8 Tips to Help You Survive and Thrive at a Conference

8 Tips to Help You Survive and Thrive at a Conference

I’ve been to four NACADA/advising conferences since 2012, and I didn’t know a single soul at any of them. The thing that makes that especially notable: I’m a fierce introvert. It’s easy to go to sessions and at the end of the week go home full of new ideas and not much else. I am living, breathing proof that anyone can not only survive a conference, but thrive there!

  1. Before you leave home, make some friends! There are countless people involved in higher education on social media, and engaging with a few people who are going to the same conference as you are will set you up to meet some folks once you arrive. Most conferences have Facebook groups and Twitter hashtags you can use to find others who are headed where you’re headed.
  2. If you can swing it, stay where the conference is being held. Not only will you have the greatest commute in the morning, but you have the flexibility to stick around if you’re invited to dinner or drinks at the end of the day. Always say yes to these invitations! Plus, you can freshen up mid-day, and you don’t have to wait in line for the bathroom between sessions if you don’t want to.
  3. Volunteer. Do as much as you can stand. Volunteering is a fantastic way to meet the people who are running the conference and putting in more work than you have ever even considered. (The amount of work, thought, effort, and personal time that goes into putting together a conference is so great. If you think about it, every piece of a conference is carefully orchestrated. Volunteering helps you realize and appreciate that!)
  4. Do not retreat. I repeat: do not retreat. Conferences can feel like an endless parade of interaction, conversation, and being “on”. And they are. You may have the urge to skip sessions, happy hours, or organized dinners. Do not do this. It can be exhausting, but you need to take solace in the alone time that you get in the bathroom, or going to your room to grab your coat. Coffee will be a big help if you’re not a naturally inclined conversation starter.
  5. Make friends with your neighbors. The most wonderful thing about conferences is that you’re rarely sitting in one place for more than an hour. So in each session, you’re likely to have new neighbors. Talk to them! Don’t just shuffle your papers and look at your phone! We are all guilty of this! You never know who you’re sitting next to, and a conversation can lead to a joint session proposal venture, friendship, or who knows, maybe you’ll end up working with them someday!
  6. Be bold. It’s easy to sit with your friends in any instance. Break out of habit at breakfast and lunch and sit with people you don’t know. I have never ever been turned away by asking, “Is this seat taken?” Conferences are equal parts sharing, learning, and networking. Don’t neglect the networking part!
  7. Remember your business cards. This seems like a no-brainer, but in talking to my fellow conference attendees, it’s come up more than once that they forgot their business cards at one point, went to give one to someone and realized they were still in their room. When you leave your room, check that you have your keys, phone, wallet, and business cards. As a safeguard, put a few in your wallet, just in case. As I like to say: can’t hurt, might help.
  8. Have fun, and be yourself! While you’re busy learning, connecting, and sharing, don’t forget to have fun. Conferences are professional, but you don’t have to be all-business-all-the-time. (Ew.) Tell a joke, wish someone luck balancing four cups of coffee in one hand, tell someone about how you walked out of the bathroom with toilet paper stuck to your foot. It is the easiest endeavor in the world to forget that we’re all human, and connecting with your peers is a great reminder that we are all indeed human.

If you have any conference-going tips to get more out of your experience, I’d love for you to share in the comments. You can also tweet at me on Twitter @JessicaPhilo! Originally Published At JSeeksJoy.com

Resiliency, Disappointment, and Expectations: Helping Your Students Move Past it All

This week the topic of the Academic Advising Chat on Twitter was Resiliency, with a capital ‘R.’

Is resiliency fluid, or something you can only strengthen over time? Can you get it back if you feel like you’ve lost it? Merriam Webster defines resilience as “the ability to become strong, healthy, or successful again after something bad happens.”

So, resiliency is something that you cannot simply possess. It’s not divine right. You have to learn to be resilient. Fair enough.

At this point in my life, I would call myself resilient. I would also call myself determined, creative, persistent, and innovative. And how did I get to be this way? Failing spectacularly, over and over again.

Amount of work is the same

Every time something doesn’t work out, there are two choices.

  1. Self Pity
  2. Deal with it

Walking through door number one can be extremely appealing. You know. Putting on comfy sweat pants, turning on Netflix, pouting, and putting that emergency Ben & Jerry’s to good use. Maybe there are tears, maybe there’s a feeling of emptiness. It’s like becoming a lump of immovable sadness.

Choosing door number two is a completely different experience. This guy embodies it perfectly.

What’s he doing? He’s making the best out of a situation that most of us would find infuriating. But it’s not so cut and dry. Not quite.

