Preparing students to attend a conference: A 2-credit course and its assignments

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My favorite conference activity is attending poster sessions. I love talking with students. They are always enthusiastic about their research. The poster topic doesn’t matter to me, although I tend to favor the topics I know very little or nothing about. The student presenters get to experience what it’s like to be the experts and in a position to teach someone else not only about their study but about the topic more generally.

Last week, I attended the Southeastern Psychological Association (SEPA) conference. Whenever I had free time, I popped into the posters and wandered around until I found a poster where the presenters were not currently speaking with anyone. “Hi! Tell me about your poster,” I say. The first poster I went to, the students surprised me, though. One student looked at my name badge, and said, “Oh! Sue Frantz. We read a couple of your papers.” I haven’t published much in journals and what I have published was not related to their poster topic, so this was especially surprising. Of course, I asked what they had read. It took them a bit to remember, but they got there. One was a paper on how Intro Psych can dispel myths (McCarthy & Frantz, 2016), and the other was the Intro Psych pillars article (Gurung et al., 2016). Once we had that sorted, I asked why they read those articles. They said that their professor asked them to read one to three articles written by each of the invited speakers in preparation for coming to SEPA. Brilliant! I quickly looked at their poster to find their affiliation: Covenant College. I asked for the name of their professor: Carole Yue.

Later that afternoon, I gave my talk on the need to give careful consideration to what we cover in Intro Psych. After the talk, two students came up to me. They said that they needed to interview one of the invited speakers and would I be willing to take 10 to 15 minutes to answer their questions? My first thought was, “I have no idea what questions you are going to ask, but there is no way I can answer them in 15 minutes.” And that was okay by me since I had nowhere in particular I needed to be. But what I said was, “Are you from Covenant College?” Yes, yes, they were. After our conversation—which took at least 30 minutes—I asked that if they see me and their professor, Dr. Yue, in the same room, to please introduce me.

I remember my very first conference: Eastern Psychological Association (EPA), Buffalo, NY, 1989. Or at least I’m pretty sure about the location, but the year could have been 1988. That was a long time ago. Anyway, I remember seeing someone whose work I had been reading for a research project I was working on. I wanted to say hi, but I didn’t have any words for after “Hi.” Yue’s students have something to say after “Hi.”

The next day, Carole Yue found me, and I learned more about what she does to ensure her students get the most out of their conference experience. I was so impressed, I asked her to email me with what she does because I wanted to share it with all of you.

At Covenant College, students can enroll in Psy310: Psych Field Trip. This course was created decades ago by Yue’s predecessor, Mike Rulon. Yue reports that Rulon graciously shared everything with her when she took over the course, and she has since revised it. Here’s the catalog description.

The psychology department arranges and sponsors field trips to various professional psychology conventions. The conventions attended in the past have included the Southeastern Psychology Association (SEPA), the Christian Association for Psychological Studies (CAPS) and the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion (SSSR). By these means, students are able to gain a wide sampling of the range of topics, issues, controversies and personalities in psychology today. A travel fee is individually set for each field trip (based on distance, housing, etc.).  

This year’s trip fee was $600, “but presenters get a 50% scholarship. We've been fortunate that the administration has been willing to largely subsidize the trip for students (over half the total cost)” (C. Yue, personal communication, March 18, 2024). For context, Covenant College is near Chattanooga, an 8.5-drive to Orlando where this year’s SEPA conference was held.  

Students needed to prepare for SEPA by doing the assigned readings (one to three articles by each invited speaker) and discussing some of those articles with one to three other SEPA attendees. Yue ensures students get exposure to what’s new in a breadth of topics. She divides psychology into eight broad areas (e.g., clinical/counseling/addiction/therapies, neuroscience/cognitive neuroscience/neurology, industrial-organizational/human factors/forensic). Students need to identify one session in at least five of those eight categories that they plan on attending.

Yue writes,

While at the conference, students check in with me around 8am and receive their per diem for food…They conference all day, and we meet for dinner each night…We then have debriefing meetings after dinner where each student shares about their day. Even though it makes the days very long, students also generally appreciate having the debriefing because they get to reconnect and hear about talks they didn't get to, unusual experiences, or interview/presentation tips. At some point during those two days, students need to find and interview (or have a substantial conversation with) a psychologist. I give them some interview guidelines and suggested questions/topics, but I do encourage them to think of it as a professional fact-finding mission and tailor questions to their own interests (C. Yue, personal communication, March 18, 2024).

After the conference, students write about their experiences. Yue writes,

Their post-SEPA writings are reflections/summaries of their experiences…I've divided it up into one for each day (Thursday and Friday), as well as a summary of their concentration…They do a summary of their interview, and they do a final reflection of the trip in the style of a letter to a future student who might be considering attending SEPA… Students also submit a list of "Five 5's" in which they tell me 5 things they thought were unusual or surprising (behavioral or content-based), 5 applications they want to implement, 5 memorable events, 5 ideas/concepts they want to remember, and 5 suggestions to me.  Since we have the evening debriefs and the long bus ride home, we won't meet again this week. I think one of the appealing aspects of the course is that after the trip is done, they're done with the class (C. Yue, personal communication, March 18, 2024). 

Based on the interactions I had with four of Yue’s students, there is no doubt in mind that they were well-prepared for attending SEPA. After Yue shared with me how she prepared them, I understood why. Conferences can be overwhelming, especially for first-time attendees. Yue’s students are familiar with the conference program and the invited speakers, and they have goals they want to accomplish. What an amazing experience it must be for them—and for their professor. Yue adds, “[T]his course is only possible because the students really jump into the work, and they're amazing. It's such a privilege to see them stretch themselves and grow into themselves as psychologists” (C. Yue, personal communication, March 19, 2024)

If you are interested in exploring similar assignments or a similar course for your students, please download Yue’s Psy310 syllabus, pre-SEPA requirements checklist, concentration plan, and breadth req...

 

References

Gurung, R. A. R., Hackathorn, J., Enns, C., Frantz, S., Cacioppo, J. T., Loop, T., & Freeman, J. E. (2016). Strengthening Introductory Psychology: A new model for teaching the introductory course. American Psychologist, 71(2), 112–124. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0040012

McCarthy, M. A., & Frantz, S. (2016). Challenging the status quo: Evidence that Introductory Psychology can dispel myths. Teaching of Psychology, 43(3), 211–214. https://doi.org/10.1177/0098628316649470

Yue, C. (2024, March 18). Re: SEPA student assignment [Personal communication].

Yue, C. (2024, March 19). Re: SEPA student assignment [Personal communication].

 

About the Author
Sue Frantz has taught psychology since 1992. She has served on several APA boards and committees, and was proud to serve the members of the Society for the Teaching of Psychology as their 2018 president. In 2013, she was the inaugural recipient of the APA award for Excellence in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning at a Two-Year College or Campus. She received in 2016 the highest award for the teaching of psychology--the Charles L. Brewer Distinguished Teaching of Psychology Award. She presents nationally and internationally on the topics of educational technology and the pedagogy of psychology. She is co-author with Doug Bernstein and Steve Chew of Teaching Psychology: A Step-by-Step Guide, 3rd ed. and is co-author with Charles Stangor on Introduction to Psychology, 4.0.