General Interest: An ASPE Conference First-Timer’s Guide

Submitted by: Dan Brown, Emory School of Medicine

Last summer, I attended the ASPE conference for the first time. I had been an SP Educator for six months, and knew I would be learning a lot, but really had no idea what to expect. Nine months later, and having just booked my attendance at the 2018 conference, these are my lasting impressions, along with advice that did (or would have done) me some good:

Impression #1: It was really special that I got to interact with the pioneers of the field. While Howard Barrows is no longer with us, several of his protégés and their protégés were in attendance, teaching sessions and giving speeches and having fun with the rest of us!
Advice: do research on who’s who and attend the sessions taught by the people who’ve written books about SP Methodology and the current leaders of ASPE.

Impression #2: The First-Timers Orientation was one of the best uses of my time. I connected with a few people who I then sought out over the next few days at sessions, meals, and on breaks; the Board members introduced themselves, and everything really set the tone for the entirety of the conference. This is also where I met my mentor—I highly recommend signing up for mentorship.
Advice: show up early to chat with the people at your table, find a diverse group, and share who you are and what you love about your job.

Impression #3: Even as a new Educator, I had value to contribute. Because the sessions were led by my fellow SP Educators, they tended to be interactive—we all know that’s a big component of effective SP trainings—and so the presenters wanted to know what we’re doing at our institutions, not just tell us what they’re doing. It was amazing to realize how many ways there are to handle just about everything we do. In several sessions, I was able share how we do things at Emory, and it seemed to spark new ideas for others. Realizing I actually had something to contribute, I submitted to present a snapshot at this year’s conference and was accepted!

In addition, the committees are hungry for participants. If you’re interested in getting involved in SP work at the national level, joining a committee is a great place to start—I joined the Publications Committee, and that’s how you’re reading this now!
Advice: learn about the committees and approach the chairpersons of any that interest you. Start with questions, and see if it’s a fit!

Impression #4: There’s so much to choose from! It’s hard to know what you need to learn at first. I tried to plan out my whole schedule before attending, but during several sessions I’m glad I abandoned my plan. I learned to pay as much attention to the session abbreviations as the topics and speakers. For first-timers, I especially recommend:

  • Snapshots (SS) – multiple presentations in one session block, so you get a variety of topics
  • Workshops (W) – these tend to be the most interactive
  • Teaching Techniques (TT) – these will usually give you something concrete that you can put into practice at work

Advice: Figure out only your can’t-miss sessions before arriving and block off your schedule. Don’t be afraid to skip a session or three and take some personal time to let things sink in.

Impression #5: A good team makes a big difference. We had a team of three from Emory, and we chose to divide and conquer for the sessions and reconnect at meals. If you’re flying solo, find someone who you can connect with and meet up periodically.
Advice: if there are two sessions you want to attend that are happening at the same time, find a teammate who can go to the other one and compare notes afterward.

Impression #6: It’s easy to forget everything once you’re back in your work routine. Fortunately, I took good notes, saved handouts, and several presenters emailed me their slideshows. Returning to these materials throughout the year has helped keep me fresh.

  1. 1.    Take copious notes
  2. 2.    Bring business cards and ask for slideshows
  3. Also bring something to carry others’ business cards in!

Impression #7: It’s impossible to do everything and experience everything in one conference. So in case I missed any great advice for first-timers, I enlisted a few fellow now-sophomores to share their thoughts as well!

From Catherine Hagele, Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania:

  1. What stands out to you from your first time at ASPE? The collaborative atmosphere.  It was so great to meet so many people that were interested in what I was doing and ready to offer help or resources.  It was the opposite of competitive.  Also, my [mentor] was really great.  It’s not that I learned so much about the conference, but it was so nice to get connected to a PERSON right off the bat, though she did have some really great tips for getting the most out of the conference.
  2. What do you wish you’d known before the conference? I wish I’d known a little bit better how to use the app. I ended up using it quite a bit during the conference, but kind of had to figure it out as I went along.
  3. What advice would you give a first-time attendee? Get [a mentor] and meet with them.  Ask them all of your questions. Don’t be afraid to reach out to others.  Make the conference what you want it to be.

From Rebecca Beiler, M.S., University of Central Florida College of Medicine:

  1. What stands out to you from your first time at ASPE? Where did all these people come from? I can’t believe there are so people out there that do exactly what I do! 
  2. What do you wish you’d known before the conference? It’s many other people’s first time too! Sometimes all you have to do is say, “Hi, this is my first time here, I’m [your name]” to get the conversation going (picking up on cues if you are interrupting or if they are in a hurry). 
  3. What advice would you give a first-time attendee? Take some time before the start of the conference to analyze the program book and highlight what you most would like to go to and have an idea of what you would like to obtain from each session – ALWAYS leave your email if the presenter offers PPT for use later, they are good refreshers post- conference. Make friends, go out to dinner with other ASPE attendees (if you are not invited by anyone, create your own plan), have a cup of coffee or tea, chat and don’t forget your business cards because Dan might reach out to you at a later time for an interesting opportunity to help new ASPE conference goers. Also, take advantage of everything there is to offer over the two and half very long days, the ASPE conference only happens but once a year and you can learn so much in such little time! 

Publications Committee Mission: “To bring high quality reporting of current research, trends, techniques and information regarding SP methodology and other relevant industry articles to the attention of the membership through the web-based ASPE eNews blog.”

Please provide comments, questions or suggestions about the ASPE eNews Blog here.

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Comments on "General Interest: An ASPE Conference First-Timer’s Guide"

Comments 0-5 of 4

Kerensa Peterson - Friday, May 04, 2018

What a great post! Looking forward to seeing you all in Kansas City and discussing our work.

Mary Cantrell - Monday, April 30, 2018

Daniel, Rebecca and Catherine, Thank you for your valuable comments. It's good for people who have gone to many meetings to also read and reflect on how valuable this meeting is to so many SP educators. I think your advice will serve many us who forget to look at this meeting with fresh eyes. - Mary Cantrell

Daniel Brown - Friday, April 20, 2018

Glad it helped! You won't feel alone for long, I'm sure.

Michelle Rieder - Tuesday, April 10, 2018

I'm a new SP Coordinator, and looking forward to going to the Conference for the first time. I will be going alone, as we don't have a large team. I'm hoping to make the most of my time, and your advice is so helpful. Thanks!- Michelle Rieder

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