Disappointment is deeply intertwined with failure and/or rejection, and resilience. To borrow from this article from Psychology Today, “Disappointment comes with finality–the recognition that you don’t have, didn’t get, or will never achieve whatever it is that you wanted… Perhaps the way in which to foster resilience is to construct realistic appraisals of what you need, avoid idealizing what could be, and come to terms with what you have.”

You’re wonderful, and that’s not disputable.

We’ve come to expectations. Oh, expectations. You’re funny little things. Expectations can make or break an experience. It’s a fine line to tread, staying hopeful and trying to envision what could go right, but not dreaming too big in case things don’t work out. You have to keep expectations for things at an arm’s length. You’re wonderful, and that’s not disputable. Things don’t always work out and you need to be mentally prepared for that experience should it come about.

This is something that’s incredibly relevant in the field of academic advising, since there are tons of students dealing with their own resilience, disappointment, and expectations every day. Maybe they didn’t get into their major of choice; maybe they’re bombing their first major courses; maybe they’re struggling to balance their job and school; maybe their family doesn’t approve of their choices… There are innumerable things that will challenge our students’ sense of resiliency each and every day, and the more familiar we are with our own resiliency and how it feels to fail, the better we can serve them. Advising is teaching, after all!

What experiences have helped shape your sense of resilience? How can you, or do you, use those experiences to  in order to help your advisees get past a setback? Leave your thoughts in the comments below, or mention me on @Twitter!

Resiliency, Disappointment, and Expectations- Helping Your Students Move Past it All - JSeeksJoy.com


My Explanatory Style, Well, Explained

I don’t know where to begin this post exactly, as I don’t know when exactly I became a pessimist. But I can’t remember a time when my glass wasn’t ‘half-empty.’ I used to find the metaphor immensely offensive, as I didn’t understand how anyone’s glass could be ‘half-full’. And what, pray tell, was so exactly wrong with my point of view? *Snark snark snark* So, I spent a vast majority of my 22 first years of life as a pessimist. When things weren’t going my way, it was really easy to talk myself into giving up, thinking things were my fault somehow, and thinking that things wouldn’t get better for me. Being a pessimist is really emotionally exhausting. And really discouraging. Imagine being hard on yourself for every awkward encounter, mistake, bad grade, and missed opportunity.

Optimists used to annoy me. What were they so happy about, anyway? How could they be so chipper; so resilient? How did they just bounce back from failure; rejection?

Things started to click into the summer of 2012. I started the academic advising master’s program with Kansas State and started to realize that if I was going to be a successful advisor I was going to need a major attitude adjustment. How on earth could I help someone else persist, set goals, and stay positive when I didn’t really believe in myself? Once I initially had the hunch that turning my attitude around would help me professionally, I left the thought to marinate in my brain.

In May 2013, I checked out a library book entitled Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life by Martin E. P. Seligman. The book’s description boasts the following:

Known as the father of the new science of positive psychology, Martin E.P. Seligman draws on more than twenty years of clinical research to demonstrate how optimism enhances the quality of life, and how anyone can learn to practice it. Offering many simple techniques, Dr. Seligman explains how to break an “I—give-up” habit, develop a more constructive explanatory style for interpreting your behavior, and experience the benefits of a more positive interior dialogue. These skills can help break up depression, boost your immune system, better develop your potential, and make you happier.. With generous additional advice on how to encourage optimistic behavior at school, at work and in children, Learned Optimism is both profound and practical–and valuable for every phase of life.

I was sold after reading the book jacket. Something everyone may not know about me: I spent the first year of college with crippling anxiety and depression. I didn’t know it at the time, but that’s what it was. It was avoiding social interactions, avoiding raising my hand in class, avoiding drawing any attention to myself, sleeping a lot, going home almost every weekend, and not really enjoying myself, or anything for that matter. I finally started seeing a therapist on campus the next year and learned to manage my anxiety, which helped with the depression. Mastering my anxiety taught me how to be introspective, and to be open minded about myself and my problems. So reading Learned Optimism was like therapy 2.0 minus the therapist. The book contained helpful inventories that helped me better understand my explanatory style, which is fancy psych language for pessimistic or optimistic. Seligman breaks down explanatory style into multiple parts, rather than just “one or the other” and it was fascinating, because it was all so spot on for me.

After I finished reading the book in May 2013 I was determined to work on thinking less pessimistic-ly. It’s challenging to change 20+ years of thinking one way, but it is possible. I’ve learned to counter my pessimistic thoughts with more realistic thoughts, and I’ve learned to stop being so hard on myself for things I felt weren’t going well. As cliche as it sounds, becoming optimistic has changed my life.