Table after table. Nametag after nametag. Handshake after handshake. Academic conferences consume you like a whirlwind.
You slalom your way through a sea of attendees in a convention center, hoping to find the right booth or panel. In the end, you might exchange hundreds of dollars for phony smiles and a fat stack of business cards.
As a lifelong academic and writer with two grad degrees in the humanities, I’ve been to a SLEW of conferences – sometimes as a presenter/panelist, but mostly as an attendee. They’ve always left me with mixed feelings.
It’s important to network, but is it really worth it? Well, that all depends.
What I’ve realized is that you really have to commit to the experience. You’re only going to get something out of the conference if you make that your intention. You need to muster up the courage to cold-approach people, and you must give people a reason to remember you (often by showing your value to them).
These networking tips apply to you as a pre-med as well, especially if you choose to attend a conference or fair.
NOTE: Some 2020 dates for certain annual events haven’t been announced yet.
In those cases, we’ve used the 2019 date and marked it with an asterisk (*). Those dates are subject to change.
CSU San Bernardino
Yes, Open to members and non-members. Rates vary ($0-$25). Register here.
Li Ka Shing Center
February 8th, 8am-5:30pm
Yes, $30 for all students and advisors. Register here.
February 20th, 11am-8pm EST
Yes, Free to the public. Register here.
Yes, Open to members and non-members. Rates vary ($695-$805). Registration opening soon.
Huntington Convention Center,
Yes, Open to members and non-members. Rates vary ($200-$500).
Registration closes in Feb. 2020.
*April 13, 2019, 11am-4pm EST
2020 dates and registration TBD.
Yes, Open to members and non-members. Rates vary ($199-$379). Register here.
Johns Hopkins School of Nursing,
*Apr 16, 2019 4-7pm EST
2020 dates and registration TBD.
San Diego State University
Yes, open to students and non-students. Rates vary ($0-$200). Register here.
Mt. San Antonio College
Registration opens in Nov. 2019. Rates TBD.
New Orleans, LA
Yes, Open to members and non-members. Rates vary ($350-$725). Registration opens on Jan. 13.
UNE College of Osteopathic Medicine
*September 28th 2019
Registration for 2020 TBD.
Yes, Open to members and non-members. Rates vary ($745-$945). Registration coming soon.
*October 19th, 2019
Yes, open to students and non-students. Rates vary ($10-$50). Registration for 2020 opens in Feb.
*November 8th-12th, 2019
Yes, open to students and non-students. Rates vary ($500-$1225). Registration for 2020 TBD.
*November 23, 2019
Yes, free and open to the public. Registration for 2020 TBD.
*November 23rd-24th, 2019
Yes, Open to members and non-members. Rates vary ($69-$149).
Registration for 2020 TBD.
Coming in 2021
CAAHP Regional Meeting, 2021
April 14th-17th, 2021
WAAHP Regional Meeting, 2021
May 25th-29th, 2021
SAAHP Regional Meeting, 2021
San Antonio, TX
June 2nd-5th, 2021
NEAAHP 2021 Conference
June 9th-12th, 2021
*If you notice a discrepancy in our list, or want to add to it, please let us know in the comments below!
The AAMC certainly thinks so.
They argue that it’s a good way to “to learn about the process of applying to medical school, admission requirements, and resources all in one place. You’ll likely meet lots of medical school representatives and have the opportunity to talk with them about their schools.”
I’d agree with this to an extent. Yes, if you make memorable connections and can reference the event in your application essays, that could potentially make your application leap off the general slush pile. It could also provide insider information on schools that isn’t easy-to-find or up-to-date on the web.
But that’s speaking in ideal terms, and would rely heavily on your networking skills.
In reality, I think your decision will hinge on three factors:
How much does it cost?
Some of them are free or less than $50-$100. Taking a casual approach to these would be fine. I’d attend most of these in my close proximity. If the events are smaller in scale, you might be able to apply as a presenter, which is a great way to pad a CV or deepen the connections you make.
