The annual convention of the American Psychological Association is a unique event not only for psychologists and people who work in the various sectors in the field of psychology. It is also an excellent opportunity for psychology graduate students (both master’s and doctoral candidates). Even though I am attending the conference as a neuroscientist who finished graduate school a while ago (I used to attend the annual APA conventions while I was in grad school), I want to share my thoughts on why every psychology graduate student should attend the annual APA convention.
1. You will learn much more about the most recent breakthroughs in the field. Psychology is a hot science, and while you are undoubtedly learning a lot in your own institution, no other event will give you an opportunity to learn more than the annual APA convention. Make sure to start perusing the schedule of the events early, pick and choose the ones you’d like to attend, and learn about the areas that interest you most.
2. You will make connections. Widely attended by world-renowned scholars and established professionals in the field, the convention is the ideal place to make professional connections. The environment is also extremely conducive to networking, with many social events scheduled throughout the four days, making it easy for people to meet and establish new connections. Don’t be shy! People are here to talk to other psychologists and students with similar interests. Be sure to bring your business card for quick and smooth exchanges of contact information.
3. You will be able to explore the career opportunities available to you. This year, the APA is offering a new PsycCareers LIVE program (Booth No. 370), which will allow you to talk directly to recruiters and employers (through visiting employer booths), connect to prospective employers, access live career management sessions, and attend moderated panel discussion sessions to learn about what employers really need. Make sure you prepare in advance. Create your profile and upload your resume at PsycCareers.com, and flag yourself as a Career Fair participant, which will allow potential employers to reach out to you directly. Dress appropriately (business casual), ask questions and be confident.
4. You will meet other graduate students. The convention has plenty of sessions and events that cater specifically to graduate students. There is even a session (in the morning of the first day of the convention) called “Making the Most of Convention” for graduate students, which I highly recommend to attendees of future conventions. In addition, make use of the social hours for the divisions related to your professional interests (they are usually open to all convention attendees), and go to the social hours that are specifically for graduate students. Both are a great way to meet other students as well as get to know some professionals in the fields that interest you most.
5. You may discover what exactly you want to pursue after graduate school. While many graduate students already have clear goals or ideas of what they want to do after grad school (such as teaching), some may have less-structured plans, especially in the first year or two. The convention is an ideal place to learn more about the areas of psychology that you’re most passionate about, and learn more about yourself by exploring the fields that you’re less familiar with, as well as meeting established professionals from different sectors of the field. Don’t hesitate to introduce yourself to the people you admire or whose work you find interesting, and ask questions to get an insight into the work they do.
Nicole Avena, PhD studies appetite and addiction at the NY Obesity Research Center, at Columbia University. You can learn more about her work at DrNicoleAvena.com. She can also be found on Twitter and Facebook, or on her Psychology Today blog.