Reflections of a recent graduate

As the emotional rollercoaster that is Graduation week and day comes to an end, a few closing thoughts came to mind.

The underclassmen asked some important questions as we said our goodbyes: “What advice would you give to students both current and entering, now that you have a degree under your belt? What decisions did you make or maybe wish you would have made during the past four years that most impacted you.”

Go to conferences

Let me start by telling you about one of the best decisions I made during my career as an optometry student which was to attend national conferences.

From the glitz and glam of Vision Expos to the inspirational advocacy carried out at AOA, each conference brought a unique experience which rejuvenated me about the profession of optometry.

It always amazed me that there wasn’t a stronger student presence at optometry conferences so I decided survey classmates and students across the country about what deters them from conference travel. The outstanding factor, as expected, was travel funds.

It’s safe to say the ramen-student budget does not leave much wiggle room to travel across the country, book a hotel room and fend for food. Well, I’m here to tell you that there are ways to navigate around this problem.

First of all, each conference has travel grant opportunities which can range from $250-$1,500. Companies such as VSP, Essilor, Hoya, and Allergan have made annual monetary investments to support student participation at national conferences.

To qualify for one of these you may have to write an essay, perform an interesting case study, take a stellar photo or simply just express an interest in attending a particular conference. 

Additionally, conferences like SECO provide student stipends (in CASH) for traveling expenses. Even some of the clubs such as NOSA, Private Practice Clubs, and AOSA provide grants to encourage student attendance.

As far as stay goes, Airbnb or house share serves as an excellent alternative to pricey hotel rooms. So motivate your best friends to travel with you and get a house to share!

Additionally, the best part of conference travel which is networking with doctors and other students may just introduce you to your next host for a conference! There are plenty of student receptions which provide dinner and snacks to save you $$ on food.

And if that wasn’t enough, the ever-changing locations of each conference serves as a fantastic way for you to explore a new city with friends.

Conferences are the perfect complement to classes

Some students say they had a hard time justifying to their schools and even themselves that conferences were more important than school. I found this interesting because in my opinion conferences are not “more or less” important than school.

I would say they are a necessary adjunct to your time as an optometry student. Continuing education courses, which are free only while you’re a student, are a great way for you to stay current with up-to-date research.

You have a chance to challenge what you’re learning in the classroom as new discoveries are made. This shapes your self-directed learning which will inspire success for years to come.

Additionally, the network that you will build at conferences may just help you find a job after graduation. You will build relationships with students across the country and have a sense of comradery which makes optometry the great profession that it is today.

It is easy to lose yourself amongst books and boards as a student, but after returning from each conference and witnessing the advances being made I was always inspired to learn and contribute my time to helping our profession.

Get involved in your profession

Finally, another important piece of advice that I would give to all underclassmen is to get involved in the profession. Not only will this help you understand the ongoings of our profession but it will motivate you to help it, and yourself, grow.

Our profession needs strong leaders of diverse backgrounds to keep it moving forward. There are ample opportunities for you such as school clubs, online forums, and student government. is looking for hot new journalists to share clinical content, AOSA is searching for the next trustee who will motivate their classmates to advocate for the profession, and private practice clubs are excited about their next leader who will expose them to business skills and doctors across the country.

Enjoy your time as a student

It goes by faster than you know. Become a sponge and soak up all the knowledge you can, become active in the profession because it needs YOU, and most of all get to know students from across the country because you never know when you’ll be needing to couch surf during rotations.