I recently ventured to Portland, Oregon for the annual SPSP conference. Before I start, I just want to put a disclaimer on this. I had what appears to be a very different experience to other people at SPSP than what can be found along the grapevine of academic conversation. I’m sure if you asked Anna who was also there to write something with the same heading as this it would look completely different. I think this is good. It just goes to show that conferences can be different for everyone. It goes to show that you can be someone with high introversion and low ability to socialise and still have a good time, and not be scared off the whole conference thing altogether. To be completely honest, I had no idea there were over 4,000 people in attendance. There were many things I learned, here is a few of them.
- It is never as scary as you think it will be. But imposter syndrome is real, and as people told me the other day it never goes away. I think this means as a career we need to have a chat about the environment we exist in, but no one seems to like systemic change so I guess for now we are learning to deal with the fact you will always be worried that someone will come up and tap you on the shoulder and tell you that your undergrad degree was given to you accidentally and that you don’t belong in a graduate program.
- Go to the preconference (if you can). It was an easy way to get into the swing of a conference, especially as I had been travelling for the two weeks prior. There were also less people at the preconference so it was easy to move around and not be terrified by the sheer amount of people.
- Don’t go to SPSP without a friend. This is more of a SPSP specific one. But probably the main thing I learned. I would advise not to go to alone. If you make friends easily it may be okay. But the amount of people at SPSP doesn’t make it easy for people to mingle. I actually really only talked to two people properly at the entire conference. One was a girl who sat next to me on the first day, and the other was one of my supervisors. But even just knowing that someone with a familiar face was there was calming.
- Say yes to things even if you don’t want to; but learn the difference between detrimental anxiety and when you can tell anxiety to shut up for five minutes while you leave the hotel.
- Leaving the hotel is sometimes the hardest part. Especially in winter when you’re Australian and used to it being 30 degrees in February and not -2.
- Go with the flow, have no expectations, prepare for plans to change. This is also a main one. Plan, but not too much.
- Don’t feel guilty for not doing everything. See above dot point, planning too much leaves no room for spontaneous adventures in foreign cities, or naps.
- Know your limits. A strong theme through the posts I write about conferences is that we need to know our limits. Conferences are not a normal environment. Know when you have hit a wall and know that it is okay to hit said wall. The Friday of the conference I was there from 8-12, and then I left. It was the best thing ever.
- I like social psych more than I thought I did. Fun fact I hated social psychology even when we were planning my thesis. I have worked out that I don’t hate social psychology, I just only like a certain few topics and theories in it. Which is super handy when you’re at a conference and don’t feel the need to go to everything.
- People do cool research, most of it I wouldn’t like to do. But cool for others to do.
- PowerPoint slides matter. I think one of the main things I get out of conferences is how to create my own PowerPoint slides so that they aren’t offensive to the eyes.
- There is something scary about being in a room filled with a bunch of grad students who are probably more educated than you are (America’s grad school system is more intense than ours), but there is also something nice about it. Solidarity. If you will.
- Seeing other people do research in adjacent topics to you can make you feel justified in your own topics. I have this (probably common) view of my research that it doesn’t matter. This probably stems from the people who have asked why bother researching vegans. To which I now have a well-rehearsed spiel about why animal agriculture is killing the planet. There’s another lesson; have a quick pitch about what you research and why you do it. It will make you feel better.
- You know more than you think you know. I went to a workshop and it was a great lesson in knowing that all the times I had wanted to smash my computer against a wall using R have paid off.
- I remember why I like conferences. I love learning, regardless of what it is. When asking about conferences you get a mixed range of opinions. I think the only way to know if you like them or not is to go to them and see for yourself. Everyone has different experiences, and no one can talk for anyone else.
The main question I have gotten from people is if I would go back to SPSP and yeah, I would. Only though if it was held in a place that I really wanted to go. The trip from Australia to America is brutal, and conferences are exhausting no matter if you like them or not. Overall, I’m glad I went. Being a random face in the crowd is something I like, and if you also like being faced with thousands of other people in the same situation as you then I would recommend going too.