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Travel Advice for Conferences and Competitions

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Left to right: Quynh Le, Trang Nguyen, Michelle Abuda, Annie Liu, Amy Thao Ngo  

During my time at UT Dallas, I had the opportunity to go to a variety of conferences and competitions on behalf of the University. I participated in a case competition in Minneapolis, attended a worldwide conference in New York and presented at Oxford University in Oxford, England. Having someone else pay for you to travel is awesome, so if you have the opportunity to represent the school, I would definitely say to shoot for it. From my experience, I learned a few tips about attending these events.

First, get business cards. I paid $10 for a pack of 500 cards at Vistaprint.com (look around for coupons) and had enough business cards to last me my entire undergraduate career. On my business cards, I listed my name, phone number and email, and noted that I was a student at The University of Texas at Dallas in the Jindal School of Management. I also included a link to my LinkedIn profile, and encouraged everyone I met to look me up. If you are confident that you won’t change your major, you could also list that as well. You will look much more polished, and this way you can more easily keep in touch with the connections you make.

To further show your professionalism, I would recommend investing in a padfolio as well. I’m always surprised at how many students show up to these things empty-handed; what do you do if you want to take notes? A plain black padfolio can be purchased at Walmart for $15 — or you can buy a fancy one from the bookstore to show your school spirit. Either way, you will likely be accumulating conference notes or competition instructions and advice, so you will not only have a pad to take notes on but a place to put the resources you gather.

When you are done for the day, try your best not to stay in your hotel room. Especially if you are an introvert (like me), after a long day of learning and networking, fight the desire to go back, relax and watch Netflix. When you are in a new place with new people, it is critical that you take the opportunity to get to know your fellow peers. You never know what opportunities will come up. Once, I was at a conference in Houston where some of the participants attended Rice University. In the evening, I was able to go with a small group who showed us around Rice and took us to a local chocolate shop to eat ice cream. You’ll get to connect with your peers in a different setting, and can make stronger connections. Of course, don’t stay out too late either. However, this brings me to my next point:

Bring casual clothes for the evening. My first conference freshman year happened to be in Dallas. Students came from all over the United States, so everyone wanted to go out and explore the city in the evening. Since our conference day didn’t end until 7 p.m., in my freshman innocence I was not expecting to leave the hotel for the night. I had packed light, so I had to choose between going downstairs to hang out in my business professional or in my pajamas. Don’t be like me — pack casual as well as professional clothes.

I mentioned earlier that I’m a bit introverted, so networking at conferences and competitions took a while for me to get used to. When meeting new people, I always had a set list of questions that I could always ask other students in case I couldn’t think of anything else to talk about: Where do you go to school, and what are you studying? Usually with those two questions, you will find out key information that can help you carry on the conversation. You can always ask what classes they’re currently taking, and what organizations they are involved in as well. The types of students who attend conferences and competitions are usually the types of students to be really involved on their campus.

As you attend out-of-town events for the University, you will get used to networking and meeting so many people at once. Make great connections, represent the school well, and good luck with your travels! 

Michelle Abuda

J. Michelle Abuda earned her BS in Management Information Systems and MS in Business Analytics from the Naveen Jindal School of Management. Currently, she works at Crowe Horwath as a Regulatory Compliance Risk Consultant in the Columbus, Ohio office. During her time at JSOM, she was actively involved as a leader on the Dean's Council. She helped found the JSOM Book Club, as well as the TEDxUTD Club. Read more articles

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