The first annual Northwest Social Cognitive Development Conference (NSCDC) was my first ever research conference, and the first time I was able to assist in organizing a research conference. The purpose of this conference was to gather researchers from all across the Cascadia Corridor to discuss and present on current topics in developmental science, specifically pertaining to social and cognitive development. I did a poster presentation about my current project on infants’ prosocial expectations. Aside from being my first presentation opportunity, I also had the chance to network with many talented researchers and professionals in the field, and learn from their work and experiences in academia.
About the conference
The first NSCDC conference welcomed a group of 37 undergraduate and graduate students, post-doctoral researchers, faculty members, and other members of the Pacifc Northwest research community. Researchers hailed from the University of Washington, the University of British Columbia, Western Washington University, Simon Fraser University and Washington State University. The conference took place on March 1st– 3rd at Friday Harbor Laboratories on San Juan Island, Washington. The main events took place on Saturday, March 2nd, with seven researchers giving talks about their current work and 25 researchers doing poster presentations.
My poster project was about the research I’ve been doing for my Honor’s Thesis, regarding infants’ prosocial expectations. Specifically, my project asks whether infants expect those who are fair to also respect property ownership (i.e. be trustworthy). If you’d like to learn more about my project, you can check out my project portfolio.
Learning to become a better presenter and scientist
This first conference experience both allowed me to improve my experience presenting my research, but I gained a better appreciation of the importance of collaboration in research. Because I helped organize this conference, I got first-hand experience collaborating with other researchers. But during the various conference talks and the round-table discussions, our group of 37 researchers also discussed the importance of collaborating with one another, whether this was through mentor-student relationships, through collaborations on various projects, or even by replicating studies between labs and providing feedback to other researchers so that we can all continue to improve work in the field.
All of our paths include lots of twists and turns…
As an undergraduate student who is on her way to graduate school within the next year, it was also really helpful to hear from current graduate students about how they discovered their research interests, and found themselves where they are today. As Raechel Drew, a Ph.D. student from UBC pointed out, researchers tend to paint the picture as a linear one, even though most often the paths that we take towards finding our areas of interest include lots of twists and turns. Even as someone who is just starting out in the field, I know I didn’t magically discover that I was interested in developmental psychology. It took discoveries of my lack of interest in other fields, rejections from other labs, and being mindful about what I really liked doing and learning about for me to get to where I’m now planning on pursuing a career in the field.
Even if you get rejected, at least you’re putting yourself out there!
During the conference, I learned that this experience may be one that is shared by many researchers, and an important aspect of this practice of being mindful is celebrating every step of the journey- all the victories, big and small, and the failures. My own mentor, Dr. Kelsey Lucca, pointed out that even when you fail at something- whether this means having the wrong instincts, being turned down for a program or a job or otherwise- putting yourself out there, sharing your thoughts and ideas is always worth celebrating. I have a growing interest in the vulnerability that is involved in the process of writing, which is another form of putting out your ideas and thoughts, but that same sense of vulnerability also applies here: it takes guts to share your thoughts knowing that they might be rejected, but doing so is also an opportunity to receive feedback on them, reflect, grow and become better.It’s equally as important to celebrate and be reflective about each and every success.
Always take a minute to celebrate your successes
It’s a step forward, but it’s not the end-all-be-all. As Dr. Annie Riggs advised during our round table discussion, definitely take a minute to break out that champagne bottle in your fridge and celebrate your accomplishments, but use them to keep propelling yourself forward.
While this first conference was the most amazing experience, it’s just the first of the four where I plan to present my work for this particular project, and hopefully, the first of many that I will attend throughout my career. Up next I have the University of Washington Undergraduate Research Symposium, the Department of Psychology Honor’s Poster Session, and the Association for Psychological Science Convention in Washington D.C.. There is still a lot of work to be done until that time- I have to finish analyzing my data, finish my Thesis and discuss next steps for my project and research question with my mentors.
I also hope to keep improving my presentation abilities. Specifically, I want to improve my ability to walk an audience member who may not be familiar with my current line of work through my poster. This is a skill I know I’ll need when I present at bigger conferences like APS, which is coming up in May. Additionally, I hope to improve my networking and participation skills. I still have a hard time bringing myself to participate in larger group discussions. Overcoming this is not something that will happen overnight, but if there is anything that I’ve learned through the process of both planning and participating in this conference, it is that I should use any opportunity I get to share my thoughts and ideas, because these are simply opportunities to receive feedback from others, make connections, and grow my own knowledge base.
When you have a team, you get to celebrate their successes too!
Overall, I could not have asked for a better first research conference experience. What I loved the most was the spirit of teamwork and collaboration that this conference emphasized- research is truly a team effort, and as Carolyn Baer, a Ph.D. student from UBC said during our round-table discussion, the best part about collaborating with other researchers is that we not only get to celebrate our own successes, but we get to celebrate the successes of those we help and those who help us. Through my first research conference, I was able to meet and connect with several other talented researchers who I hope to stay connected with so that we can all celebrate one another’s successes and contributions to the field.