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A Student’s Guide to AOTA Conference

by Julie Wolfman, OTD, OTR

Why I’m excited to go to AOTA as an OT student

The AOTA Annual Conference & Expo isn’t only for super successful OTRs/COTAs who have their school days behind them.

In reality, there are countless reasons to attend the AOTA conference as a student. The trick is figuring out what factors tip the scale on your “Should I attend conference” pro-con list.

Whether you’re in your first year or about to graduate, here are a few items to add to your list.

It’s much less of a financial burden than after you graduate

The AOTA conference is expensive – there’s no getting around that. However, this is a great opportunity to benefit from your student discount.

As a student AOTA member, registration is over $100 cheaper than as a licensed OT/OTA (PSA: take advantage of early-bird registration until March 29 to save an extra $50!). If you’re a student but not an AOTA member, registration is over $300 cheaper than as a non-member OT/OTA. If you’re considering attending the conference at some point in your career, this is a really easy way to save a couple hundred bucks.

If the financial component alone is enough to nix the idea of attending a conference, you can sign up to volunteer and waive the registration fee! You’ll get most of the perks of full-registration and earn access to the expo (read: free swag) after completing four volunteer hours.

Hours and hours of unique learning opportunities

The AOTA conference is an incredible place to learn about anything OT. While the basics that you learn in OT school are sufficient in creating the foundations of your “OT Toolbox,” the conference is a place where you get to dig a little deeper.

Maybe it means finding a session about a niche area you’ve always been passionate about but that isn’t a main practice area. Maybe you’re looking for a job and want to attend a session about a specific population. Maybe it means attending a student session about NBCOT study tips or OT-specific resume building. Or maybe it means walking through the expo and demoing groundbreaking assistive technology. Whatever it is, the AOTA conference is an incredible place to expand both breadth and depth of your OT knowledge.

Effortless networking

Trying to lock down an out-of-state fieldwork placement? Looking to be employed when you graduate?

The AOTA conference is the largest annual event for occupational therapy as a profession. There will be thousands of like-minded OT/OTA students, OTRs, and COTAs all there for the same reason. This may be intimidating, but it’s also a great opportunity to get your foot in the door for fieldwork opportunities or a first job, and it’s not as scary as you think!

AOTA Conference AKA OT Hollywood

Being at this conference is like walking the streets of downtown LA, but instead of actors and actresses you see current and past AOTA presidents and the authors of your textbooks. This is a great opportunity to seek out the OT celebs of your specific practice area, pick the brains of big OT names, or just fan-girl at Baum & Christiansen IRL.

Freedom to take the time off

Taking a long weekend is much easier as a student than once you have a full-time job. Some employers will pay for some or all of conference registration and will be generous about time off to travel, while others will not. You may even have to work on the weekends.

As a student, you’ll have much more flexibility to take the long weekend off. Many programs will even cancel classes so that some faculty can also attend this conference. If you’re lucky, the stars will align so that it falls after finals week is already over, and you can extend the trip and go play in Salt Lake City or whichever fun city that year’s conference is being held.

Free Swag

This one’s a major pro, and it’s no joke. Walking around the expo is like an experiential OT magazine; you get to try innovative technology and most stands will encourage you to take free samples/candy/pens/etc.

This is great because a) you’ll likely walk away with a goniometer (or 3) and other useful tools for your future practice b) you won’t have to buy pens again for the rest of your OT school career and c) free swag is what usually produces the most conference FOMO from all of your classmates who didn’t get the “definitely attend conference” memo.

Seriously, I’ve never met a student who doesn’t like free stuff.

More inspirational than a viral Facebook video

Whether it’s your first year in school or your last, you’ll likely develop some kind of classroom burnout by the time April rolls around. The AOTA conference is not only a great way to break up the semester, but it’s inspiring as hell.

Conference is an elevator speech-free weekend where your only responsibilities include talking and learning about something you’re (hopefully) passionate about. You get to meet the authors of articles you cite and explore new topics and new research. The most difficult decisions you’ll have to make are which exciting session to attend, and which tote bag will fit the most goodies. There is no doubt that you’ll have at least one light bulb moment, reminding you of why you chose OT in the first place and leaving you refreshed to jump back into school/fieldwork/research on Monday.

So yes, AOTA conference is expensive. And yes, it’s not necessarily “continued” education if you’re actively immersed in full-time education. But whether you pay the $299 or you sign up to volunteer, attending the conference as a student is an investment: you’re investing in learning beyond what you learn in school, in networking opportunities that could turn into future careers (read: salaries), and in the experience of being surrounded by 10,000+ like-minded people who all know what OT is.

Check out the AOTA Annual Conference & Expo website for more information about this year’s conference (April 19-22, 2018). Hope to see you all there!


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