I’ve never presented or traveled for social work conferences. In the positions I held, there was no pressure to be involved in our professional association, The National Association of Social Workers, but I did hold a membership for many years. MAC was the first conference I traveled to and the first time I presented. I presented a poster session and participated in a lightning talk with a few of my colleagues. These two formats had not been utilized at any conference I’ve attended as a social worker. The experience forced me out of my comfort zone. Despite this, I jumped in head first to do both.
The first thing that stood out for me, in comparison to other conferences I attended, was the fact that the conference started on a Sunday. I had never experienced a conference with evening programming. I hear this is normal in librarianship, but I have to say it was a surprise considering all the talk in the profession about wellness, self-care, and work-life balance.
The amount of downtime was another thing that stood out to me. While there were many events, there was a lot of time to visit vendors and network, which was surprising, as well. Thinking back on social work conferences, it was pretty much business all day, until the regular programing ended by 5pm. There was always the opening and keynote in the morning and from there the one-hour sessions start with 15-minute breaks in between. The short breaks and the lunch hour and/or award ceremony would act as a time to visit vendors and network. It was regimented; assuming due to social work licensing regulations and earning continuing education credits (CEUs). While it was pretty much business all day, the evenings did have some type of programing that was a bit lighter, such as a movie discussion or committee meetings. My thoughts were always to get back on the road to head home to my family after such a long day. That said, I found the laid-back flow of MAC nice.
For me, the lightning talk was terrifying; this really pushed me out of my comfort zone. I joined my colleagues in a lightning talk about environmental justice. My focus was on environmental health literacy. This was my first in-person lightning talk and I do see how they have a place. I personally like a longer session to get more in-depth information and have activities and discussions around a topic, but this is how I learn best. I do see the benefit if the information is presented in this form and the same talk can later be turned into a poster, paper, or full presentation.
While I was a bit nervous about presenting my poster, I felt more confident. I worked with the homeless for years and I don’t have issues with interacting with strangers. The idea of poster presentations was still new to me. When I was in library school at UMCP, I received a couple of assignments that involved creating posters. It was something I was not accustomed to doing or encountered in my MSW program or career. I see that this is a part of academic librarianship and that poster presentations were a normal part of librarianship and librarian conferences.
Overall, I had a great experience at the MACMLA Annual Meeting. I was able to learn new information, meet some of my colleagues in person, and even conquer some fears. It’s a strange feeling being the seasoned professional other folks would come to for assistance to starting a completely different career and now being the person asking all the questions. I feel like Bambi and it’s a whole new world out there!
This post was written by Tiffany Chavis, Health Literacy Librarian, NNLM Region 1 at the University of Maryland Baltimore.
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