A Guide to Conference Presentations for Students
One of the best ways to become involved in a profession is to attend a conference. Conferences provide opportunities for networking with other students and professionals, to learn about the latest research, for professional development by attending continuing education seminars, to meet with leading professionals in the field, and to experience the adventure of travel.
Conferences are not just for the professionals in the field. Many conferences are very student friendly and have an array of opportunities for undergraduate and graduate students to participate in at the conference. These student-friendly conferences will have exhibits and presentations specifically geared toward students, as well as hospitality rooms for students, reduced fees, and even financial assistance.
Every student should seriously consider attending a conference during their academic career!
Why consider presenting
You may want to consider going a step further and presenting at a conference. Again, student-friendly conferences will have specific venues for student presentations.
Most students opt to do a poster session. Poster sessions involve presenting an original research idea on a 3’ by 4’ poster. Posters usually include a title, your name and affiliation, a brief introduction, a methods section, results, and discussion. Presenters may include a graphic such as a chart or table on the poster as well. Posters are grouped by category, such as “Personality and Individual Differences,” and there may be 20 to 30 presenters during a standard 90 minute session. Presenters stand in front of their poster and respond to inquiries from attendees. It is fairly informal and a great way to interact with other professionals while discussing one’s research. There are other formats for presentations at conferences, such as presenting a paper or a symposium or panel discussion, though most students elect to do poster sessions.
The advantages to presenting at a conference are numerous. For starters, presenting gives you the opportunity to discuss your research with other professionals. This will help you to refine your ideas and gain insights. This is especially helpful if you plan to continue research in this line of investigation or to publish your results. Certainly, a conference presentation also boosts your resume and demonstrates to others that you have the skills to conduct research. This can be particularly important when applying to graduate schools, post-doctoral fellowships, and academic jobs. Another benefit is that you gain recognition in the field as an expert in a particular area. This recognition may be informal—such as meeting contacts who talk with you during your presentation or who follow up after the conference to ask for a copy of your paper and related work—or formal, such as receiving an award that a conference offers specifically to student presenters.
What to present
As discussed, many conferences have venues specifically for undergraduate and graduate student presentation. Although all submissions are screened before being accepted, the student venues are often less stringent, realizing that the research may not be as polished as one would expect from a seasoned researcher. With that said, not all student submissions will be accepted and it is important to submit a polished presentation. It would be useful to solicit the assistance of a faculty member who has previously presented and can offer suggestions before submitting. Generally speaking, most conferences are looking for an empirical study in which you collect and analyze data.
Many of the student presentations that I have seen in the past have been quantitative, correlational studies in which participants are asked to complete two established surveys and the researcher correlates the results and reports on the predicted correlation. However, presentations can also be reports of an experimental manipulation, the development of a new technique (such as an instructional strategy), or even a relevant personal experience. For example, I once chaired a panel discussion by second year graduate students who presented on surviving the first year of graduate school.
If you are at a loss as to what to present, you may consider working with a faculty member or other students. Many presentations have multiple authors and this is a great way to collaborate with other students and faculty. It is important to note that although presenting at a conference is much easier than I suspect most people think, it does require a commitment of time and resources. Once your paper is accepted, you have a professional responsibility to present at the conference. Unfortunately, I have seen students be no-shows at a conference. You need to be sure you have the time, resources, and professional commitment to attend the conference before submitting a proposal.
How to submit a proposal
Below is a list of the regional psychology conferences for 2015 that I consider student-friendly conferences. These all accept student submissions, and some even have reduced rates for students as well as student awards and financial assistance. You can find links to all of the conference specific websites at the American Psychological Association’s site.
Most of these conferences have submission deadlines in the fall, so it is best to plan ahead and look at their submission deadlines and requirements as soon as possible. Some of these conferences have sections of their websites geared to students with suggestions for student attendees. I encourage you to look at all of the sites as some also have photo galleries from previous conference as well as detailed instructions on the submission process. Please note that it has been my experience that the deadlines listed are often adhered to and late submissions will not be considered.
Good luck and I hope to see you at a conference.