsure of what to expect and how to interact with others professionally. Just as faculty mentors would practice with student presenters, practicing with and mentoring non-presenting student attendees can optimize the student conference experience. Holding a pre-conference information session with students will help them be prepared and make the most of their experience. Informational session topics can include: how to ask questions, talking to poster presenters, what to expect from grad school admissions tables, how to earn continuing education credits, developing or revising a resume to have on hand, identifying presenters in attendance to connect with, and creating a conference schedule. Additionally, instructors can help students create and practice an “elevator pitch” to describe their work and professional goals (Das & Spring, 2022). Das and Spring (2022) recommend students set goals for the conference in advance so their time at the meeting is intentional. In addition to pre-conference instruction and conference-based assignments, a general follow up with students after the conference can provide insight into what students learned, what challenges they encountered, and what they found interesting. Student insight can be helpful in planning for future meetings.
Incorporating conference attendance into a course can significantly add to the student course experience. Using conferences to augment a course is a great opportunity to help students integrate course content with development of professional and communication skills. What follows is a list of potential assignments instructors might consider to encourage student participation in conferences. Many of the suggestions below would work well for in person or virtual conferences. The assignments can be implemented for any type of conference; however, encouraging students to attend smaller, regional conferences first is an excellent way to prepare them for larger, national and international conferences. Conference- based assignments could be evaluated for credit, extra credit, or as an additional demonstration of engagement or understanding.
- Make a spotlight box, similar to one you would find in your textbook, about one of the conference presentations. Include background context, important points from the speaker’s talk, and practical applications. Add relevant figures or graphs from other research papers or the speaker’s presentation to frame the spotlight and make it visually appealing to the reader. Be sure to cite your sources.
- Make a short YouTube video that summarizes the general topic presented by one speaker. After summarizing the broader content area, highlight information from the speaker’s presentation. Feel free to be creative- present it as a news story or host a debate with fellow classmates! (Heffernan, 2020)
- Design a proposal for a talk for next year’s meeting. Choose an area of exercise science you are interested in learning more about. Describe 3-5 learning objectives of the presentation and identify 3 experts in the field who would serve as your speakers. (Heffernan, 2020)
- Tell a young child about what you learned at the conference. Choose one of the keynote speakers’ presentations and make a short children’s story about the topic. Make the content fun and easy to understand. Include illustrations which help kids visualize the ideas you present.
- Watch/read 3 poster presentations. For each one, summarize the presentation. What are the strengths and limitations of each study? What would you do differently if you were the researcher? Why? What would your next study be and why? (Heffernan, 2020)
- Take visual notes on one of the presentations you watch. Your goal is to make your notes about the content visually appealing and make connections between ideas. Because you are connecting ideas, the notes do not need to be in top to bottom order, but organized according to themes. Include questions asked by the audience members and the speaker responses in your notes. (Google “visual note taking” for some cool ideas and pictures).
- Write a 2 page scientific summary of a presentation, locate 2-3 peer reviewed resources (preferably by the speaker) related to the talk and infuse them into the summary. (Heffernan, 2020)
- Make an infographic (Try programs like Canva, for example) about one of the presentations- include the main points, supporting evidence, conclusions, and practical applications. Be sure the infographic includes figures, is easy to read, and is visually appealing.
- Write a poem or song about one of the presentations. For example, write a series of haiku or use a rhyming scheme in a poem. Put your own song lyrics about the talk or content area to the music of another song or use refrains/verses to your own lyrics. For example: “you’re a vein” to “You’re so vain”.
- Create a movie trailer (iMovie works great and has pre-made templates) about one of the talks. Use open access videos and pictures from the internet in the movie or make your own with 2-3 classmates (groups of 4 or less). Include info about the presentation as if you were publicizing the talk. Be sure to include the main ideas or conclusions and relevant contextual information.
- Ask one or more of the speakers about their career path(s). Write up a 1-page summary of their responses to the following questions. How did they get to where they are? Did their path change and how? Did their interests change as they moved through their careers and if so, why? Was it different or the same as what they expected at your stage in your career? Why is it important to recognize our paths might take different directions than expected?
- Create a “BINGO” style card or scavenger hunt to encourage students to communicate with people or investigate different aspects of the conference. (Gopalan et al., 2018)
- Use twitter to react to the presentation. Tweet key points from the talk. Tag the speaker or use the conference hashtags in your tweet. (Heffernan, 2020)
- Write a short reflection, 1-2 pages, on what you learned about HOW science works. You may want to think about the following: What is the purpose of a conference like the one you attended? How do different presentation types advance research in the field or clinical practice? Why is dissemination of research important?
- After learning about different areas of research, what might you be interested in researching? What new ideas were sparked for you from the presentations you attended?
Professional conference attendance is an important opportunity for presenting and non-presenting students. Conference attendance can easily be integrated into various courses from introductory level courses which may encourage students to develop research later in their college careers to upper-level students who may be interested in building professional networks for graduate or professional school. Conference-based assignments are useful ways for instructors to integrate course content, professional development, and conference attendance into their courses.
Das, B., & Spring, K. (2022, September 22). 11 Tips for Instructors Bringing Students to ACSM Regional Chapter Meetings. ACSM_CMS. https://www.acsm.org/home/featured-blogs—homepage
Gopalan, C., Halpin, P. A., & Johnson, K. M. S. (2018). Benefits and logistics of nonpresenting undergraduate students attending a professional scientific meeting. Advances in Physiology Education, 42(1), 68–74. https://doi.org/10.1152/advan.00091.2017
Heffernan, K. (2020). MARC in the Classroom. https://www.acsm.org/docs/default-source/regional-chapter-individual-folders/mid-atlantic/marc-acsm_integrating-into-classroom.pdf?sfvrsn=503ff16e_0