I remember it well- the nervousness, intimidation, and the restless night before. I remember spending hours picking out the perfect outfit and being worried my shoes would give me blisters. I remember bringing a notepad (one that wasn’t too big and wasn’t too small), and not just one, but two, pens for note taking. I remember being unable to eat breakfast beforehand because I had too many emotions (something that no dietetics student should ever do). And finally, I remember stepping in the doors and getting through it- my first nutrition conference.
In the fall of my junior year of college I attended my first nutrition conference. It was a local conference presented by NEPAND, the Northeast Pennsylvania arm of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. The conference, an all day event, allowed me to experience my first professional nutrition event. It truly changed my life. I took in every moment, not only with my notepad, but with my head, too. And I remember it, using every lesson I learned (both in presentations and out). If you haven’t been to your first dietetics conference, or even if you have, here are some things you will learn.
1. RDs and RD2BEs love food. This may seem obvious, but it really sunk in the morning of my first conference. While I was too nervous to even eat breakfast, my fellow Northeastern Pennsylvania professionals were strolling in with Starbucks, Dunkin Donuts, homemade smoothies and coffee drinks, snacks, and more. I had been expecting a stuffy room of strict professionals, but most of the attendees were enjoying a snack or beverage throughout the day.
2. You will hear some amazing presentations. Sometimes, it can feel like you are all alone in your homework and textbooks. But when you finally have the opportunity to sit in a room of like-minded, passionate individuals, you will be reminded differently. You will engage in presentations about things you didn’t even realize were a part of the scope of nutrition and dietetics. You will hear presentations that inspire you, terrify you, and validate your passion for this field.
3. You will hear some not-so-great presentations, too. Not everyone is a performer. Just like your food science presentations in class, some dietitians (or dietetic students) aren’t meant to be in front of a crowd. This does not mean that the presenters are not educated and knowledgeable in their field; it may just mean that presenting is not their thing! Regardless, hearing some presentations that are on the rougher side may help you feel a little less intimidated at a big event like a nutrition conference. This reminds you that RDNs are people, too, just like you.
4. Dietitians love to mingle. While the presentations are a huge part of the conference experience, after a few hours a break is definitely needed. Dietitians live for the small breaks throughout the day that allow everyone in the room to get to know each other a little more. While some of the attendees may be your professors or fellow students, others may be older individuals gathering research about lentils or younger individuals working with eating disorder patients. Whatever the case may be, you will meet a myriad of dietitians who do just about everything. When you find someone who really stands out to you, make sure to make a lasting impression. You never know where mingling with a few RDNs will take you!
5. You will feel completely overwhelmed. Both during and after my first nutrition conference, I felt a lot of confusion. I was confused not only about what had happened during the day (some presentations are far too in depth for a junior in college to fully grasp) but about myself, too. Connecting with RDNs provided me an opportunity to explain my role in the field of nutrition, but it also taught me that I am not quite sure what that role is yet. At first I felt upset at myself for not being prepared to answer the multitude of questions dietitians asked me. But then I remembered that it is okay to not have all the answers just yet. Finding your population, role, and location within nutrition and dietetics takes time, and it is something that not all juniors have figured out just yet. But by attending conferences it helps you get a little closer to figuring out your job in the world.
At the end of the day, my first nutrition conference exhausted me. I was physically tired from being nervous about the little things like my hair and outfit. But mentally, my first nutrition conference excited me. It inspired me to head back to my classrooms and study harder, to gain external experience through research and volunteering, and ultimately to communicate with those all around me and connect over a passion for this field. Your first nutrition conference will be something you will always remember, and I know it will be an experience to push you forward.
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