Conference Confidential: Attending a Professional Event

Hello, readers, and congratulations on making it to the homestretch of the spring semester! As a reminder, registration for summer and fall courses has opened- meet with your advisor to figure out your program of study and register here if you have not done so already.

Why have I been on a hiatus from blogging, you ask? Well, I have just returned from a conference at UC Berkeley in California. I was lucky enough to be selected from an amazing pool of undergraduate and graduate students to attend the Clinton Global Initiative University for the second year in a row. CGI U is an annual meeting that culminates in professional panels, working sessions, and office hours in which students can engage with prolific figures in fields like environmentalism, public health, technological innovation, women’s rights, and more. We are all encouraged to connect with fellow students and work across socio-cultural contexts to come up with potential solutions to the world’s problems and receive feedback from people like Conan O’Brien, Maysoon Zayid, Sal Khan, and Bill and Chelsea Clinton. After a whirlwind weekend of interacting with such an influential group, here are some tips for what to do at a conference like CGI U:

  1. Get out of your comfort zone. When I attended CGI U last year, I was a bit nervous to branch out on my own and network with total strangers; I mostly stuck with the group from my undergraduate institution. This year, however, I came with the mentality that all of the students in attendance would support each other’s commitments to action as well as general views on equality. Everyone was there because they want to incite change, so that meant we were all connected on some level. I reached out to several other students from all over the world, and exchanged information so that we may connect in the future; I highly suggest doing the same at any sort of conference.
  2. A conference is what you make of it. If you’re considering skipping a certain part of a conference because it does not seem applicable to your interests or abilities, think again. You could very well get some inspiration out of it. I am not particularly oriented with math or science in general, but was I going to miss speaking with NASA astronaut Cady Coleman simply because I am unfamiliar with her field? Of course not! Never doubt your ability to connect with someone on several levels, you could find a potential partnership where you did not think one could develop at all.
  3. Follow through. Telling someone that you’ll contact them should not be an empty promise; rather, if you’re keen on working together, make time after the conference to email or call them. For instance, by chance I met a student from New York City who used to live in Rochester (right by campus, in fact!) who is interested in learning more about our work with East High School at Warner. Imagine if she were able to obtain a position there in the future; I would love to be the “broker” bridging the gap between people who are interested in affecting positive change. All it takes is one email!
  4. Budget your time wisely. CGI U is intensely busy, so I printed out multiple copies of the conference agenda and made time for meals and breaks to catch up with those from my undergraduate school, as well as those of whom I had met at last year’s event. It is important to learn as much as you can, but also to take some time to reflect on your experiences and enjoy yourself!
  5. Do your research. I hadn’t heard of some of the speakers prior to attending this year’s conference, so I took the time to look up some of their work. Maysoon Zayid, for instance, ended up being my favorite presenter. She is one of America’s first Muslim women comedians and also has cerebral palsy. I watched some of her material prior to seeing her speak and had all sorts of questions that I was able to ask her. She even wants to connect with me in the future, so I was glad that I had some initial information about her work to allow me to see what a valuable asset and mentor she could be.

Overall, if you’re attending a conference for the first time, enjoy yourself! Be prepared to network in a genuine way; that is, connect with people on both interpersonal and professional levels. Meliora!

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