I completed my American Academy of Optometry Student Fellowship in New Orleans last year. I was not quite sure what to expect from such a large meeting because it was the first non-regional conference I had attended. I decided to pursue my Student Fellowship because it seemed like something different to put on my CV and several of my friends were completing theirs as well. After completing it, here are some reasons I would recommend it to other optometry students considering it, and some general reasons to attend Academy!
1) Posters, Papers, Symposiums, oh my!
What I liked most about completing my fellowship was the different types of events I was exposed to. If I had to pick out my schedule on my own, I do not think I would have attended the paper and poster sessions. Paper sessions include multiple brief presentations from students and doctors on their research, with Q&A after each 15-minute presentation. You can stay for as long or as little as you like! Poster sessions allow you to browse through case studies and research papers, and often times, talk to the head author. This is especially fun when one of your friends is published. You can take photos of them in front of their poster and embarrass them! I really liked the symposium format. These sessions brought together several experts in the same field, and they each presented a summary on their research or topic of expertise. It was refreshing to get different perspectives from vision science researchers, optometrists and ophthalmologists on how to approach the same diagnosis or therapy.
2) You will become famous.
Okay, so maybe you will not become famous, but my friends and I were featured in an AAO Newsletter! You will however, start to meet doctors and learn who is who in the optometry world. Professors notice which students go to the meetings, and are willing to introduce you to doctors from your area or invite you to networking events with doctors you would like to meet. You will inevitably be in an elevator, at your hotel or sitting on the plane next to an OD – practice your elevator speech and your networking skills! There are also student hours in the exhibit hall that give you a chance to speak to vendors, one on one.
3) Free registration the year after you complete your fellowship.
This year I got free registration to AAO in Anaheim! After being exposed to all the different types of events offered at Academy last year, I knew which types of sessions I wanted to attend and I did not have the schedule of the fellowship program that I had to stick to. This was very helpful in freeing up funds and time to go to Disneyland! Also, if you happen to not complete your fellowship in one year, Academy allows you to complete it the next year, and then get the free registration following the year of completion.
4) CE outside of your comfort zone.
The program forces you to go to sessions that you might not have attended otherwise, and may spark an interest you did not realize you had! After attending a Binocular Vision, Perception and Pediatric Optometry Section ARVO/AAO Joint Symposium in New Orleans on Neural Plasticity, I became very interested in learning more about neural plasticity and the bi-ocular amblyopia treatments that were presented. I ended up using the research as my topic for a presentation in my Visual Perception class.
5) Travel Grants
Are you trying to figure out how to set your scholarship or travel grant applications apart? If you express interest in completing your Student Fellowship or have already completed it, this can show your dedication to learning about the latest research at the meeting and being involved. Certain schools may also offer travel grants to students completing their fellowship! Ask your school’s Faculty-Student Liaison about these opportunities.
6) Fun Time
If you complete your Student Fellowship, you will have specific times you are required to be at the meeting. If you and someone else you know is completing their Fellowship, you will have the same free time! There is time to get out and explore the city you are in! As well, Academy and other companies host fun events in the evenings, including the infamous Australia Party!
I hope that you consider these 6 points when you are thinking about pursuing your Student Fellowship at Academy next year. See you in Chicago!
Written by Danielle Guenet – Pacific University College of Optometry. OD 2018