For many students, the American Nuclear Society (ANS) Student Conference is their first conference. Hosted by a different student section each year, the student conference is a great opportunity for nuclear engineers and other early career professionals interested in nuclear energy to come together.

Attending the student conference for the first time can also be a bit daunting. Here a few last-minute tips for attendees

Download the app

The best way to stay on top of the conference schedule is by using the app. Because let’s be real, it’s 2019 and no one wants to flip through an 80-page booklet to find the room number of your next technical session.

The 2019 student conference app

Sit with people you don’t know at dinner

It can be tempting to sit with your friends during the dinners and social events, but that’s a wasted opportunity. Most students feel comfortable hanging with their friends, but you can do that back at your university! Conferences are an opportunity to expand your network and meet your peers at other universities. Grab one or two friends (max!) and go sit at a table with a group of people you don’t recognize. Make sure to exchange contact info!

Packing list: business professional

The dress code at the student conference is business professional. In fact, attendees at student conferences tend to dress more professionally than at ANS national meetings. Suits and dresses are common, many attendees wear ties but its not required. When in doubt, err on the side of more professional.

Attendees dress business casual or business professional

Don’t forget casual clothes if you plan to visit bars or explore the town!

Wear comfortable shoes

Wearing comfortable shoes is such a basic tip, but it’s vital to a good conference experience. The weekend will involve a lot of walking and occasionally standing. Unlike some student conferences, the hotel is separate from the conference center this year and students will have to walk between the two. During the day, attendees will be walking between technical sessions, panels, and meetings and even more so if you attend a tour or the career fair. Having uncomfortable shoes could ruin the whole conference so make sure you pack comfortable shoes–or at least a spare pair!

Bring business cards

Do you have business cards? Bring ‘em! If not, your local Fedex might have 24-hour business card options. The student conference brings together hundreds of nuclear students and professionals, and a business card is an easy way to leave your contact info without having to dig out a pen and a scrap of paper. The most important information is your name, your email, and your degree with expected graduation. Don’t worry about making them super fancy.

(left) The business cards I designed as a freshman before my first student conference. I used them all throughout undergrad even though I dropped the astronomy minor and replaced it with atmospheric science. They still served me well! (right) My grad student business card

I think all college students should have business cards, even if you don’t have a job to put on them. Business cards are especially useful for students stopping by the career fair (another tip, see below!), especially if you aren’t bringing resumes or looking for a job/internship right away.

Image: ANS

Everyone should visit the career fair

Nuclear energy is a small field. Even at large public universities with major career fairs, typically only a few companies attending are interested in nuclear engineers. Although at an inconvenient date to find jobs and internships, the career fair at the ANS student conference is one of the only times nuclear students have the chance to interact with dozens of companies and labs interested in them. Now is the time to build up a relationship with a recruiter.

Even if you’re not looking for a job or internship now, stay in contact with the people you meet at a career fair and it might help you find a job down the road. I feel strongly about this concept–I got one of my internships through meeting someone at a ANS conference booth.

Image: Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education

Considering graduate school? You’re in luck, typically a few universities have booths at career fairs and they’re specifically looking for future graduate students.

Best of luck to all first-time student conference attendees! Be sure to say hi if you see me in person and if you’re on Twitter, follow me at @nuclearkatie and the conference chatter at #ANSMeeting