How to Make the Most Out of a Professional Conference


By Katie Southon, SCS Advising Leader 

Most STEM majors will find themselves at a conference at some point. Whether you are attending through research or a professional registered student organization (RSO) as a current student, or in the future through your company for career development, conferences serve as a valuable method to obtain personal and professional development.

I attended my first conference, WE22, back in October with the Society of Women Engineers Illinois. While there I gained important information such as the importance of understanding what conferences have to offer and having a game plan going in so that you can make the most out of your experience.

What is the typical format of conferences? Let’s dive.

Conferences typically have keynote speakers, lectures, expositions or career fairs, and other events. At the keynotes and lectures, subject matter experts will share their experiences and advice various matters, such as career goals, leadership development, and other topics. Career fairs or expositions will have companies and recruiters on site to meet and obtain more information. There is a lot to be gained from career fairs and they can sometimes even lead to an on-the-spot interview! While the other event offerings vary, the opportunities offered at WE22 included plant tours, city sightseeing, and social gatherings, all of which can help build your network through important connections.

The most important thing to remember when attending a conference is to plan ahead. By planning ahead, you will be able to maximize your experience and have a more enriching experience. There should be a schedule online ahead of time where you can plan out your days. Block out time for the most important events first and then fill in the gaps with events that pique your interest. While you’ll never have time to attend every session that is offered, by following this structure you will ensure a meaningful and productive conference experience.

Next, practice your elevator pitch and make sure your resume is up-to-date. The School of Chemical Sciences Career Services offers a number of resources and services to help you reach your goals, and can review your resume and provide feedback, among other things. I recommend utilizing this resource to ensure that your resume stands out.

Print copies of your resume and keep them on hand, but also be aware that many companies now take virtual resumes as well. Make sure yours is saved as a pdf on your phone prior to attending a career fair. Familiarize yourself by reading about the companies you want to talk to and show up prepared with thoughtful questions: recruiters are looking to see why you’re interested in their company specifically, and having targeted questions ready to go helps show them you’re serious.

Overall, going to a conference is a wonderful opportunity to cultivate soft skills and meet professionals in your field. It can feel overwhelming at first, but with the right planning, the conference will be a breeze, and you would gain helpful insight.