How to Make the Most of Your Next Research Administration Conference

Conference season has begun! Bad Rabbit is excited to be an exhibitor at the NCURA Annual Conference, taking place in Washington, D.C. August 4-7. As we prepare for the exhibit hall, we thought we’d some some tips for attending a research administration conference.

Whether you’re a seasoned pro or a new hire, graduate student or Vice President, a professional conference is an opportunity to make connections, commiserate with peers, learn a lot, and have some fun. These are our tips to make the most of your next RA conference.

1. Plan ahead

If this is your first conference, the experience can be overwhelming. Let’s be real: even if you’ve been to a hundred professional conferences, the experience can be overwhelming! Manage anxiety and make the most of the event by mapping out your goals in advance.

  • Review the agenda and mark your “must-attend” sessions

  • Find out who’s going in advance (conference website and social media accounts will help), and reach out to colleagues you’d like to connect with once you’re there

  • Orient yourself to the space. Check out the conference map, and try to fit in a walk-through after you arrive (but before the event starts) so you won’t get lost in the crowd.

At the very least, write down a few ideal takeaways to help focus your time at the conference. Going in with a game plan will help you maximize your conference time.

2. Be flexible

It’s tempting to try to do it all—see every presentation, talk to every contact, visit every exhibitor booth. But the truth is, no matter how good your plan is, you’ll need to deviate from it at some point. You might run into an old friend who invites you to their panel discussion, or decide to skip a session in order to have coffee with a new connection. Or, you might simply need to take a break!

Give yourself permission—and room in your schedule—to do things that aren’t on your plan.

3. Take notes

In our increasingly digital world, it’s tempting to ditch pen and paper in favor of our tablet and phone. But research shows that the act of writing things down helps us remember them. Even if you never reference your notes post-conference (though we recommend that you do), taking notes during presentations and info sessions will help you retain the most important information.

If you’re travelling light and don’t want to haul a notebook around, your conference guide may have a notetaking section in the back, or you can likely pick up a promotional pad and pen from a vendor booth.

4. Take breaks

When you attend a research administration conference, you take in a lot of information at once. Listening to presentations; meeting new people (and trying to remember their names); learning about products and services; brainstorming for what you’ll do after you get home. Plus, you might be in a different time zone, and chances are your sleep schedule is off. Long story short, you’re going to get tired. And that’s fine. Just give yourself some down time in between events.

Some ways to recharge during conferences:

  • Visit a coffee shop and read a book for 30 minutes

  • Find a seat and listen to music on headphones, or try a guided mediation app

  • Meet with a friend or colleague for cocktails

  • Go outside! Even if it’s just the sidewalk in front of the convention center, take a few moments in the sun and some deep breaths of fresh air

5. Network effectively—and take cards!

Most conferences have built-in networking opportunities in the form of refreshment breaks, shared meals, and evening social events. Take advantage of that time to have informal discussions with peers and presenters.

You’ll likeley want to exchange contact info with some folks. Of course, most people have smartphones and can automatcially share phone numbers and email addresses. But business cards help connect your name and face to a tangible object. Much like writing things down helps you remember important information, so does looking at a physical business card. So take some business cards with you, and be prepared to swap them with others.

6. Save time for the exhibit hall

Vendors attend conferences to get to know potential clients and share their work. Yes, they’re also pursuing new business. But take it from us: we’re not just there to sell you stuff. We want to hear about your professional challenges and successes, and help make your conference experience enjoyable!

Take some time to browse the vendor tables, learn about new products or services that might make your job easier, and pick up some fun and functional giveaways.

Are you attending the NCURA Annual Conference? Drop us a line and let us know! And stop by booth 217 in the exhibit hall to pick up a free travel candle and enter to win your very own fuzzy rabbit tail chair. We look forward to meeting you and hearing about your work!