Several months ago, Joe made a great post about how joining a professional association can help you with your career endeavors. I wanted to add my two cents on this topic as well.
I remember being an undergrad student and finally figuring out my major – psychology. And as soon as I picked it, numerous professors mentioned the benefits of joining a professional association and attending conferences.
At the time, I felt joining a professional association was premature. What could I possibly learn from joining? I was still years away from a possible career in psychology. However, looking back, I can see that I could have benefited greatly.
Recently, I attended a conference organized by the main professional organization in my field. As I looked around, I saw many undergraduate and graduate students, and I was reminded of the benefits of joining a professional association and attending a conference or two in your field while still a student:
- You see see “real” professionals in action
- The more conference presentations you observe, the easier it will be to give your own presentation one day
- You get a feel for what’s current in your field
- You can get ideas for projects, papers, and presentations you can use in your classes
- You can network – this works especially well if you volunteer; it’s amazing how many “doors open” when you are willing to help out
- You get to see people in your field being excited about work
A couple of the above points really stand out for me, starting with the first point about seeing “real” professionals in your field in action. Conferences provide a rare opportunity to get a feel for who the people in the field really are. Conferences are therefore a great way to confirm that your chosen career path is right for you.
The last bullet point about seeing people excited in your field really stands out as well. The conference I attended was on the weekend from Friday through Sunday. This meant that most of us were there on our own time. Yet, there was an amazing, infectious energy in the room. Everyone was excited to share ideas and take what we learned back to our own classrooms.
Right now, there aren’t many jobs in our field, and many had their hours, salaries and benefits cut. Yet, we love what we do. That love showed, and it was energizing and motivating for all to see it, including the many students who were there at the conference.