When it starts costing multiple hundreds of dollars (or even thousands!), you should proceed with caution. These pricey events are only valuable when you have ample time to prepare. Otherwise you’re paying top dollar just to watch lectures all day.
How much time you have to prepare?
If you’re able to review the schedule and the list of exhibitors/presenters ahead of time, you can make a personal agenda and to-do list. This allows you to make the most of your time and helps you avoid forgetting certain panels/events.
It’s great if you can research the exhibitors/presenters and come prepared with insightful questions to ask. Be careful not to brown-nose people, but people tend to be flattered if you show prior knowledge of their work, projects, associations, etc.
Give yourself a week or at least a few days to create your conference portfolio:
Where are you in your application timeline?
Some of these fairs are designed for underclassmen or upperclassmen, so make sure you match the target audience.
In general, these events will be more valuable to you during your junior and senior years (close to when you’re applying to med school). The connections you make have a shelf life – it doesn’t do a lot of good to bring up something from two or three years prior. It’s also easy for the information you learn about dates, deadlines, and programs to change from year to year.
But, by all means, if it’s not too costly, start attending these events early on. The initial exposure could build into long-term connections, and the experience could make you more prepared for future conferences.
Dress Sharp and Travel Light
Business formal at best, business casual at worst. Flashiness won’t seal any deals, but frumpiness could hurt you.
Limit yourself to one small bag and one portfolio/folder. Trust me. You’ll have all kinds of swag, cards, coffees, pastries, etc to carry around as well.
Make a Conference Bucket List
Sounds dumb, but take the time to write out your conference goals:
This list will create a social contact with yourself to push beyond your comfort zones.
Make a plan and hit the panels that are most valuable to you. Don’t show up on the morning of the event and “wing it.” You’ll inevitably miss something and regret it.
We’ve already written a whole article about how to choose your panels wisely.
Offer to Help People
Most presenters and panelists at these conferences don’t want you to “suck up” to them. BUT, one of the best ways to be memorable is to offer them some kind of free service or contribution.
Maybe you’re a programmer who could update their website. Maybe you have connections to a needle exchange program that could link with their school of public health. Maybe you’ve done similar research as them and could offer to volunteer for free in their lab.
It’s a lot of work, and you need to be prepared for them to actually take you up on it. But this is a hell of a lot more effective than just “showing your interest.”
Don’t do it obsessively, but make sure you record memorable facts, conversations, names, follow-up questions, etc. Maybe create a page for each presenter/panel. These events can lead to information overload, and it’s easy to forget something crucial you’ll need down the line.
Follow Up in a Personalized Way
Don’t wait too long to follow up. You need to strike while the iron is hot. Go through all the business cards you’ve gathered and review your notes. Make additional notes about what you remember.
Then, write short letters to the presenters. Emails will suffice. Try to let go of your formal academic training and sound like a normal, fun person.
Here’s a template:
Hello Dr. Panelist,
That presentation you gave on “Sorry But Your Soul Just Died” at the Annual Pre-med Conference really blew my mind.
It’s been a week, and I’m still thinking about our conversation about CRISPR and the ways that genetics are testing our idea of free will.
As I mentioned at the conference, I’m currently minoring in bioethics and performing genetics research at my college. You invited me to share our project and my current work, so I’ve attached the abstract to this email. I know you’re busy, so obviously no rush or obligation.
Over the past six months, I’ve been able to improve protocol for my research team, leading to more consistent and promising results, and I’d love to offer my time to your lab if any volunteer or intern positions are available.
On a personal note, I’ll be in your area at the beginning of next month. I was wondering if it would be possible to grab a coffee on campus and chat (my treat)? I think you said you like the Mocha Lattes at the Daily Grind?
Thanks again for inspiring me on my pre-med journey and giving me ethical quandaries to contemplate at night! Hope to talk soon.
– Joe Pre-med
I hope my list and networking tips have better equipped you for your pre-med fair or conference!
If you have questions or want to add to the list, please leave comments below and our Savvy Pre-med staff will respond personally!