Conferences add another dimension to your education

Mike Davies, Editor-in-Chief Ω

Mike Davies, Editor-in-Chief

Mike Davies, Editor-in-Chief

Week two.

I hope you have all settled back into your respective grooves and are looking forward at what lies ahead rather than missing your time off.

I did some looking forward this past week myself.

I was at the annual Canadian University Press (CUP) national conference (NASH) in Edmonton (my third such event), which once again reinforced my love for what I do — and what I want to continue doing.

I highly recommend the experience.

“But that doesn’t make sense, Davies,” you say. “I have no interest in being a journalist.”

To which I reply, “I bet there’s something similar out there in your field. You should go to it.”

Conferences are a fantastic way to question what you’re doing — and we should always be looking critically at what we’re doing.

Classrooms don’t have a monopoly on being the location for learning, and those who choose to learn exclusively via lecture from professors, textbooks and testing are doing themselves (and their industries) a disservice.

How many of your classes bring in experts in your prospective field to talk about their experiences and regale you with stories of paths to success they’ve seen taken? How many of the top (insert your chosen career here) show up and take questions from you about how to follow in their footsteps? How many put on hands-on workshops in the field and encouragingly critique your skills?

And during how many of these visits by top professionals do you get to mingle with hundreds of other prospective (insert that career again, except pluralize it) from across the country to create a network of colleagues before you’re even out of school?

At this most recent CUP NASH, for example, I became friends with Chris Jones (of Esquire and ESPN fame), learned from digital enterprise entrepreneurs about the business of the Internet (a topic not offered in our journalism program), listened to Robyn Doolittle (now famous for her internationally-recognized coverage of Rob Ford for the Toronto Star) discuss diligence and required skillsets for the modern journalist and got to be a part of what might most accurately be called an extravaganza involving one of the most divisive and controversial figures in Canadian media, Ezra Levant.

I did all this while making connections in my chosen industry and cultivating what I’m sure will be life-long friendships.

“That was probably pretty expensive,” you say.

Well, yes it was. But I would say most things that hold value are.

And there are ways to make it decidedly less damaging to your bank account.

The Comprehensive University Enhancement Fund (CUEF), for example, is a pool of money that you all pay into as part of the cost of attending this institution.

They take applications from students to access this money to further their own education, whether by going to conferences, bringing in guest speakers, performing independent research or going to competitions in their field.

Between that fund and doing some small fundraisers (collecting bottles, for example), six delegates went to Edmonton for four days of learning, networking and community building at a very minimal personal cost to them. That final cost hasn’t been assessed yet (the CUEF works as a reimbursement) but it’ll likely be in the $200 per student range.

You could spend that on a hard-partying weekend, I suppose, but I think you’d find that less rewarding.

Take a look at what there are in terms of opportunities like this in your chosen field, and if you have experiences like this to share, let us know and we’ll help you do that so that others can learn from them, too.