A grad student’s review of SPSP 2017

Last month I attended the annual conference of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology in San Antonio, TX. I think this was my 4th year attending, and I’ve enjoyed it every year. I wanted to summarize what I viewed as some of the pros of this year’s conference as well as some of the cons. Of course, everything in this post is my opinion, and you are free to disagree. Note too that I’m a graduate student; faculty members likely have a very different experience at conferences.

Here we go.

Pro #1: Networking

SPSP is fantastic for networking, at least within Social/Personality. Big names from every topic area attend this conference! When a well-known researcher walks down a hallway or into a room, at least 3 people will lean in to the person next to them and whisper “that’s so-and-so!” and that other person will then say “Really! Where?!” It’s actually quite entertaining.

The best ways to network as a graduate student, in my opinion:

  1. Walk up to someone you know even if they’re talking to other people you don’t – automatic introduction!
  2. Go to talks by your research idol(s), and either approach them afterward or make a point to email them after the conference.
  3. Visit posters! Not only do I leave with great research ideas, I meet students doing similar research, hear about what their lab is doing, and exchange contact information. Future potential collaboration.
  4. When someone invites you to lunch or dinner, go! Nine times out of 10, people you don’t know will end up joining you, and you’ll meet that many more new people.
  5. Finally, get to know the alumni of your program. They have successfully gone through the same program and are now at a new institution or in a new career. They have endless wisdom — what they did well, what they wish they had done differently, and they have an entire set of new people they could introduce you to.

Pro #2: Expert Panels

SPSP always has great panels, but I think they really outdid themselves this year! Every panel I went to was well-selected, well-moderated, and discussed incredibly relevant topics. I happened to live-tweet a few of them, so feel free to check out my twitter feed here: @cmtweten

Pro #3: Industry Jobs

Each year there’s a few more sessions on this than the last, and I attend every one. This year, though, Katie Corker and Jessica Wortman organized the best industry panel thus far. Note that Katie and Jessica are both MSU alums (see Pro #1, point 5), so I’m likely biased, but as someone who’s very seriously considering the industry route, the diversity of perspectives, career paths, and experiences expressed on this panel was refreshing. I think the panels’ biggest strengths were 1) They discussed their careers in terms of having come from the academic world, 2) They were very concrete with their advice, and 3) They acknowledged some difficulties of choosing industry over academia. This session can also be found on my Twitter feed.

Pro #4: Open Science Principles In Action

SPSP has been very good about being on the forefront of implementing and encouraging best research practices. There are usually a couple sessions each year about how to preregister, pros and cons of replications, etc. However, this year there was a session of studies that actually implemented these practices and it was beyond impressive: Special Issue of CRSP on Power Poses: What Was Learned?

In this session, researchers across several institutions independently sought to replicate and extend the ‘power pose’ effect, the idea that holding an expansive stance for a short period of time can make you feel more powerful and can actually make you more successful in a number of domains. Importantly, all of these replications were preregistered, AND these preregistrations were reviewed by independent reviewers as well as one of the original ‘power pose’ authors herself. How awesome is that?! It was the perfect example of how to do good science, and I’d love to see more of this in the future, both in journals and at SPSP. As far as what they found, I’ll leave you in suspense. Make sure to check out the forthcoming Special Issue of Comprehensive Results in Social Psychology!

Pro #5: Location

A convention center right on the riverwalk was an excellent choice! This part of the city was very walkable, had numerous shops and restaurants, and all with a very pretty view. I did wonder how often people fall in, though…

Pro #6: Twitter Team

For those who may not know, SPSP has a “Twitter Team”, which is basically a group of people explicitly encouraged to tweet about the conference before, during, and after using the hashtag #SPSP2017. I’m on it, and I think people really enjoy seeing live tweets from sessions they didn’t attend. It’s a great way to start conversations, and I think it also increases name recognition for those who tweet frequently. Whether or not that’s a good thing could be debatable I suppose.

Now for some cons:

Con #1: The smartphone app!

I think the app is a good idea in theory, but in practice still needs a lot of work. It’s not very user friendly, and looking through the schedule is much harder on the app than it is using other methods. I always download the PDF and save it on my iPhone or iPad for quick access. The only things I really used the app for was searching by topic at poster sessions and looking at the convention center map.

SPSP –- please create a better app!

Con #2: Why were the poster rows so close together?

This room was HUGE. There was so much extra space, yet the poster aisles were a lot narrower than normal. I usually have no problem weaving through the aisles, even when it’s busy, but this year I didn’t even try, and I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who saw fewer posters than they would have if there was more room to peruse.

Con #3: Gluten free and vegetarian options

I have Celiac disease and therefore have to eat gluten free, so this con is very self-serving. Regardless, SPSP really needs to do a better job with alternative lunch options (and breakfast options). Breakfast is always bagels and muffins (not gluten free), with some fruit and yogurt (gluten free). For lunch, the gluten free AND vegan option was, as my friend put it, what looked like “a pile of lettuce”. It’s really not very hard to make a regular salad gluten free, just don’t put croutons on it (or serve them separately). I also heard from vegetarian friends that their option had run out by the time they got to the front of line, even though they selected the vegetarian option in their registration. Perhaps the lunch tickets should specify, and there should maybe be separate lines depending on your lunch ticket? The long line for lunch is another issue entirely. It seems like overall, lunch could be a bit more organized. Also, gluten free does not equal vegan. I can’t have regular bread, but don’t also deprive me of meat and dairy!

Sorry, that last one was mostly me on a soapbox.

To summarize, this conference is great and I highly recommend it, especially for graduate students. However, I do hope that next year they introduce a better app, make poster sessions easier to navigate, and offer better options for those of us with restricted diets.

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