During the 2016 ASHA Convention I tried taking the perspective of a fly on the wall amid the chaos of optimistic young professionals networking, seasoned experts hastily checking schedules before their next presentation, booth workers full of information for new products, and other nervously eager students attempting to soak in everything while scampering off to any session that caught their eye.
I was no exception. As a first-year graduate student, I approached Philadelphia with the same doe-eyed eagerness as every other first-timer. This was ASHA, after all—the mother of all things “communication sciences and disorders.” I was attending a yearly meeting full of current and upcoming experts discussing innovative approaches in our profession. Or, as I like to view it, a haven where my inner nerd got to explode with glee for four consecutive days.
However, without the excitement of being a student or presenter, many wonder if the effort and expense of attending the ASHA annual convention is justified. After all, there are many other ways to earn CEUs and you can network through social media.
So, why go at all?
From my remote perch on walls and buzzing in back rows while performing the role of eavesdropper, I discovered many advantages to attending a conference like ASHA.
The convention might seem rigorous or flexible, depending on what you want from your experience. You can hit your favorite topics, hunt down the sessions with bigwig presenters or enjoy the serendipity of attending a random presentation. Above all, don’t be afraid to go it alone!
I scurried among poster sessions, exhibits, the career fair and various sessions without being bound to a set schedule or anyone else’s preferences. I wasn’t afraid to arrive late or leave early to catch a simultaneous presentation I just couldn’t miss. You can make convention a footloose-and-fancy-free experience by indulging your inner curiosities, networking and even exploring the city around you.
Learning in a new environment
Break free from the monotony of routine by visiting somewhere new! ASHA can refresh your professional drive simply because you get away from your desk or office. You gain new ideas, brush up on some the latest research and renew your excitement for our profession.
Going to convention immerses you among tens of thousands of like-minded people eager to discuss and debate. Even as a newbie, I had many insightful post-session conversations with people from far-flung places who experience similar daily dilemmas. Interesting ideas can stick with you simply because you hear them in a different setting.
The beauty of too many choices
If you have never attended ASHA’s convention, but plan to go sometime, let me warn you not to even attempt attending every awe-inspiring and thought-provoking session you want to hear. There are simply too many. Was this a problem? Absolutely … not.
As you already know, we all take part in a fascinating and varied career focused on something as ubiquitous and precious as communication. Your convention experience might be planned and predictable—or a constant scramble to re-prioritize and select where to go next. But either way, you will never get bored.
Sure, you can always look up research online or watch live Facebook feeds of innovative presentations. There are things the Internet still can’t deliver, however, such as an experience.
Shannon Goodwin is a first-year graduate student at the University of Texas at Austin. Goodwin was the winner of ASHA’s 2016 Ethics Essay Contest.