Sheida kindly volunteered to reflect on AAIDD 2017 Conference experiences from a ‘doctoral student perspective’. The consideration points that we gave her included exciting aspects of the conference, at least one presentation or topic she found essential for intellectual and developmental disabilities research, and recommendations for novice researchers or students to maximize benefits of the conference. Please find her point of view below.

Truth be told, I felt quite apprehensive writing a blog post about a conference in which I was attending for the first time. Although I have known about AAIDD for some time through my colleagues and peers at The University of Kansas, the conference in Hartford was my first opportunity to engage in-person with AAIDD members and associated conference activities. As such, it was also my first time participating in the Student and Early Career Professional (SECP) Internet Network activities like the pre-conference Research Colloquium and the Social and subsequent Business Meeting. Like many of us in the SECP Internet Network, I am not only excited to learn more about areas of research that are largely unfamiliar to me, but I’m also incredibly interested in connecting and collaborating with individuals that I feel will be leaders in the intellectual and developmental disability field. Therefore, the aspect of the conference that I found most engaging and exciting was connecting with people that I would consider future leaders in various areas of our field nationally and internationally.

Program session with Kathryn Burke from The University of Kansas

My area of interest, self-determination, stems from my prior experiences as a special education teacher of elementary and middle school students with significant support needs. I often felt like teaching my students reading, math, and science was important, but more than anything, I wanted them to act and cause things that they wanted to happen in their lives — which eventually led me to self-determination. However, at AAIDD, I learned about so many other experiences and subsequent areas of interests of how people “arrived” at this point in their lives. For example, I had the opportunity to engage in conversations with students and emerging researchers from Spain, Canada, and France whose interests aligned with mine, but our paths toward researching aspects related to self-determination differed immensely. Experiencing the variability in our stories and interests is not something that is a dedicated session or an add-on workshop at AAIDD, but it is, in my opinion, the very best part of the conference.

AAIDD Poster Session with Cristina Mumbardó-Adam and Climent Giné from Ramon Llull University in Barcelona, Spain

To this end, it is nearly impossible to have in-depth conversations with everyone at AAIDD. However, I thoroughly enjoyed the PechaKucha presentation format of the SECP pre-conference Research Colloquium because it offered a “sneak peek” into what others are interested and engaged in, as did the table conversations at the Social and Business Meeting. On a side note, I had the opportunity to review and record the notes and comments that SECP members wrote on the paper tablecloths and the ideas generated in such a short amount of time were absolutely astounding! It may sound mushy, but I genuinely felt a sense of pride to be part of such a passionate, driven, and diverse group of people. And I could go on and on about this, but in the interest of a succinct blog post (I hear that’s best practice), I will sum up my experience in one recommendation for future researchers/students attending the AAIDD conference: Engage in discussion. As many business folks would also attest to, I subscribe to the popular aphorism: People are our greatest asset. So, I thank everyone that I had the opportunity to learn from at the conference and look forward to many more connections in the future.

AAIDD SECP Research Colloquium PechaKucha presentation

Sheida K. Raley is a doctoral student at the University of Kansas, and she is working on self-determination projects.
Contact Sheida at: