A Student’s Guide to Navigating the Annual Meeting of the Western Section of The Wildlife Society
Attending a professional wildlife conference is a great way to share information among peers — specifically to learn about how wildlife work is done, see who is doing the work, and note who is funding the work. Most professionals cite “networking” as their primary reason for attending. For students, attending an annual conference provides a valuable opportunity to meet peers, interact with prospective employers or graduate research advisors, and hear directly from researchers. We’ve prepared information to help you prepare to make the most from your conference attendance and hope you find it helpful.
We have scheduled many workshops at the upcoming Annual Meeting which are geared towards students at all different stages of their education. We will have Career Recruiters, Resume Workshops, Job Interview Workshops, a Student-Professional Mentoring Activity, plus the opportunity for extensive networking with professionals. We will hold a Wildlife Career Symposium geared towards undergrads who want to know more about the different job opportunities in the wildlife field. Students are encouraged to apply for Travel Scholarships.
- REGISTER EARLY! Sometimes your university will require paperwork to miss classes, and your college may have funds available to help you attend conferences. In addition to the main conference, register for the welcome reception and consider attending the awards banquet as well; make networking a priority, and plan to shake a few hands!
- VOLUNTEER to help with the conference and you may receive a partial or full rebate on your registration fee! Click link for: More information on application process for Student and Early Career Professional Volunteers Positions
- Prepare to NETWORK! Make virtual business cards with contact information and interests – essential items include your name, school affiliation, course of study with anticipated graduation date, phone number, and e-mail. List broad interests, for instance, “Interests include Game-bird Management”, or more specific interests like, “Seeking technician job doing point-count surveys, vegetation mapping, bat acoustics” or “Looking to begin Graduate School in Conservation Ecology or Wildlife Management.” Compile, update, or revise your resume and a sample cover letter. Include all employment, volunteer, and educational experience. Make PDF copies of your resume to hand out virtually – save one to use and evaluate in the Resume Workshop.
- ATTIRE – You will potentially meet prospective employers and graduate school faculty at the meeting. Wear decent “business-casual clothes,” which may include your school sweatshirt and jeans – but avoid the jeans with holes. Remember that this is casual attire, but should not be sloppy or overly revealing.
- DRAFT A CONFERENCE ITINERARY based on your interests. Visit the conference website, and peruse the program and any announcements. Use the Whova App to create your own personalized agenda, and setup calendar reminders so you don’t miss any activities. Note specific talks you’d like to attend and any speakers/professionals you’d like to meet. Let your advisor(s) know that you’d like to meet these folks and see if s/he can help make an introduction.
DURING THE CONFERENCE
- REGISTER! Download the Whova App, and play around with it to learn your way around. Participate in the Sunday workshops to practice using the app and learn more about it!
- Visit the STUDENT ACTIVITIES Weboage, where you can find out what specific activities are planned for students and get advice on how to get the most out of the conference.
- Student Professional Mixer – An opportunity to meet professionals and other students virtually in a relaxed environment to meet, network and share experiences. Breakout rooms will be setup by wildlife career interests and students are encouraged to hop around to the different rooms to meet professionals in all sorts of wildlife careers.
- Concurrent Sessions – These are presentations on scientific research. Look for a talk or session theme that interests you and watch it on demand. Attend the afternoon panel discussions sorted by topic. It is fine to attend a discussion in one session, then leave before it ends to go to another discussion in a different session.
- Poster Session – Printed research presentations, with photos and graphs, provide ample time to digest and learn more details. Use the chat function in Whova to ask questions to the poster author. This is also a great first step for getting ideas on how you’d present your own research.
- Chapter Meetings – Each chapter (regional group of wildlifers) meets to discuss past and future business, including planning upcoming activities for the chapter. Attend in your current area or an area of interest to you, and meet wildlifers who live and WORK nearby.
- Plenary Session – Leaders in our profession presenting around a common theme and may have a panel discussion and question/answer portion.
- Resume Workshop – Work with an experienced career counselor to learn the basics of drafting a new, or improving an existing, resume and cover letter.
- TALKING TO PROFESSIONALS: Don’t wait for a professional to find you. Simply introduce yourself and let them know you liked their talk or research. Use the Whova chat to reach out to professionals you’d like to meet. Don’t be shy! Mentoring students is one of the most imporant parts of a meeting for a professional. Just let them know that you would be interested in working with them in the future if an opportunity arises; and be sure to hand them your virtual business card. Ask what method is best to contact them after the conference and find out more about any upcoming research or job opportunities they may have. Feel free to ask any participant at the meeting “Where do you work,” “Where’d you go to college,” and any number of similar questions. If you want to find someone who specializes in the study of a specific habitat, species, or species group (e.g. horned lizards), just use the Whova Community Board to ask around. Remember that virtual social events are networking opportunities; enjoy a beer or two if you are of legal drinking age, but be responsible and professional! You don’t want to be remembered for the wrong reasons.
- FOLLOW UP WITH CONTACTS via e-mail; do not text them unless they specifically invited you to do so! Keep your message short and to the point, and compose it as a letter. Spelling errors or texting shorthand will stick out (in a negative way) so keep it simple, yet formal. Re-state where you met them and why you are interested in their work; and give them your contact information and the best time to contact you.
- SHARE YOUR EXPERIENCE. If you received a travel grant, scholarship, or even just a heads-up assistance that enabled you to attend the conference then let that group or individual hear about it after you return! Chapters may be interested in hearing from you directly during a board meeting or social, and advisors or school officials who helped you arrange scheduling to attend the conference will want to know that you went, what your experience was like, how others might improve the process of attending, and whether you’d recommend the experience to others. It never hurts to send a written thank you note or a thoughtful e-mail at the very least.
- If you file itemized income-tax returns and your costs of attendance are deductible (check tax regulations), or you plan to apply for a travel grant, KEEP YOUR RECEIPTS for registration.