Preparing for the annual ASA, CSSA, SSSA Meeting

In a few short days I'll be headed to Tampa, Florida to attend the American Society of Agronomy, Crop Science Society of America, and Soil Science Society of America annual meeting. Last year, my colleagues (Leo Bastos and Martin Battaglia) and I wrote a brief article to help graduate students prepare for the meeting, so I thought I'd share that information as my first blog post on this site! While these tips were created for the ASA, CSSA, and SSSA meeting, they certainly apply to any professional society conference. Enjoy! 

Ten Steps to Prepare First-Time Graduate Students Attending the Annual Meeting

Reprint from October 2016 issue of CSA News

The ASA, CSSA, and SSSA Annual Meeting can be a bit overwhelming for first-time graduate student attendees. Follow these 10 steps to prepare yourself before the meeting, so that you can arrive with a plan of action and leave with a feeling of success!

1. Bring Business Cards You just met someone who could be a future employer. The last way you want to share your information is on a torn piece of paper, right? Bring business cards, which can be ordered online or through your university or even printed at home. Remember to include your name, current institution and position, address, email, and phone number. There are great tips online on how to make your own business cards in using Word.

2. Prepare Your Elevator Speech Everyone is so busy at the meeting, and if you have the chance to talk to someone in a hurry, having your elevator speech ready is the best strategy! An elevator speech is a brief introduction of yourself. It is usually less than 30 seconds long, so it may take you some practice to summarize your position, degrees, current research, and future plans in such a short time. Nonetheless, people will appreciate your preparedness and objectivity. Also, this is the perfect time to hand out one of those business cards you brought!

3. Be Intentional A researcher’s name came up many times on your literature review, and you would love to meet her/him in person. Face your fear and shyness by walking up to that person and introducing yourself. Even the busiest researcher at a meeting enjoys getting to know students, so sharpen up that elevator speech, have your business card ready in your pocket, and go for it!

4. Dress Code The graduate student dress code is somewhat more flexible, and it depends a lot on your personality. Normally, you would see male students wearing a button-up shirt, khaki pants and matching belt, and dress shoes. Female students usually wear slacks or skirts with nice shirts and comfortable shoes. Nonetheless, many people wear jeans and polo shirts. At the end of the day, it will depend on how comfortable you feel and on your personal style. Dress is typically a more professional (think suits) during your own oral or poster presentation.

5. Download MySci Meetings App Want to pave the road to great success at the Annual Meeting well in advance of the meeting? The essential app for mastering the meeting, the “MySci Mtgs” app, is available on both Apple and Android platforms. This amazing app will allow you to create your own agenda; browse for more than 3,000 papers by date, section/division, or session name; search for daily updated programs for oral and poster presentations; view appointments you make with other attendees and respond to messages they send to you; and keep information about exhibitors and the Career Center handy in your “To Do List,” among some other amazing things!

6. Make Your Plan of Action before the Meeting You can easily kick off with a great plan of action by answering some simple questions: What do I expect to learn from the meeting? Will I focus more on attending lecture and poster sessions, or will I spend more time meeting scientists, grad students, and policymakers as a way to build up a larger network of contacts? Is/are my major adviser(s) in agreement with me on this plan? Based on this, you should be able to quickly define two or three objectives that you want to accomplish at the meeting. Then, carefully review the points presented here. Before you realize it, your plan of action will be completed!

7. Attend a Variety of Sessions The Annual Meeting features sessions for scientific content, professional development, and networking, all of which occur simultaneously throughout the four-day conference. Once you have decided your objectives for attending the meeting, you can better identify which sessions will take priority in your schedule. But don’t be afraid to attend a variety of sessions. Fill your lunch time with a Lunch & Learn session. Take a few hours in the evening to attend the mixer for your alma mater. The Annual Meeting is not only a time to get up to date on your science, but also to make new contacts, keep in touch with former colleagues, and gain professional skills that aren’t offered at your university.

8. Don’t Be Afraid to Get Involved The ASA, CSSA, and SSSA Graduate Student Committee is an excellent way to get involved before, during, and after the meeting. As a member, you will work hand in hand with other grad students as well as early career members working in industry and academia. It will help you hone your leadership skills and look terrific on your resume! To become a member, attend one of our meetings, and tell us about your interest to get involved. To get a better grasp of our work, find more information on the graduate student program for the 2016 meeting at graduates and visit our website to learn more about the committee at

9. Engage with Social Media Search and follow #ACSmtg on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to stay up to date on what’s going on at the meeting and also engage with other attendees. Be sure to tag the Societies in your posts, and you may even gain some new followers!

10. Be a Student Intern to Help Cover Expenses The ASA, CSSA, and SSSA staff are always looking for help during the Annual Meeting. You can volunteer and earn up to $100 by being a student intern. Interns help with tasks such as answering questions for conference attendees, collecting and distributing continuing education forms, and guiding visiting local high school students. Look for a link to sign up in the News Flash emails.

Hopefully, you now feel better prepared to attend the ASA, CSSA, and SSSA Annual Meeting. If you still have questions, don’t hesitate to get in touch with colleagues who have previously attended meetings, or email any of the authors on this article (contact information can be found on the directory pages, e.g., We can’t wait to see you in Phoenix!

L. Bastos, M. Battaglia, and R. Owen, members of the ACS Graduate Student Committee