Yeah… so I know its not Friday — but let me explain. As I write this, I’m heading back to Detroit from the large conference I was attending in Atlanta, GA. What had happened was, I left this conference on Thursday morning thinking I would have time to write a reflection on this past semester and catch up on some grading, but NOPE. I never even got a chance to open my laptop while I was there! I thought I would use this post to process my thoughts about this experience (and why I was sooooo busy!) and share them for anyone interested.
I’ve presented at several different local, national, and international conferences in the past (e.g., American Psychological Association, Association of Psychological Sciences, Society of Behavioral Medicine, U-M Depression Conference, etc.) However, my ‘attendance’ at these conferences were limited to the 1-3 hour timeframe I was allotted to the poster symposium. Typically, if it was local there wasn’t much else going on, and if the conference was further away, my family would take it as an opportunity to plan a family trip. This past weekend, I was fortunate to actually attend the conference portion at Society of Personality and Social Psychology Conference, the largest conference held in my major.
Brief Overview of Conference
SPSP is composed of over 7,500 members made up of social personality psychologists in different specialties, careers, and stages of those careers, ranging from undergraduates and graduate students to professionals who work in academia, industry, research consulting, etc. Additionally, within the field of social-personality psychology, there are several specific focused interests (e.g., aggressive behavior, stereotyping, romantic/family relationships, perceptions, attitudes, group dynamics, etc.) For this reason, there are several talks by different people occurring throughout the conference, which was neatly organized in a handy phone app I could download. I was able to search for keywords that fit my interests, and big names of researchers.
My main area of research is sexual assault and perpetration, but I was told, and learned, that there usually isn’t much available on these topics at this type of conference. Some things I was interested in learning about were group dynamics, culture, diversity, and different job opportunities available to someone who graduates with a PhD. One day in the near future, I hope to do a different post on this last bit!
First of all, being surrounded by people driven toward similar interests gives a sense of belonging and solidarity— people here are willing to engage in stimulating intellectual conversations that surpass the surface level topics you talk about with friends/ family and pierce with colleagues with different area interests. They understand the struggles of entering grad school, working towards your PhD, publishing, finding a worthy job, etc. It almost reminded me of the feeling I get when I attend large Muslim conferences like ISNA (Islamic Society of North America) where thousands of Muslims gather in one place to network and attend lectures that they are interested. Being at the SPSP conference made me feel like I was part of something bigger – a feeling that can be difficult to achieve when you are in a cohort of 4 people and part of a social-personality department that has maybe around 25 people (of which only a handful overlap with my research interests). It can definitely feel a little lonely sometimes when other careers and departments have classes of a couple hundred.
For this post, I want to talk a little more specifically on some of my experiences from this trip that I think helped me learn and grow on an individual and academic level, or that I found particularly surprising. Disclaimer: This is a personal reflection and in no means will be the same or true for everyone.
I have presented posters almost 20 times in my life (15 different posters at 9 different conferences). So presenting a poster was nothing new to me. Here is how it works: check in with registration (if you haven’t already), find out when and where you present, and whether they want you to set up your poster ahead of time, or bring it in prior to your presentation time. At smaller conferences, they will encourage you to have your poster up for an entire day and to bring it in early so others can peruse it between breaks.
At larger conferences, there are several poster sessions and you are allotted a specific time period, so you take your poster to your designated poster place 10 min prior to your poster session start time and set it up with push pins, and take it down after your time is up. During the poster session, you stand by your poster and when people stop by and start reading it, I offer to give them my 5 min spiel or answer any questions. Sometimes people just say they are looking, and keep on cruising, and other times a deep discussion is sparked and some interesting questions are raised. I used to be so nervous about this, but with practice, confidence, and expertise in your research, it becomes easier and fun to actually have these talks!
My research poster was on understanding how women communicate sexual limits in response to unwanted sexual advances. I had a lot of people come talk to me about how this is relevant work, or tell me about their research interests, or ask me about why certain methods/measures were used, or what I hope to do beyond the study. I had so much fun talking to people about this that the time flew by and I went over my time because of some deep discussions I was having. ~just nerd things~ but honestly, this just reaffirmed my decision to go into this field of research. Hearing that my research is important in combatting real-world issues today validates my purpose and makes my work feel more meaningful and fulfilling.
