by Katie Mummah
Opportunity. It’s the first thing that comes to my mind as I prepare to register for the ANS Annual Meeting in New Orleans.
Honestly, attending the ANS meetings is a choose-your-own-adventure, where you have the opportunity to participate as little, or as much, as you want. There are people who show up, give their talk, and fly home. There are members that fill their schedules with sessions and other activities from 8 am to 9 pm every single day of the conference.
Although I’m only a third-year undergrad, I had the chance to go to the 2014 student conference my freshman year, and I have to say, I’ve been hooked ever since. Prior to attending my first conference, I had no idea what to expect. I knew absolutely nothing about these types of meetings, except that I was supposed to wear professional clothes (and I learned that less than 48 hours before leaving). At that point I thought the highlight of my trip would be my excused absence from my Calculus 3 lecture/discussion at the University of Illinois. However, two years later I’ve found that my attendance has been one of the most useful (if not the most useful) thing I’ve ever done during my undergraduate career.
From this student’s perspective, there is just so much to learn that you cannot pick up in your technical classes. It’s been especially useful to learn about companies and national labs that don’t recruit from my university. For example, if I hadn’t attended ANS conferences, I wouldn’t know EXCEL Services, Idaho National Lab, and many other cool companies even existed.
But I think the greatest takeaway from the ANS meetings comes from the networking opportunities. This goes for everyone—students, professionals…it doesn’t matter. Expanding your network is one of the most useful things that anyone can do for their career, as it helps open up doors for the future. As I reflect on the best part of what I got out of the meetings I can say that not only have I made wonderful friends, but I’ve made valuable connections. The other meeting attendees have helped me to focus my interests by learning about the career paths of others. Keep in mind, that connections made at an ANS meeting can potentially lead to internships or jobs (which I’m lucky enough to have experienced myself).
In the end, no matter if I ultimately decide to work for a utility, a vendor, or a national lab, or anywhere else, I know that I have valuable connections that can recommend companies/labs and potentially help me secure a job. Without the ANS meetings, I would have had no way to personally know any of these people, besides develop a relationship with them.
Beyond the wonderful people that attend ANS meetings, there’s also the technical program at the heart of it all. Since the conferences cater to all the different fields of nuclear science and engineering, there are a mind-boggling number of sessions to attend. I pulled up the preliminary program for the upcoming annual meeting to demonstrate this point. For example, during the 1 pm to 4 pm timeslot on Monday, there are 13 different technical sessions or panels to choose from. THIRTEEN! Again, this goes back to the “opportunity” aspect of ANS meetings—because, again, you can attend as much or as little as you want. Me? I attend as many technical sessions a possible because previous meetings have helped me discover my passion for nuclear communication and start to develop my grad school interests.
Okay, besides the obviously professional reasons to be there and be seen, there are other fun things about the meetings (that don’t necessarily affect my decision to attend, but I appreciate nonetheless). Really, the meetings are not boring.
- First and foremost: you get a lot free. (Well, I did at the Winter Meeting in the exhibit area, any way.) This is mostly for other college kids who really love freebies. Seriously. I’ve gotten mugs, portfolios, touch screen gloves, pizza cutters, and yes, more pens than I could ever need. It’s just stuff, I know, but it’s important (in my mind, anyway…. I’m in college remember).
- Food & coffee – although I realize it’s part of the registration fee, ANS does a great job with what is served and when.
- A lot of meeting attendees are fairly high up in companies/national labs, which definitely adds to the networking component. I’ve met co-founders of companies, directors of national labs, previous ANS Congressional Fellows, and more, just by walking around and talking to random people.
- Once you start attending conferences regularly, it’s nice to meet up with people that you haven’t seen in six months or more.
- Lastly, these meetings are just plain awesome! I’ve honestly had a blast at every one that I have attended.
I strongly encourage anyone interested in attending to check out ANSannual.org. Download and read through the program brochure, the schedule-at-a-glance, and download their easy-to-use App onto your smartphone (although it was not ready at the time of this article publishing, so be sure to check back).
And if you are a first-timer, you really MUST attend the First-Time Attendee Orientation on Sunday, June 12 from 1 pm to 1:30 pm. That does not sound like a long time, but ANS really fills you in on the details to help the “newbies” get the most out of the meeting experience. Another perk is that you get to meet and greet one or more of the senior ANS members and some of the ANS staff, too.
Look, the meetings are what you make them, but the sky’s the limit. There are so many opportunities for anyone and everyone out there, no matter your gender, age, background, or field of interest. Whatever your hesitation, move past it. It’s a great career move and something I am passionate about.
One last tip for attendees, the Twitter chat gets followed pretty closely by not only ANS but other followers. Make sure to tweet out your photos and tips as you make your way through the meeting, and use the hashtag #ANSMeeting.
I hope to see you in New Orleans in June! Please look for me and say hello.
Katie Mummah is an undergrad studying Nuclear, Plasma, and Radiological Engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She was the 2015-2016 president of the UIUC ANS student section. At the 2016 Annual meeting she plans to join both the Student Sections & Local Sections committees.