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Selling Your Faculty Advisor on the Value of the NPA Annual Conference
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NPA Meetings Committee


Registration opened on November 19 for the 17th NPA Annual Conference that is taking place at the Rosen Centre in Orlando, FL, on April 12-14, 2019. This conference promises to inspire and help further the careers of all postdocs in attendance while providing ample time for networking with administrators, faculty, and a wide variety of representatives from disciplinary societies, industry and corporations.


While you may already be sold on attending the conference just by looking at the location and the exciting list of keynote and plenary speakers, your faculty advisor may not be quite as ready to sign-off on time away from your research. Here are a few tips* to help you prepare for talking to your faculty advisor about the value of attending the 2019 conference.


Two people shake hands at an event at the 2018 Annual Conference in Cleveland.

Networking at the 2018 Annual Conference in Cleveland. Career networking is one of many beneficial opportunities to take advantage of at the NPA Annual Conference.

Focus on the mutual benefits to your institution, your lab and yourself

Be persuasive by not focusing on just your own interests. Emphasize how your attendance at the conference will ultimately benefit your research group/institution. Develop a list of your top three reasons to attend, such as the Career Fair and job search-related workshops specifically aimed at postdocs and graduate students, and two to three reasons why this conference is particularly relevant to further advancing not only your own career, but the status of your research group or institution. Consider ways in which you can capitalize on conference takeaways by further expanding on ideas and connections throughout the rest of the year.


Add value to your lab through ideas and contacts

Compare this conference to other options and gather data regarding, and testimonials from, past attendees, to show how integral a role this conference has played in other postdoctoral careers. It can be hard sometimes to get a sign-off on attending a broad career development focused conference versus one centered on your specific field of research. Get around this by justifying to value of this conference. For instance, explain that this conference is not only a good fit for advancing your own career goals but can also further enrich your colleagues and research group. By attending, you can bring back ideas and contacts that can be shared with your faculty advisor and research group. It may be helpful to come up with a plan regarding how you plan to share your experiences and lessons-learned both during and post-conference, such as through a report to your faculty advisor, social media, an article in your institution’s newsletter.


Statistics support the importance of career development

Additionally, it will be helpful for you to research in advance, and then provide statistics, about how nurturing one’s own career development is important for overall professional and mental well-being. For instance, there have been multiple studies regarding how getting out of the lab can boost the morale of personnel and advance one’s career potential through connections that are made off-site.


Orlando skyline and text “2019 Annual Conference”

Familiarize yourself with conference opportunities

Thoroughly familiarize yourself with the conference opportunities and be ready to talk about the sessions you want to attend to satisfy your own aspirations as well as ones that can be aligned with your PI/institution’s objectives. Create a brief outline of how you plan to spend your time at the conference, including sessions you want to attend and how each workshop/experience will further your own – or your faculty advisor’s or organization’s – goals. Your outline may include speakers with whom you want to network and potential questions you may have for them; a list of practical skills, knowledge and actionable takeaways you may obtain from various sessions, and goals you may have for networking. You may stress the importance of learning from others’ challenges and successes and of building robust connections that could lead to future collaborations.


Low cost for high return on investment

Provide an estimated cost breakdown to show how this can be a low cost for a high return on investment (ROI). For example, during early-bird registration (now through January 11, 2019), NPA member postdocs and graduate students can attend the entire three-day conference for just $358, a price that includes breakfast all three days and lunch on Friday and Saturday. If you do not make the early-bird special, the price after January 12 of $417 is still reasonable. Nonmembers can pay $656 to attend the whole conference, and if you can only get away for one day of the conference, single-day passes are available for Friday or Saturday for $249, or Sunday for $212. However, becoming a member before registering lets you both take advantage of the lower conference price and gain access to additional resources that can be used throughout the year to benefit your career, your research group, and your institution.


Be sure to emphasize that conference registration includes access to concurrent workshop sessions where you can bolster your professional and soft skills such as project and time management, or communication skills. It also lets you learn data trends that affect the future of the national postdoctoral community; provides you with networking opportunities with peers and postdoctoral admins that can boost your morale and set you up for new projects; and, gives you the opportunity to get your foot in the door with hiring representatives at the new Career Fair that is being held on Sunday, April 14, 2019, from 12:30-3 p.m. ET. Not a bad deal for such a small amount of money.


Develop a list of your top three reasons to attend, such as the Career Fair and job search-related workshops specifically aimed at postdocs and graduate students, and two to three reasons why this conference is particularly relevant to further advancing not only your own career, but the status of your research group or institution.


Propose future benefits for your institution

And finally, you may want to frame your attendance as a scouting mission to assess the benefits of sending even more of your colleagues to the next NPA Annual Conference which will take place in San Diego in 2020. This will help set up your institution early-on for calendaring out when to submit a proposal to present your own workshop or poster, and/or when to submit applications for travel/childcare awards that can help offset costs.


Regardless of your approach, be sure to mention that early-bird registration for the 2019 conference closes on January 11 and regular registration ends on March 29 (with special housing rates available until March 19). We highly recommend that you and your PI/institution take advantage of the discounts that are available through early-bird registration. You may also want to make your travel arrangements as soon as possible since, as of the writing of this article, flights were already selling out.


Good luck and we look forward to seeing you in Orlando!


*Additional tips may be available via following #NPA2019 and on Whova, the NPA’s official annual conference mobile app, available for download on iPhones and Androids.


NPA Meetings Committee consists of many committed volunteers. Meetings Committee leaders are Rajan Chaudhari, PhD, a postdoctoral fellow at University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center (MDACC), and Kerry A. Kauffman, senior program coordinator of the Associate Member Council (AMC) for the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR).


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