A student’s budget for both money and time is often pinched. As a result, it’s not uncommon for conference season to leave students scratching their heads in uncertainty about whether to attend. Will it be worth it? How much will I really gain from the experience? And most of all, what are the chances that I’ll actually manage to build meaningful relationships with the delegates or the firm representatives? These are just some of the questions you might be asking yourself.
We reached out to some of our very own from Queen’s Commerce to hear what sort of experiences they’ve had, and what they think on the matter.
Why would I want to go in the first place?
The benefits of attending a student-run conference during your undergrad can be traced down to three umbrella categories: creating relationships, learning new concepts, and “practicing” your business acumen in a real-time environment.
According to one student going into third year, “the main benefit is meeting other like-minded, driven students from Queen's and other universities.” There is no better place to pick the brains of your future business partners, classmates, and friends than over an organized dinner or during a case competition. Not to mention that many conferences feature the opportunity to meet with recruiters - a rare occasion to compare and experience each company’s much-acclaimed culture and possibly make a relationship that will develop in the long-run.
The speakers, planned workshops, and conversations you have with other attendees can also be immensely informative and fulfilling. One Commerce student going into second year commented: “at one conference I went to, the speaker spoke about having humility. It stuck with me, and I’ve thought about it a lot since. In fact, it changed the way I saw business. I used to think leaders had to be assertive, confident, and give orders, but she made me realize that I can find a style true to myself.”
The things you learn in the classroom and from your textbooks are invaluable. Professors are experts in what they teach, and can stimulate engaging class discussions, give fantastic feedback on your reports and presentations, and guide you through some of the most difficult material. However, without a playing field in which to experiment with your business knowledge, negotiating strategies, and networking skills, you may be hard-pressed to find any of the course content sticking with you. Taking the time every once in a while to practice what you learn in a high-paced, high-intensity setting like an undergrad conference helps you develop both personally and professionally.
How do I decide on a conference?
Picking a conference to attend can be daunting. Of course, no one can go to all of them, so it’s important to take a step back and think about what your personal goals are. A poll of 23 Queen’s students suggests these are the top five things to look for:
Alignment of speakers with your interests
Schedule structure - is the conference primarily focused on recruitment, speakers, or interacting with other delegates?
Size of the conference - do you want a small, close-knit one, or a large but potentially less individualized one?
A student entering third year Commerce suggests the following:
“When choosing an undergraduate conference to attend, have an open mind and prioritize learning as a key outcome. Regardless of what your first job is, any undergraduate conference you want to attend will be valuable for your specific context as you have expressed curiosity about it, which is what undergraduate conferences are intended to do in the first place.”
What’s the bottom line - are they worth it?
In today’s day and age, if you want to learn about something, you can Google it. And if you want to hear someone give a talk on a topic, you can YouTube it. However, relationships have never been a more integral part of business - and a more challenging one - until now. It’s not enough to hand someone a business card and hope for a connection, or shoot them a LinkedIn message and hope it gets read.
Students are increasingly challenged to distinguish themselves from the crowd with a genuine, personal connection and a unique personality. Conferences are the perfect grounds to build those connections, learn more about your fields of interest, and practice what it means to be successful. Choose wisely… and give it everything you’ve got when you’re there. If you commit to your own growth, we guarantee it will pay off in the long run.