10 tips for students going to NICAR16

NICAR16 will be the third NICAR that I have attended as a student — thanks Knight Lab! — and over the last couple years I’ve learned a few tips and tricks for how to get the most out of your time at the conference. The NICAR community is really welcoming — especially to students — so it’s a great opportunity to learn new stuff, meet some cool people and geek out about data journalism. Though the title of this post says “tips for students,” hopefully it’s helpful to anyone looking to get more out of NICAR—whether its your first time going or your tenth.

(Also: shoutout to my fellow Knight Lab fellows Nicole Zhu and Ashley Wu for their additions to this list!)

  1. Be respectful of everything and everyone — not everyone works at a place you will have heard of, but everyone does interesting work and has interesting stories to share. Take the time to listen.
  2. Go to at least one session a day about a topic you know nothing about. One year I accidentally went to a session on datasets about infrastructure and left with a ton of story ideas I’d have never thought about.
  3. Don’t think you have to go to every session. NICAR is a marathon, not a sprint.
  4. At night, hang out around the bar — even if you can’t drink. Hanging out around the hotel bar is where you will get to meet cool people who do cool things. (Plus, last year, the bar gave me free coke all conference so that was a plus.)
  5. Remember that even as a student, you have things to contribute too! Don’t be afraid to speak up in discussions or in sessions. Kill your imposter syndrome for the weekend.
  6. Go into introductory technical sessions with an open mind — you won’t learn all of D3 or all of R in an hour. But an hour is enough to learn about what certain tools let you accomplish and it’s enough to give you a a framework for how to learn more.
  7. Don’t just go to panels and hands-on sessions — go to some of the non-traditional sessions. Go to Sisi Wei and Jeremy Merrill’s panel: “Jobs and career straight-talk: For (and by) young’uns only.” Go to one of the sessions on the “conversations track.” Go to the lightning talks. Pitch a lightning talk.
  8. After a session you really enjoyed, hang around and introduce yourself to the facilitator.
  9. When you introduce yourself to someone, don’t just say “I’m a big fan of your work.” It helps to have specific questions about specific projects they worked on that you really liked. It’ll lead to a more interesting conversation.
  10. Before the conference, reach out to a few folks whose work you admire — maybe you follow them on Twitter — and set up a time to get coffee with them and learn about their work.

If you have any questions or suggestions to add to this list, send me a tweet at @asduner. We may try and organize some sort of student meetup at the conference, so if you’re interested in that, let me know!

Looking forward to meeting y’all in Denver!