The National Conference: Networking with Purpose & Intention


Back in September of last year, I wrote about my experience at a regional conference and how I believed networking to be vital for every doctoral students. I was reminded of this when I attended the national American Counseling Association (ACA) Conference a couple of weeks ago in Orlando. Before I get to that, I want to say that a major motivator for me at conferences is the learning. Lots of opportunities to learn about counseling issues, research that promotes the counseling profession, and helpful knowledge and skills, which enhance me as a counselor and as a doctoral student. The education and poster sessions assist me in exploring new ideas, integrating old concepts with newer ones, and conversations that advance my conceptual thinking about my dissertation topic. While the conference is valuable to my professional development and identity as a counselor, the conference also provides an intentional way to network with other counselors and counselor educators who have similar interests. Since I am a 2nd year doctoral student who aspires to be a assistant professor upon graduation, I am mindful that networking at conferences can be helpful in forming relationships with faculty members and other professionals who may have similar interests. For example, an assistant professor whom I met at the SACES conference last September was someone who I wanted to touch base with at the ACA conference. At SACES he attended my roundtable presentation, and we seemed to “hit it off” interpersonally – he was personable, funny, and we were curious about each other’s interests.

So before ACA, I sent him an email asking if we could connect at the conference. He wrote back and said he thought that would be helpful. We ended up talking a few times at the conference. He shared with me about a new book he had just published, and I talked with him about some of my own research interests. He said that we should collaborate on a paper and a presentation in the near future. I agreed. Not only was he fun to be around, but I could instantly perceive that he was an emerging leader in counselor education as he seems very motivated to promote his ideas through publications of books and articles. Now that’s it has been about 2 weeks since the conference, I plan on writing to him soon to follow-up on our conversations. Another example took place during my service on the ACA Ethics Committee. During our committee meeting, one committee member, who happened to be a counselor educator, started to talk to me about her interests. Almost immediately we realized that we shared a mutual interest in the veteran population. She said that we should collaborate about a paper for the Journal of Military and Government Counseling. I knew about this journal because it was the journal that housed my first peer-reviewed publication. So I was able to answer some of her initial questions regarding author guidelines. After the conference, we emailed each other and set a tentative date (i.e. Summer) for when we would begin writing that paper. These recent experiences brought up some interpersonal feedback I received a while ago. Two doctoral students who are not in my cohort commented on how good I was at networking…they said, “You know a lot of people! You seem to network with intention and purpose.” The comment surprised me a little, because I had never reflected on this process or my intentional actions that come natural to me. So I thought I would take some time to do that now. How can you plan to be intentional at the next conference you attend? What are some practical steps that lead to effective interpersonal networking?

#1 – Prepare a list of people you want to connect with in advance of the conference. In preparation for the conference, send out an email or call in advance requesting to reconnect with them during the conference. You can mention in your email that you are interested in discussing their research or just want to ask them some questions. These questions can be about teaching or maybe they serve as an editorial board member on a journal in which you are thinking of submitting an article. You could ask specific questions about the appropriateness of your article idea.

#2 – Be sure to meet in person at the conference. Be intentional in that meeting.  Meet for coffee or lunch. Inquire about their ideas, research, work that they’re doing. Ask thoughtful questions. Talk about your ideas if prompted. This will most likely happen. Be prepared to have a 30-second talk or “script” about what you are currently working on and what you plan to work on in the near future. Look for opportunities when your interests overlap with theirs. Start the discussion about possible collaboration in the future (i.e. writing a paper, developing a presentation, doing research, etc.).

#3 – Follow-up after the conference to collaborate further. This is probably the most important step! Drop them an email stating that you enjoyed meeting them in person and are interested in talking further about that collaborative project. Be sure to reference your conversations. Ideally, maybe you can talk about a start date to begin working on that project. Continue to connect at future conferences in order to maintain those relationships. You will start to notice that the counseling profession is much smaller than maybe you imagined. And who knows? It’s possible that this relationship may not only be enjoyable but beneficial down the line once you are looking for a counselor educator position. This is purposeful networking, doing intentional things with a career in mind.


5 thoughts on “The National Conference: Networking with Purpose & Intention

  1. […] Along with my adviser telling us to publish, he said that presenting at least over a dozen times at state, regional, and national conferences would also be necessary in order to be competitive for that first job.  Not only will this give you valuable experience in giving talks in front of larger groups of people, but it will also build your network of professionals.  More on purposeful networking here. […]


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