Becky Zapata standing next to her poster at the ABCT Conference in Atlanta, GA.

Honors psychology/sociology senior and Path Scholar Rebeca Zapata recently had the opportunity to present research from her honors thesis at a national conference in Atlanta, Georgia, thanks to an Honors College Conference/Workshop Travel Grant. Unsurprisingly, she met few other undergraduate presenters, but she was able to meet, greet, and network with lots of graduate students and professors in her field, some of whom hailed from universities Rebeca is applying to for graduate school. “The experience really reaffirmed to me that this is the type of research I want to contribute to, and these are the types of people I want to work with,” she writes below. Keep reading for tips on how to make the most out of a conference experience, from making friends to exploring new cities.

I had the opportunity to attend and present the preliminary results from my honors thesis during a special interests group poster session at the Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies Conference in Atlanta, Georgia. My research is over internal and external motivations to appear without prejudice, and how those motivations can impact interactions with marginalized groups. Knowing how our motivations may have an effect on our interactions has implications for clinicians who serve minority patients. Past research has found that motivations do have an impact on interactions between white and black participants. My research sets out to expand on current knowledge by accounting for effects of intersectional identities, particularly the experiences of heterosexual white females, homosexual white females, heterosexual Latina females and homosexual Latina females.

Once at the conference, I was stunned by the sheer amount of people there. Although I had been to smaller scale conferences before, this would be my first time presenting at a national conference. I made the most out of the experience and attended as many diversity-related talks as possible. I was amazed by the amount of work being done in diversity science in psychology, and I felt inspired by the passion I saw from these professionals within the field. The experience really reaffirmed for me that this is the type of research I want to contribute to, and these are the types of people I want to work with. Speaking of which, I got to network with many professionals within the field, many of whose universities I am applying to for graduate school. It was an amazing opportunity to talk to these professors face to face and let them know that I would be applying to work with them. Additionally, I had the chance to speak to various graduate students within clinical psychology, many of whom shared with me their advice and wisdom. I would go out to eat with different graduate students each day, and they would share with me their experiences with grad school; it gave me a lot to think about and prepare for.

The most daunting part of the conference was the time leading up to my poster presentation. I was nervous, as I had never presented in front of so many professionals before. As I tried to calm my nerves, I finished setting up my poster. Soon after, people began to come up and asked me questions on my research. I received praise from professionals and graduate students alike on the amount of work that I had put into my research. I had been so nervous, but in the end, I enjoyed the experience and felt joy that it had gone well. As the poster session came to a close and I began to dismantle my poster, I couldn’t help but smile. As a freshman, I would have never imagined that as a senior I would have this opportunity to present my research at a national conference in Georgia. It goes to show how far I have come during my undergraduate journey. As I look ahead, I know that presenting at this conference has helped me in forming connections for applying to graduate school and in making friends.

For students who plan to attend conferences in an unfamiliar area: Eat at unfamiliar places. I tried many local restaurants in Atlanta and fell in love with every one of them (JINYA Ramen was my favorite). You can eat at McDonald’s anytime, don’t stick with the familiar when traveling. Look up local attractions to attend after the conference day is over. After attending talks and symposiums all day, it’s fun to explore the city and see the sights like a tourist. I went with some graduate students to the Coca-Cola museum, which is very touristy, but it was a blast. Finally, don’t be afraid to introduce yourself. I did not meet many other undergraduate peers at the conference; the majority of people I encountered were either professionals or were in the process of gaining their Ph.D. It felt intimidating being in the same space as these people. However, actually speaking with them through conversations made my nerves go away, and many offered advice and shared stories with me. Do not lose the chance to speak to a possible future mentor, employer or friend. Those people you want to impress, in the end, are just people, and many of them are extremely kind.