By Giselle Schlegel, Laporte Consultants
The wealth of information and knowledge that you can gain at an AIChE conference is extraordinary. At every turn, professionals, graduate students, and undergraduates are sharing their ideas and accomplishments with other conference-goers. The week is full of technical sessions, presentations by experts in many sectors of chemical engineering, and networking events. That being said, you may be wondering what exactly you could gain by attending or how you could finance your trip if you aren’t located near an upcoming conference city. Following are some things to keep in mind when considering attending a conference.
There is something for everyone at an AIChE conference
Look at the technical program on the AIChE website for topics that are relevant to your current role. You can search by day if your availability limits your time at the conference, or by topic area if your goal is to stay current in your field of expertise and your travel is flexible. The numerous divisions and forums, technical entities, committees, and other groups within AIChE are sure to offer a topic or field that aligns with your work.
Don’t be afraid to ask your employer
Just because no one in your department has traveled to a conference in the past few years on the company’s dime doesn’t mean you can’t be the first! Let your employer know that you have been investigating what the AIChE conferences have to offer and that you are looking for ways to enhance your skills by attending. Point out some key sessions that apply to your current role, or that you think could propel you to that promotion you have been wanting. The initiative you take simply by engaging in a discussion will show your supervisor that you are independent, excited about your job, and invested in your own improvement and in the success of the company for which you work.
Create a simple budget
If your employer is unsure what it may cost to send you to a conference outside of the state or country you live in, offer to create a simple budget that would detail the expenses involved. List items such as transportation, conference fees, hotels, and meals. Do some research on the city where the conference is being held to learn more about hotel pricing and restaurants in the area. Make sure to plan far enough in advance so that you can take advantage of any early-bird discounts for conference registration. If your employer is hesitant about the costs, one way to cut costs is to stay with a friend in the area or share a hotel room with a colleague who will also attend the conference.
Have a clear outcome or goal in mind
To convince your employer to consider financing your conference, write an email or report that details what you expect to learn while there and what you will bring back to your company, department, or team to make them stronger. Perhaps your company is launching a safety initiative focused on awareness of process safety indicators. Look for sessions and topical areas that focus on process safety and safety management. Or, take the opportunity to branch somewhat out of your comfort zone into a management session. There, you can learn more about how managers and supervisors lead their teams and coordinate between departments.
Make it worthwhile for your boss and colleagues
Ensure that your manager recognizes that the knowledge you gain at the conference can be shared with your team when you return. Offer to give a presentation on the key topics you learned about at conference sessions. Plan to take notes during sessions in case you want to discuss some ideas later with colleagues, or connect with presenters after their talks. Some companies hold lunch-and-learn sessions for employees on a weekly or monthly basis. This could be a great way to showcase how you participated in the conference.
Don’t forget to discuss advertising your company
One benefit of attending a conference is that your company is being advertised to everyone you meet. You’ll be networking with others, telling them about your current role, and handing out your business card to potential business partners or future job candidates for your company. All the great things you have to say about your employer may convince the person next to you at lunch to pursue a business opportunity with your company, or to submit their résumé for a job opening.
Become a presenter
Show your commitment to AIChE — and open the conference conversation with your employer — by submitting an abstract on a topic relevant to your job and giving a presentation at a conference. Your company will gain exposure, whether you present on a technical or nontechnical topic, and you will gain some valuable connections from individuals in the industry with similar interests or values. The key to the strategies detailed here is to have a goal in mind, approach your employer with a plan, and offer to make the trip worthwhile for you, your coworkers, and the company even after you have left the conference center. An investment in a technical conference is an investment in you as an employee, and is crucial to your leadership development.
Giselle Schlegel is a process and validation engineer at Laporte Consultants. She graduated in 2012 with a BS in chemical engineering from Syracuse Univ. She was the 2016 Spring Meeting Programming Subcommittee Co-Chair for the Young Professionals Committee, and is a member of the Societal Impact Operating Council.
This article originally appeared in the May 2016 issue of CEP Magazine.