Jonathan Singer, Linda Grobman, & Susan Mankita at 2014 NASW Conference
Catching up with colleagues: Jonathan Singer (left), Linda Grobman (center), & Susan Mankita (right) at 2014 NASW Conference
This is the 4th in a series of reflections on my experiences at the 2014 National Association of Social Workers conference in Washington, DC, in July 2014.
There are the plenaries, the keynotes, the break-out sessions, workshops, symposia, and poster presentations. There's the exhibit hall, the receptions, the film festival, and the awards ceremony. All of these elements make up the content and structure of the conference. But what is at the heart of any conference is the people that you interact with, face-to-face, in real life, and the professional collaborations and friendships that grow from those interactions and the ideas that are sparked by the formal AND informal content commonly experienced. It's often what happens BETWEEN formal sessions that has a big impact on your practice and the profession.
For example, I had dinner with some colleagues one evening at the 2014 National Association of Social Workers conference, held July 23-26, 2014, in Washington, DC. After dinner, some of us were sitting and talking. Susan Mankita mentioned to Jonathan Singer that it would be awesome if his Social Work Podcast website had an index of episodes by topic. One week later, Jonathan announced the new site map that he created for the site, listing each episode by category. This very useful addition to the site was a direct result of one of those "in-between" moments at a professional conference!
The exhibit hall is a great place to visit between sessions and network with colleagues. Walking around the exhibit hall, I was able to pick up information about innovative practice around the country and talk to representatives from schools of social work. I was able to view poster presentations. If you are interested in writing, you can find publishers in the exhibit hall and discuss your ideas. (I am often an exhibitor myself.) There were receptions and breakfasts in the exhibit hall, providing informal time to network with colleagues. Tables and chairs were set up at strategic places in the hall, too. During the conference, this provided a place to plan specific times to meet colleagues to discuss future collaborations. When you attend a conference, be sure to block out time specifically to visit the exhibit hall. It is a vital part of any conference and often serves as the "hub" of activity.
Serendipitous connections can be made in sessions, too, especially if you arrive a little early and stick around afterwards. I am reminded of the time when I was an undergraduate student (in music therapy) and attended a national conference. The woman sitting next to me in a session started a conversation with me, found out I was a student, and offered me an internship! In that moment, a collegial connection was made, and my 20-year-old self was sold on the "hidden" benefits of attending conferences. At the 2014 NASW conference, I carefully chose sessions I was especially interested in, and then spoke with the presenters informally afterwards. THE NEW SOCIAL WORKER's series on mandated reporting came about as a result of a similar connection when I attended a presentation by Kathryn Krase at a previous conference. We may have some new things in store at the magazine, as a result of some of these talks at the NASW conference. Stay tuned!
There is much more I could say on this topic, but I will leave you with this thought. The next time you go to a conference (and there are many from which to choose), don't miss out on the "in-betweens" and the people. The educational content in the formal sessions is absolutely paramount. Take it all in, and then look beyond that, or you might miss something really important. :)