I think it is safe to say that talks can be a hit or miss. I walked into a few thinking they would be great from their descriptions and walked out; and for others, I had low expectations and was pleasantly surprised. I’m currently interested in incorporating group dynamics into my Master thesis on attributions of blame for sexual assault, so I made it a priority to go to some talks on those topics. Most of those talks were not really relevant to my specific research area, however, I did learn more about the different names for theories that I intend to look up more. Sometimes, I think social scientists believe they have come up with a novel interesting idea, and later find out that someone may have already discovered that phenomenon but named it something else. It can be tricky to do research if you don’t know how to label what you are looking for in the first place! This was definitely helpful in that manner. It is also always worthwhile to know what others in the field are researching.
Personal Development Talks
Something I find unfortunate is the lack of racial diversity in my department area at home, so it was extremely refreshing and empowering to see other people of color at this conference. I was lucky to attend some talks on increasing inclusiveness of underrepresented social psychologists on the personal and institutional level. This information was much needed and valuable; the panelists were diverse in their identities and in different stages in their careers (graduate students, professors at large intuitions, post doc). I learned quite a few things I need to work on:
- I need to seek out other sources of mentorship from someone I can relate to, even if it is someone in a different field. (If anyone has recommendations for any brown or Muslim women who graduated with a PhD in the social sciences, hit me up!) Mentorship is not limited to research; it can also be helpful to just have someone who has been in similar experiences and can help advise you on how to navigate daily stressors some people may not understand or experience. Hopefully, with this blog, I can help mentor others in this same predicament in the future.
- The panelists also advised to seek other communities outside of my program to fulfill that sense of belongingness, which is why I try to maintain relationships with good friends and take part in initiatives like Brown in Detroit, or even this blog.
- Self-care is important and it is not selfish to want some me-time. I am working on saying no to things I don’t want to do. This is why sometimes I opt out of events or socializing when I would rather relax, spend time with my family, bake something, play with my makeup, or work on my blog. These things keep me sane and help me destress.
Career Development Talks
I have so much to say about this that I think it will just be in a different post! Basically, there are such a wide variety of jobs you can get after graduating with a PhD, but I still have many questions, am still learning, and would like to do more research. Some cool things about this conference though are that there were people from all types of jobs. I heard experiences from professionals working as professors, project managers, research firms, data analysts, etc. It was so cool to see the range of where people worked too; some people were working in small start-ups or companies or small schools, while others were working at large companies like Facebook and Instagram, or large ivy league institutions like Yale or Princeton. I will have more to say later, but nonetheless, it is important to go to these talks so I know what questions to ask, and how to best prepare myself for the workforce, because who knows what my future holds?
The Personal and Social Aspect
Okay soooo… I have only traveled by plane without my parents one other time in my life and I am 24 years old. This definitely made me feel like an adult because I booked my own tickets, hotel room, and collected receipts to get reimbursed, etc. This trip also allowed me to get closer to the people in my program. I personally try to separate my personal life from my work life because it can be hard to hang out with your colleagues and NOT talk about work but this was SUCH A FUN EXPERIENCE! Traveling with a group, going to events together, supporting each other during our poster presentations, and discussing what we learned from talks made this a much more enjoyable and fruitful experience. Also, I got to try amazing food, like hibachi, and go to the Georgia Aquarium for the SPSP splish-splash social event. It was fun taking a break from adulting to bond with my cohort and colleagues and act like we were children on a field trip 🙂
Social support is so important when you are in graduate school and I’m thankful to be surrounded by amazing people who make it easier to survive the obstacles we face everyday. I think I’m always just really scared of getting close to my work friends because I want to maintain good relationships with people, and spending more time with people means more opportunities for drama or tension. However, I think I need to be positive and open to maintaining these friendships because I feel an emotional high coming from this trip, and this makes me excited to go to class and work to work alongside my colleagues. This might all sound shallow or dumb, I don’t know — but its the little things that get you through!
Anyways, congrats on getting all the way through this long reflection! Feel free to reach out to ask me any questions or leave comments. I’m hoping to write more about my PhD experiences in the future. 😃