Tips for Going to Berkeley!

By: Jenn Andersen, 2015 MSRE graduate assistant

So, you’re ready to fly off to the McNair Symposium in Berkeley, California. For some, it will be your first time at a national conference. For others, it might be the first time you have ever been on an airplane! The Berkeley trip is the highlight of MSRE and something scholars look forward to from their acceptance into the McNair Scholars Program at UNL. So, what should you expect? Here are some of my experiences from Berkeley to give a little bit of an inside view.

Practice

First, before you leave, make sure to practice your presentation! Not only did I practice in front of the McNair staff, but I also practiced in front of my lab and with other scholars. Talk to your mentor about scheduling time in a classroom or conference room so you can get comfortable with your presentation. In Berkeley, there are things that will throw you off your game that you can’t predict. People will enter and leave the room (don’t do this) or change the order of presentations. The more comfortable and prepared you are, the better able you are to handle these situations.

Where did my luggage go?

Next, if you’re not carrying your luggage onto the plane, make sure to pack an outfit to present in! When we landed in San Francisco, I couldn’t find my bag anywhere in baggage claim. While I was panicked about my missing bag (we found it!), I knew I had everything I needed to present my research in a professional manner in my carry-on. This tip served me well for my second conference in Fairfax, VA when I was stranded overnight in Washington D.C. and my baggage was in danger of not staying with me.

Imposter Syndrome

Once in Berkeley, you may have fears that your research isn’t as impressive as it could be, or you may experience the dreaded ‘imposter syndrome’. I think my entire cohort felt like this at some point during the symposium. This is perfectly normal and expected. There are a lot of really impressive people who attend the Berkeley McNair Symposium, and you are one of them! Talk with members of your cohort if you become discouraged or worried about your presentation. Additionally, make sure to celebrate your success! One of the highlights of the symposium for me was getting asked a lot of questions at the end of my group of presentations. It was the first time I saw that I had the ability to engage with an audience and really make them think about a research topic and how it affected their lives. Even with all of my doubts and fears, presenting at Berkeley made me feel like I could accomplish my goals as a scholar and be successful in academia.

Network

Additionally, take the time to network! Networking is an important part of getting recognized in your field. I still correspond with some of the scholars I met in Berkeley. You might be able to meet with them when you go on a graduate school visit. Their professors might be doing the research you are interested in. You might even find your future collaborators. Always have your business cards ready to hand out. If you see someone who might be a great fit at UNL, talk to them and encourage them to check out a particular lab or professor. You may be able to open the door for a scholar that never thought about UNL as a possibility.

Professionalism

All of that being said, remember that not only are you representing the UNL McNair Scholars and UNL itself, but your own best asset, yourself! The people you meet at the symposium are your future colleagues in your field. This means it is important to put your best foot forward as a professional. Engage other scholars if you have questions or critiques about their work, but make sure it is constructive criticism. Remember, you will not know everyone from each cohort, so save remarks about presentations for private conversations away from the symposium. Never say anything out loud that you wouldn’t want to hear about yourself.

Reflection

Finally, on your way home from Berkeley (which is a level of exhaustion I had never felt before) take stock of your experience. Write down the things that stood out most to you. Berkeley is a major stepping-stone in becoming who you were meant to be as a scholar. Going to the Berkeley McNair Symposium was an experience that I will never forget. I hope you have as wonderful of a time as my cohort and I did!

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