The Importance of Attending Professional Conferences
There are many types of professional conferences in the fields of criminology and criminal justice. These conferences are sponsored by professional organizations. Two of the biggest organizations are the American Society of Criminology (ASC) and the Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences (ACJS). These are both international conferences with members from all over the world. ACJS is further organized into five different regions: Midwestern Criminal Justice Association, Northeastern Association of Criminal Justice Sciences, Southern Criminal Justice Association, Southwestern Association of Criminal Justice, and the Western Association of Criminal Justice. These regional organizations also host smaller regional conferences. ASC does not have regional conferences, but they do have interest-specific divisions within the organization that helps students and faculty members better network with other scholars that share similar research interests. Other organizations that host professional conferences for students and faculty to attend are the National Association of Blacks in Criminal Justice, Alpha Phi Sigma (The National Criminal Justice Honor Society), and the Western Society of Criminology.
These conferences provide many opportunities for undergraduate and graduate students. The most obvious advantage these conferences provide for students are the networking opportunities they provide. Conferences provide opportunities for students to interview for jobs or graduate school. I strongly encourage students to attend regional conferences to present their research papers, especially if they have conducted original research. I have noticed that students are often hesitant to attend or present at these conferences. This intimidation possibly stems from their own expectations of who will be at theses conferences, their perceptions of the high quality of work that others will be presenting at the conferences (students can be their own worst enemies), and sometimes simply because of their fear of public speaking. However, these are all perfect reasons why students should attend professional conferences. In my experience, especially at regional conferences, faculty and practitioners are largely supportive of student presenters and do their best to support and motivate students. I have personally attended some spectacular student presentations at ASC, MCJA, and the Southern Sociological Society (SSS). I was extremely nervous at my first presentation as a graduate student, and it was far from perfect, but I learned a great deal from that experience and it greatly boosted my confidence for future presentations. I firmly believe that students will quickly overcome their fears of public speaking after a student presents for the first time.
Professional conferences also look great on a CV for students about to enter the job market or for undergraduates thinking about applying for graduate school. Graduate schools consider many things when evaluating applicants for their programs. Most students think about GRE scores and their GPA. However, membership with a few of the aforementioned professional organizations, a record of presenting at professional conferences, or a scholarly publication will make you significantly stand out among other applicants because these things show professional engagement and highlight that you are capable of independent original research. If you start presenting at conferences early, then your CV will be stronger than many of your peers when you enter the job market (Yes, graduate school does eventually end, believe it or not). These professional memberships can even allow you to stand out among other applicants when applying for positions immediately after completing your undergraduate studies.
I strongly suggest looking into attending or presenting at a regional conference because these are often located within driving distance of the colleges students attend and are more financially feasible for students living on a typical graduate student budget. Many universities will even provide funding for students to present original research. I am proud to say that the Political and Social Sciences Department at Lander University has provided exceptional undergraduate students with opportunities to present their original research at various regional research symposiums and conferences sponsored by SSS. The great news is that we are not alone. Check with your dean, department chair, or faculty advisor to inquire about any potential funding opportunities that may exist for students to present or attend these conferences. In conclusion, students, push past your fears and go attend a conference near you. You will not regret it, and you will likely have a lot of fun. What can be more fun than a gathering of deviants that all study deviance?