In the various statements that I sent when applying for jobs I always mentioned wanting to do research with students as my undergraduate professors had done with me. Last year I had the opportunity to work on some research with a student and we recently presented it at a conference. This was the first time I had attended a conference as somebody who was partially responsible for the conference experience of another person. Although I was worried beforehand, the experience went much more smoothly than I had expected.
One thing I worried about was social interaction outside the confines of the conference. For example: would I be expected to eat every meal with my student? How would I deal with the fact that my travel money covered the cost of my food but my student’s did not? What would I do if my student ordered alcohol at dinner? It turns out that none of these concerns were a factor because my student had a friend in the city where the conference was held and this friend relieved me of many of my social duties. Lesson one, then, is that if you go to a conference with a student, make sure the student takes a friend.
Another thing that I wasn’t sure how to handle was the introducing my student to the conference experience itself. I’ve been going to conferences for years but I’ve always been trying to make a name for myself rather than focusing on helping somebody else start to form professional connections. Unfortunately, my student is interested in a different area of sociology than I am so I wasn’t much help in this regard. At any rate, I think that my student enjoyed attending various sessions of interest.
I was probably lucky not only that my student had a friend in the area but that the primary focus was placed on the conference itself rather than partying in the city. I’m not sure how I would have handled a situation like that as a first-time conference mentor. In all, the experience was positive and I anticipate being much more comfortable with the idea of attending conferences with students in the future.