Since I was eighteen years old, I’ve attended at least one regional or national conference related to student affairs each year. I attended my very first NACA Northeast conference as a first-year college student, followed that up with NODA and NASPA involvement as an undergraduate, and have been hooked on conferences ever since.
Conferencing (as a student) is what helped me to realize my leadership skills; balance my introverted nature with a confident, network-loving outer shell; connect with and learn from peers across regions; and was the setting in which I realized that I wanted to pursue a career in Student Affairs. Because of the financial support that my undergraduate, graduate, and current institutions provided to me, along with my enjoyment of conference opportunities, I never thought twice about the accessibility or utility of conferences for all. I viewed them as a valuable avenue to professional and personal development almost to a fault. I first recognized that conferences were not always an attainable form of professional development when I was a graduate student, struggling to afford hotel fees and meals during a regional conference (even with financial support from my institution), feeling left out of what appeared to be many cliques surrounding me, and wondering, “is this experience actually worth all of this money?”
I mean, sure, lower conference fees for graduate students are great, but what about those of us who cannot even afford that? What about those of us who have children to take care of, who can’t jet off to a cool city for a few days of running from session to session and eating out? How about those who do not function well or learn well in a convention center filled with 6,000 people?! What forms of professional development are available to those who do not want to or are unable to subscribe to the conference norm?
I’m not the first person to ask this question. In fact, I very distinctly remember seeing #altprodev all over Twitter a few years ago, and I think we need to continue this conversation.
We have so many more affordable, accessible, and useful professional development tools at our fingertips than conferencing. Here’s a long, yet not exhaustive, list:
- Book clubs (on campus or virtual)
- Lunch and Learns
- Twitter Chats
- Virtual Tickets to conferences
- Drive In Conferences (lower fees and less of a time commitment)
- Skill Trainings
- Campus lectures/speakers
- Seek out new skills–online courses within field or outside, training institutes
- Self Care as Professional Development
Now, as I stated, I really enjoy conferences. I love volunteering and meeting new people. I love learning from colleagues across the country and sharing my own perspective. I love being able to escape from a sometimes tense or hectic campus to be around tons of people who actually understand and value the work that we do. And, I love that exciting post-conference rush that is made up of one half sleep deprivation/jet lag, one half reinvigoration for the work that I do and why I do it. Perhaps I will feel differently in a few years if conference sessions feel stale, or if my ability to attend conferences changes. Granted, it’s been almost seven years since my first one, and I still get very giddy on my way to attending them, so I don’t really see that changing.
There is so much more to say about this topic, so let’s continue this conversation!
> BONUS <
Podcast With Dr. Monica Fochtman on MBTI & Conferences