For a first-year PhD student, the SPSP annual convention feels like a treasure trove. Conferences like this provide access to ongoing research, circumventing the two-year peer-review waiting period, and let us hear directly from the minds that are shaping the future of our field. Many first years I spoke with appreciated the opportunity to attend panels unrelated to our primary fields of study, as attending symposia is a great way to get introduced to methods and topics that we may not have discovered by ourselves.
On the other hand, the all-inclusive nature of the convention can feel overwhelming at times. The inherent networking aspect feels foreign at first, especially as you come to realize that most attendees seem to already know each other. It is difficult to know where you fit in, and real community building is limited within the main conference. Another first-year attendee described feeling “major imposter syndrome seeing everyone networking and wondering how I’m supposed to do that.” The tough but effective advice I received was to just "throw yourself in," use openings after symposia to introduce yourself to researchers you admire, and don’t take it personally if people are in a rush. For several, careers have been jumpstarted by taking that first step and saying hello during a coffee break.
It's also a challenge determining which presentations and events you have time to attend. It takes a day or so to let go of the goal of seeing every speaker and shaking every hand, and to really lean into the experience. The best advice I can offer to the next round of first-year attendees is to let go of unrealistic expectations. Plan your day ahead of time, and be forgiving of yourself when you don’t make it to everything on your list.
As you ease into the existing social network of SPSP, you gain introduction to a supportive and stimulating undercurrent of researchers across stages of their academic career. This community is ready and willing to celebrate your victories and normalize your existential fears and doubts. To experience this environment, paired with the excitement and energy of New Orleans, left me exhilarated, exhausted, and ready for SPSP2021 in Austin.
See you all next year!