Unveiling Opportunities at Conferences

By Shivani Sanger

In 2022, I embarked on a transformative journey, exceeding the boundaries of my comfort zone, to attend the prestigious American Academy of Forensic Science (AAFS) 2022 conference in Seattle, USA. As an individual often labelled as an "introverted extrovert" by close friends and family, the prospect of networking at such events initially intimidated me. Nevertheless, I was invited to present a poster on my master's research, marking my initiation into the realm of conferences. 
Upon arrival, I discerned a diverse assembly of professionals within the field of forensic science. The spectrum ranged from students navigating their inaugural presentation to seasoned members with a legacy of conference attendance. As a first-generation university attendee and a British Indian woman, I harboured a genuine apprehension about potential rejection within the forensic anthropology section, where I quickly identified myself as a minority. 
A pivotal moment materialised during a conference reception, where I summoned the courage to initiate networking. Armed with 150 business cards, my objective became clear – distribute them all by the end of the conference. I deliberately sought out individuals adorned with "Member" or "Fellow" badges, aspiring to connect with seasoned professionals capable of offering invaluable career advice. It was during one such encounter that I crossed paths with my current mentor, whose profound insights within the first 15 minutes not only altered the trajectory of my career but also bolstered my confidence to pursue forensic anthropology as a definitive career path. 
Despite being unable to attend the AAFS 2023 conference due to personal circumstances, I remained committed to nurturing the connections forged in 2022. Regular emails to the network, including my esteemed mentor, ensured they were apprised of my career updates, which included starting my PhD journey in September 2023. As the AAFS 2024 conference approached, I registered promptly, fuelled by an intuitive sense that maintaining these connections would yield long-term benefits. 

Journeying to Denver, USA, for the conference, I rekindled relationships with my network. Notably, I seized the opportunity to approach my mentor, not merely for work experience but to express my eagerness for mentorship. In a gratifying turn of events, she graciously extended mentorship, providing me with a guiding light in the form of an accomplished professional rooted in the American forensic anthropology landscape. This mentorship represents a profound resource, enabling me to seek counsel and guidance as I aspire to contribute to the field of Forensic Anthropology in the United States. 
The narrative of my conference experiences underscores the pivotal role such gatherings play in personal and professional growth. Beyond the presentations and sessions, conferences are crucibles for forging connections, breaking barriers, and unlocking unforeseen opportunities. The transformative impact of these events is not merely limited to the exchange of knowledge but extends to the cultivation of mentorship, which, in my case, can be the catalyst for a paradigm shift in one's career trajectory. In essence, conferences are not mere assemblies of professionals; they are conduits of empowerment and avenues for the realisation of one's full potential in the chosen field.