Kane York: First Conference Experience

I attended the Southwestern Psychological Association (SWPA) conference in San Antonio, Texas between March 31st and April 2nd. Before the conference enjoyed research; however, it seemed as if I was working in a vacuum. The only people I could discuss my findings with were my professor and a select few people in the department. This changed when I was able to attend SWPA. Walking into the poster room blew me away. I expected there to be a good amount of people in attendance, but witnessing the amount of posters and people discussing the subjects made it all the more real. This became even more poignant when I stepped back and thought of the amount of work each project took. Each poster or presentation was the result of hours of data collection, critical thought, and analysis.

Each day consisted of a myriad of talks and poster sessions. The first day I attended a talk discussing the manner in which we value human lives in and out of war. The speaker drew upon themes in psychology, economics, and philosophy to enlighten the discussion. We addressed questions regarding donations made to nonprofit organizations, how we as a developed country form our views of people in war torn countries, and how we allow the state to place value on certain lives. This talk impressed me because of how the speaker and the audience drew upon different disciplines. It displayed that psychology is a field that draws from many sources.

In the latter portion of that day, I observed a symposium with Cognitive Psychology as a focus of the talks. I was excited to hear this presentation since the content differed from the social psychology presentations I had already heard. A common theme through all of the speakers was studying the visual system using visual search tasks. In short, this is a task in which a participant needs to “search” for a target object among other objects known as distractors. This tasks allows the experimenter to manipulate the stimuli that appear on the screen and draw conclusions from the participants input. From this we can make inferences about unobservable mental processes. This provided me with more reference material for a project I plan to work on next semester, one that studies ensemble processing—the ability of humans to make quick judgments when presented with large amounts of visual stimuli. It brought me joy to see that my area of study was alive and well.

During the second day I attended another talk that was about how teachers can approach learning differently. The speaker quoted a number of studies in discussing how professors and students need to stop thinking of lectures as a transferring of knowledge from one container to the next. He claimed that it was an active process on both parts. His presentation gave me new insights to learning and was able to dispel some myths. The amount of false assumptions I had was a bit surprising. One interesting takeaway from his lecture was that students are responsible for 50% of their learning. This puts a number of student problems into perspective. Later, it was time for my poster presentation. What I figured was going to be an event full of anxiety turned out to quite enjoyable. What I expected was to be rigorously questioned by professors and academics, but this did not happen. People expressed a genuine interest in my research and asked understandable questions.

This was a fantastic first conference experience. To see the amount of and how diverse the people in attendance brought me much joy. Seeing so many studying in my field gives me confidence that I am choosing a worthwhile degree.

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