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Five reasons to attend a conference

1. To meet people
A big reason for going to conferences is to meet and meet up with people. Conferences bring together people from all different geographical areas who share a common profession or field, and are a great way to meet new people in your industry.
At a conference you will be able to get together with people from a wide range of backgrounds or from a ­number of organizations, whom you may not ­encounter at your home institution.
As you build your professional ­network, conferences also become a good place for meeting up with people in your industry that you haven’t seen in a while.

2. For people to meet you
Yes, you.
It may not seem like a notable thing, but conferences are also a good way for people to meet you. You may meet someone at a meal, or they may stop by your seat at a workshop room, and within a few ­minutes, you can make a ­connection with someone that you might not even have met if you hadn’t attended the conference. It’s a good way for people to meet you so you can build up your ­professional network.

3. To learn new things in your field
As you sit in on different workshops or attend the award ceremonies, you may hear a lot about things in your field that may be new to you. These could be new techniques, new types of equipment and software, data that is yet unpublished, or resources that you may not have heard of.
Conferences allow you to get a good sense of what’s going on in your ­industry that you might not be aware of living in your neck of the woods. You get to hear about the new changes and updates from some of the biggest names in your industry and of some of the newest and most ­reputable faces in it. In addition, conferences give you the opportunity to talk to these people one-on-one about what they are ­working on, and they may even give you advice.
You have the opportunity to ask ­presenters questions about their work and the rationale behind it, which you can’t do when reading journal articles!

4. To learn new things outside of your field
This is a two-fold benefit of going to conferences, since not only may you learn things outside your field and about other areas of operations in your industry, but conferences also have many sessions for professional ­development and career advice, ­particularly at large national conferences.
Chances are, when you go to a ­conference the attendees are united by a single broad topic, but they have many different sub-fields of practice and varied projects. Thus you have the opportunity to learn about a different area of your field as a way to develop your own personal pursuit of ­knowledge and professional growth. Moreover, conferences have many workshops and seminars where you hear from career professionals about new skills, topics, advances and ideas.

5. See the world of your industry from another perspective
I think depending on where you are in your career, the motivations change. As you start out, you may be ­seeking information on current events in your field, potential collaborators or ­inspiration for your own work. ­Later in your career, you may be ­seeking ­networking, funding and career o­pportunities. Either way, it is a way to get away from your desk/office and see the world beyond your own ­organization!

So, why go to conferences? I guess a short summary reason would be: for your continued personal and ­professional development. Take ­advantage of these opportunities, even if you can only attend one day at a conference. Meet people. Network. Learn new things.

Commentary by: Shanique Edwards, Rutgers University.