Value of Professional Conferences

By Abigail Lynch

The American Fisheries Society held its annual conference in Portland, Oregon from August 16-20, 2015. (American Fisheries Society)

The American Fisheries Society held its annual conference in Portland, Oregon from August 16-20, 2015. (American Fisheries Society)

In an age of constantly advancing telecommunications, there’s still something irreplaceably human about connecting with a wide range of colleagues in person at a professional conference.  Last week, the American Fisheries Society, the world’s oldest and largest organization dedicated to strengthening the fisheries profession, advancing fisheries science, and conserving fisheries resources, held its annual meeting in Portland, Oregon.  Here are five reasons why attending professional conferences, in fisheries and other fields, should be a professional priority (please feel free to add your own additional reasons in the comment section below):

  1. Disseminate information

    Sharing research is an important element of science. Professional conferences give researchers the opportunity to reach a large audience in one setting. (American Fisheries Society)

    Sharing research is an important element of science. Professional conferences give researchers the opportunity to reach a large audience in one setting. (American Fisheries Society)

In research fields, like fisheries science, professional conferences are designed as forums to present ongoing projects.  For presenters, this format allows them to discuss their work and solicit feedback.  The conference attendees can serve as an intermediate form of peer-review, asking questions about potential directions for the projects and providing recommendations for next steps.

  1. Learn something new

    The large number of presentations at professional conferences are "one stop shopping" to learn the state of issues in the field. (American Fisheries Society)

    The large number of presentations at professional conferences are “one stop shopping” to learn the state of issues in the field. (American Fisheries Society)

Presentations, posters, and discussions make professional conferences essentially “one stop shopping” for attendees to keep up with the current state of the science.  This is useful for those in research fields as well as those outside the research arena, such as managers and professionals from other sectors.  For managers and cross-sectoral attendees, in particular, a professional conference is a convenient setting to acquire information that can assist them in making science-based decisions.

  1. Generate novel ideas and new applications

    Plenary speakers often push boundaries and encourage professional conference attendees to think on topics in a new light. (American Fisheries Society)

    Plenary speakers often push boundaries and encourage professional conference attendees to think on topics in a new light. (American Fisheries Society)

Professional conferences aggregate individuals from diverse specialties within a field.  Having the opportunity to sit in on sessions from a range of these specialties and interact with experts in these subfields fosters innovation and “out of the box” thinking.  Could research methodology in one discipline be applied to another?  What if a difficult research question in one discipline could be tackled with expertise from another area?  Often, the big leaps in science come from these innovative approaches.  Professional conferences facilitate opportunities for these nontraditional interactions to occur, leading to better science, management, and sustainable resource use.

  1. Facilitate working relationships

    Professional conferences create opportunities to make the acquaintance of others in the field. (American Fisheries Society)

    Professional conferences create opportunities to make the acquaintance of others in the field. (American Fisheries Society)

While advances in internet conference calls and video conferencing undoubtedly facilitate communication where it once wasn’t possible, in-person meetings are still very important for working relationships.  Because professional conferences aggregate many of those in the field, they provide valuable opportunities for colleagues to hold in-person meetings without extra expense or travel.  In addition to connecting current collaborators, professional conferences also foster opportunities for individuals to establish new collaborations such as through approaching presenters about their projects or even connections with mutual colleagues.

  1. Catch up with old friends and make new ones

    Friends from the field can be scattered across the country. Professional conferences are a great way to catch up every year. We missed you Brandon! (American Fisheries Society)

    Friends from the field can be scattered across the country and world. Professional conferences are a great way to catch up every year. We missed you Brandon! (American Fisheries Society)

Professional conferences facilitate the social interactions that are so important to establishing valuable, long-term professional relationships.  Though students graduate and scatter, new job opportunities separate former co-workers, and project collaborations run their course, professional conferences are a valuable way for grad school cohorts, old co-workers, and former collaborators to reconnect every year.  In doing so, those colleagues can introduce each other into their new professional circles and the result is a tangled web of inter-connected professional networks.  Professional fields are often very “small worlds” – those in the field are often colleagues, and friends, for life.

All of these reasons contribute to why I hope to attend the American Fisheries Society meeting in Kansas City next year!  (Please feel free to add your own additional reasons as to why professional conferences are important in the comment section below)

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