It was February, and we were having a meeting with my colleagues about the abstracts we were going to send into different conferences. After the abstracts had been submitted, all the other things took control, and in April, I could not believe my eyes when I had an e-mail that said my oral presentation has been accepted to one of the largest and most prominent conferences within health education. First I felt confused (”what, did they send the e-mail to right person?”), then amazed (after I double-checked the e-mail that it was really for me), even little bit scared (”gosh, I can’t even speak proper English to have a presentation in UK) and then excited (”this is so cool!”).
For a student, taking part in a conference can be quite expensive, especially if you have to travel to get there. I was lucky, because my thesis was done as a part of Competent educators together -project, and I had an opportunity to have financial support to take part in the conference. I also got a lot of emotional support from my colleagues, who encouraged me to take part as well from all my friends and family – who were more convinced about me managing this, then myself. Despite all this, it was tough to make the decision about attending the conference.
It feels a little bit silly afterward and I am almost ashamed of the thoughts I have for not taking advantage of this great opportunity. But I still decided to write about this, because I thought that I am not the only one feeling nervous and excited about doing something for the first time. I am always encouraging other people to do things that get you out of your comfort zone because usually, we can learn the most about these situations. Still, I found it hard to follow my advice.
Right now, I am on a plane, traveling back to Finland, and I can say that I am so happy I got this opportunity to take part in this international conference as a master student. Despite all the insecurity, lack of self-confidence, and feeling so stressed, I am alive (-big surprise there) and feeling better than fine. The conference was so inspirational, and I got more than I was expecting. I got to meet lovely people from different countries, from the various educational fields, had some great discussions and learned new things. I saw tens of oral and many poster presentations, which gave me a lot to think about the topics themselves as well as how I can improve my presentations in the future.
But still, I think that the most important thing I got from the conference was the feeling of being capable of doing something that initially felt scary. As a student, at the beginning of the future carrier, it is sometimes hard to have faith in oneself. When you are surrounded by educators and researchers, who have been working in this field perhaps over tens of years, you feel easily a little unsure about your skills and competence. Why they would want to hear what I have to say? What if I say or ask something stupid, that I should know already? I am happy to inform you that these kinds of fears are most likely nonsense and only creations of your mind. The people who are listening to you have been in the same position that you are now. You cannot be an expert right away, and everyone has to start from somewhere. So try to get rid of these kinds of thoughts and instead think all possibilities that these kinds of events have to offer. You never know, what might happen, if you have the courage to challenge yourself.
Iina Ryhtä, MNSc, Research Assistant, University of Turku
Imane Elonen, BNSc, MNSc student, Research Assistant, University of Turku
Leena Salminen, PhD, Professor, University of Turku