Getting in the Game as a First-Time ACRP Conference Attendee

Are you hoping to make the most out of attending your first ACRP conference in Anaheim in early May but feeling a little anxious about the “sit down next to someone you don’t know and introduce yourself” ritual of such big gatherings? Take heart—if you drum up some courage and listen to the wisdom of those who have gone before you, you will find yourself looking back on your time at ACRP 2024 with the pride of accomplishment that comes from putting your best foot forward, getting in the game, and making great professional strides in your clinical research career. 

Network, Network, Network 

If “practice, practice, practice” is how you get to Carnegie Hall, “network, network, network” is a large part of how you capitalize your time at any worthwhile conference. And if you aren’t still pretty new to the clinical research enterprise, perhaps you are like Teri L. Crumb, MSN, RN, CCRC, a Project Manager with the Pediatric Nephrology Research Consortium and veteran in the field, for whom the gathering at Anaheim will be her first ACRP conference. “Honestly, I’ve been waiting my whole 20-plus-year career to get to this point,” she says.

A key opportunity for networking will come on Friday afternoon at the conference, when the First Time Attendee Get-Together is held. Anyone interested in attending this informal session is requested to RSVP via this link by April 25.

Suzanne Kincaid, CCRA, ACRP-PM, FACRP, the owner and founder of Responsibility Research Consulting, LLC, on the other hand, estimates she has been to 10 ACRP conferences since 1996, and says, “My advice for first timers is to sit with people you don’t know—at the sessions, at meals, on the shuttle bus, at networking events. Get to know your new, temporary ‘neighbors’ at the conference. I have met so many interesting people that way, and some have become lifelong friends.” 

Even striking up conversations with others in line with you allows you to get out of your comfort zone and find out about others’ careers, adds Kincaid, who is the incoming Chair of the ACRP Fellows Advisory Panel and a speaker at this year’s conference. “You realize what a talented, diverse group of professionals make up ACRP,” she says. “Everyone is hard-working, dedicated, and just wants to do good research. They also happen to be very friendly.” 

Beyond downloading the ACRP 2024 Mobile App from the Apple iOS store or Google Play, using it to make plans for which learning sessions you want to prioritize, and then building the rest of each day around them, Kim Bloom, MPA, CCRC, a Clinical Research Project Manager, says, “Be brave and introduce yourself to people. Practice with the exhibitors—it’s their job to chat with you—and then use that momentum to meet others. Be ready to share your LinkedIn account to connect with people after the conference.” 

Having first attended an ACRP conference last year in Dallas, Bloom adds, “I was so inspired that I set the goal to present at this year’s conference. I’m really excited for Anaheim!” 

Another upcoming speaker in Anaheim for whom ACRP 2024 is only her second time at the conference is Lauren Stockwell, Director of Outreach and Engagement for Clinical Research Fastrack. “This conference is jam-packed with incredible sessions and incredible people,” she notes. “My biggest recommendation is to come in with an open mind and open heart. It is incredibly easy to stick in your comfort zone—whether that’s with your teammates or with your laptop—but you should get out of it. Walk up to someone new, break the ice, build a new relationship. Our industry is filled with brilliant, passionate, and joyful people—find them! I highly recommend remaining where your feet are, firmly in each conversation as it is happening.” 

After figuring out which sessions are ones you simply cannot miss because of their importance to your professional duties, Stockwell advises that you sprinkle in other sessions that intrigue you for other reasons. “This is such a fun conference, and the energy is electric,” she says. “I am excited to attend again in Anaheim!”

Attending ACRP for the first time in 2023 was inspirational and allowed me to bring back some new knowledge, says Joél Marie Barra, BSBM, CCRP, an ACRP Greater Los Angeles Chapter member who lives close to Anaheim. Making acquaintances to keep in touch with until the next conference is an added bonus. ACRP 2024 will bring new and exciting experiences, not to mention being in the heart of Surf City USA [and so close to] Disneylandso if anyone can venture out, I’m sure Mickey and friends would love to see you.

 Inspiration, Motivation, and Paying it Forward 

You can also count Kathryn Bentley, BSN, RN, ACRP-CP, a Research Project Manager with Sanford Research, as a satisfied, soon-to-be returnee. “I am looking forward to being at ACRP 2024,” she says. “I came away from last year’s conference inspired and motivated. My advice to first-time attendees is to attend as many sessions as possible, ask questions, share your ideas, and sit with people you don’t know. I made so many new connections that continue to shape the work I do.” 

And as someone who has probably only missed one ACRP conference since 2008, Christine Senn, PhD, CCRC, CPI, FACRP, Senior Vice President, Site-Sponsor Innovation at Advarra and Immediate-Past Chair of the ACRP Board of Trustees, says, “What I needed from my professional organization changed throughout the years, and the conference met my needs continuously. My advice is to attend every special event that you can. Learn how to sit for a certification exam. Learn how to write for a certification exam and perhaps join that committee. Meet with regional chapters in your area.” 

Once you have dipped your toe in the water by coming to a conference, there are a multitude of ways to become involved in the life of ACRP for the betterment of both your career and the health of the clinical research profession at large, including for all of those new friends and colleagues you have made, Senn says. 

Edited by Gary Cramer