5.5 Things I Take Away from ACCESSE

Six years ago, I was starting a new job; I’d done the association thing before (I live in DC—they let you reach into a hat and randomly select a career pathway between government, contractors, associations, NGOs and fancy burger restaurants) but this was my first time in a STEM society. On about my fifth day, our ED said, “I’d like to send you to this conference, help you get a better understanding of how these organizations work and get some ideas for the job.” I said, “cool, but it starts next week, and also what’s a ’Sess?’” 

I’ve now been to ACCESSE three times, and I’m looking forward to my fourth. And I mean looking forward. I had the dates highlighted on my calendar ever since I got back from Detroit! Why?  

1. This is the professional development you’re looking for.

I sit in on probably 25 webinars on top of several topical courses every year. I even do it for areas of work that aren’t mine, just so I know what’s going on. I like getting better at what I do. But in terms of impact, none of it compares to what I’ve taken away from ACCESSE. 

2. I get all my best ideas at ACCESSE.

Shower thoughts are cool. Going directly into a session that addresses a puzzle that’s kicking around in your brain, that’s even cooler. What’s coolest? Try dropping in on a session purely out of curiosity and the next thing you know all your colleagues are mad because you won’t stop messaging them on Teams about how Eureka! I have found it! and by the time you walk out of the room you’ve managed to sketch out an entire program, complete with funding sources? I’m not even exaggerating. This fiscal year saw us launch a pilot training program that’s doing gangbusters, and next year we’re launching a fellowship that’s structured just like a program we saw at ACCESSE.

3. There’s great community here.

I’ve been in professional spaces where most people are going through the motions and would sooner shave their eyebrows than help someone they just met. Society folks are different—there’s a real we’re doing this together, okay—and ACCESSE is what brings them together. It’s also fun to realize how much taller people are in real life vs. when you catch them on Zoom a few times per quarter. 

4. You need the sponsors as much as they need you.

A lot of sponsorships, especially at professional conferences, are exercises in association and brand recognition as much as anything else. Yes, I’m sure there are a few companies that sponsor ACCESSE on a wing and a prayer, but I always leave with at least one good vendor connection to follow up with. It might not be a product or service we’re going to invest in right now, but it gives an appreciation for problems to address and potential solutions to them.

5. Doors open.

Prior to my current gig, I never thought much of this whole “career” business. I did jobs, I was good at them, I enjoyed the thrill of victory when I did well but mostly wanted to get paid. But through sucCESSEive* times at ACCESSE, I’ve built a network that I trust; I got fully relevant CEU to qualify for my CAE; I was invited to facilitate a panel that turned into chairing the Membership SIG the past two years; and now I’m thinking about how and where else I can contribute while growing.

5.5 Afterglow. 

So yes, ACCESSE is clearly a valuable experience. It doesn’t matter if you’re new to the field like I was or more seasoned like I am, it’s an event you want to be part of. 

*Yes, I’m hilarious, you’re welcome. 

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