This past weekend I had the pleasure of attending my first professional conference, SACSA 2015 in Greenville, SC. It was such an incredible experience! I am already so excited to attend in Jacksonville, FL in 2016.
For those of you that are not familiar with SACSA you can find more information about it here.
I learned so much over the four day span. Many of those lessons were learned from the amazing CSA folks at UWG, but some of them were from experience!
Ten things I learned at my first CSA conference:
1. Travel Authorization forms are a real thing. Before you go to your first conference be sure to find out all the necessary financial pieces if you are eligible for reimbursement. If you don’t know what that is, do some research on your school’s website or ask a faculty member. The process can get overwhelming for newbies so planning ahead is key! That way, you don’t make anyone else’s job harder and you get your money back faster.
2. Plan ahead. This one is obvious but I’ll be honest, I did a bad job at this! I did not manage my time well and did not give myself enough time to pack thoroughly. I didn’t make a list and I didn’t think it through. I forgot the following items: my debit card, my toothbrush, an umbrella, chapstick, a padfolio/briefcase. All of which are pretty important when attending a conference for four days. Which brings me to my next lesson..
3. Be open to being flexible. I was not planning on waiting in Bank of America’s lobby for my new debit card for an hour the morning of the first day, but I did. I requested a toothbrush from the hotel’s front desk and got it for free. I ended up using a small journal and my purse as my conference supplies, it wasn’t my favorite set up but it got the job done! The point is, being able to work with what you have and being flexible with your methods will help keep you sane.
4. Do your research. Research the organization and some of the members before you go. It will prepare you for the conference and for networking! Networking is so important at conference, ensure that you have something valuable to add to the conversation.
5. Speaking of networking, don’t be afraid of it! I get so nervous about networking but it is SO IMPORTANT in the field of college student affairs. I have to continuously push myself out of my comfort zone to meet new CSA people. It is so worth it. I learned so much from the professionals and other graduate students I met this past weekend.
6. Quality over quantity. One meaningful connection is better than 100 random connections. It is not a competition to see how many business cards you can give out. There is no prize for that. If there are specific institutions or functional areas you know you are interested in, find those people! And don’t discount networking with other students. I met some pretty fantastic and inspiring students this weekend and I learned so much from them!
7. It’s not a competition. Competitiveness can be really ugly, being supportive is always in style. People in your cohort may attend more sessions than you or they may connect with the mentor of your dreams. It does not matter. Focus on yourself and keep a positive attitude. I struggled with feeling inadequate compared to some of my other cohort members. That feeling could have ruined the conference for me, or my passion for student affairs if I let it. I am fortunate enough to have had amazing supportive friends there to remind me to not let it get me down and a counselor to reaffirm it for me when I got home.
8. Find your friends, but let them go. UWG has some rockstar CSA graduate students and I am so fortunate to call many of them friends. I would not have been able to make it through the weekend without them! I loved getting to hang with them but I didn’t stick with them the whole time. Going your own way will help you meet new people, grow your network, and learn something new. You can see your cohort at home, get out there and meet people!
9. You never know who’s watching. Save the negative and/or crazy for your hotel room!
10. Enjoy it! Don’t get so caught up in wanting to do everything that you burn yourself out. It is okay to skip some of the sessions and relax. I appreciated hearing this from my professors and multiple professionals at the conference. Self care is always important and it’s especially important at conference. You can’t learn or network effectively if you’re exhausted, starving, and cranky.
I hope these tips will help any CSA newbies like me feel more prepared for conference. It can be intimidating but always remember you are there because you deserve to be there. You are there to help shape YOUR future. Own it!
XO – Sarah
“Let new adventures begin.”