Make the Most of the 2017 AIR Forum

Charles Mathies is Senior Expert - Strategic Planning & Development at the University of Jyvaskyla in Finland

charlie-mathies.pngeAIR: As a Forum attendee for the last several years, what advice would you give to a first-time attendee to get the most out of their Forum experience?

I would suggest two things. First, go to the social events – both for newcomers as well as all conference participants. This is a great way to meet people across the field from other institutions, but also vendors and their various products. Second – be specific in your selection of sessions you attend – don’t just go to sessions to because it is convenient (close by or a good time slot). I try to choose a theme (by topic, like IPEDS or student satisfaction, some other theme like a specific statistical method, or by a specific vendor product, e.g., Tableau) and try to attend sessions throughout the Forum within that theme. I have found I usually take away more from a conference by doing this because I gain depth to a topic/issue and varying perspectives on how it can be used in my own work at my campus.

eAIR: What part of the Forum have you found to be most rewarding (educational opportunities, networking, etc.)?

I found the educational opportunities to be great. But the longer I have been involved in IR and with AIR, I have found the networking to be perhaps the most rewarding. It is through these networks we reach out to one another to share insights and ask questions in our day-to-day work. It is good to develop these networks, and over time they really pay great dividends.

eAIR: What would you say to newcomers who want to participate in networking experiences but are unsure where to begin?

Three suggestions:

First, have a discussion with the director or a senior member of your office – whomever you feel more comfortable with – about meeting other people in the field at the AIR forum (e.g., networking). This should come from a place of wanting to meet other professionals to improve your knowledge base and understanding of the field. By doing this it signals you are interested in expanding your skills and they will likely either introduce you to others in the field at social events and in between sessions.

Second, at the social or network events, watch and observe others on how they interact. This is a great way to see how professional in the field network – i.e., what the socially accepted norms are in networking. You can pick up what to do, as well as what not to do (because no one else is doing it).

Third, if you attend a session that you really enjoyed (or thought was well done), stay afterwards, introduce yourself to the presenter and tell them what you enjoyed about the presentation. I cannot tell you how many times I run into people over the years at various meetings or conferences that I first met at the AIR forum where either I or they stuck around after a presentation and had a (brief) discussion about the session. These things stick in people’s memories and have served me well over the years.

eAIR: In all your years as a Forum attendee, what has been your biggest takeaway or lesson learned?

Listen more than you talk. Even though people may come to my session, I usually learn more by listening to others (at sessions – presenters, what questions are being asked, etc.). It is always surprising to me when I am done with a Forum what I have learned. The key for me though is to take time either at the end of the Forum or right after getting back to campus, to write down and organize all the notes from sessions and meetings. This way you can get some semblance of order and major themes you picked up during this event. It also helps in the next step of translating what you learned at the Forum into your own work.

eAIR: How has participating as a presenter at the Forum shaped your professional development and career? 

Greatly! The AIR community is a good professional community. There are some top-notch presentations with excellent methods, data, and theory use. But for me perhaps, the biggest thing for new presenter is that it is a supportive community. The AIR community recognizes and supports new professionals at the Forum very well. It is an inviting place to present and unlike some other professional associations, it is very rare for presenters to be criticized harshly. I have received a good deal of criticism and feedback on my presentations and work at the AIR Forum, but it is has been constructive criticism with the intent to improve the work, not anything personal. My first AIR Forum in 2006, I was co-presenting a session in a ballroom with about 1000 seats and was placed on a riser above the audience. It was very intimating at first, but once we got started, it went well and I believe this was due to the AIR community’s interactions and feedback that day. I have used that experience to help me get ready to prepare and present my work at various conferences and meetings around the world. I have the confidence now to speak to any size audience and much of that confidence comes from having experiences like I did at my first AIR Forum, presenting to large knowledgeable groups in a safe and supportive environment.




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