July 6, 2023 / Kyle Hancock, Connor Harry, and Layla Miller

AIHce EXP 2023: The First Timers' Experience

Over 3,000 occupational and environmental health and safety professionals attended AIHce EXP 2023 in Phoenix this May, with an additional 1,000 joining virtually. As three of the nearly 750 first-time attendees, we experienced firsthand how the conference is strategically designed to welcome and engage students and early career professionals.

Attending a professional conference can be overwhelming, especially as a student, early career professional, or first timer. You are surrounded by professionals with long-standing and extensive connections, experience, and expertise. But bringing together so many bright minds in our field creates unique opportunities, and AIHce EXP (now AIHA Connect) leverages the knowledge and experiences of others to benefit all attendees. A culture of continual learning was evident around every corner. For example, we saw experts who presented earlier in the day sitting in afternoon sessions on other topics. There were sessions and events that catered to all career levels, creating immense educational and networking opportunities for first-time attendees.

Figuring out how to take advantage of these opportunities was one of the more intimidating parts of the conference. We found it very important to understand the various themes and content of the educational sessions being offered. Using the mobile app to create efficient schedules that aligned with our interests allowed us to take in as much information as possible without overextending ourselves.

In addition to the educational sessions, professional development courses were offered before and after the conference. PDCs are designed to help participants gain knowledge in a particular area of industrial hygiene and make connections with other professionals. PDCs vary in size, allowing for significant student‑instructor interactions and individualized learning as well as hands-on demonstrations to further learning experiences.

First timers can also sign up for the PAL (Personal AIHce Liaison) Program, which matched us with conference veterans who guided us through the conference. A first timers' breakfast at the start of the conference gave us the opportunity to meet our PALs and ask questions. One of the most challenging aspects was selecting which educational sessions to attend. PALs and other conference veterans helped us determine educational tracks and styles of sessions that best fit our interests and needs.

While the educational opportunities at the conference were vast, the networking opportunities were also extensive. Striking up conversations and learning about others' experiences and research interests is an important part of conference participation. Networking could happen anywhere: in the exposition hall, in a hotel lobby, at educational sessions, or at the AIHF Fun Run. The sessions provided great education for a few days, but building our professional network will help us continue to learn and advance our careers far into the future. As OEHS professionals, we should take a multidisciplinary approach to problem-solving, and there is no better way to do this than to have a large network comprising professionals with varying educational backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives.

The conference in Phoenix exceeded our expectations. Our most important takeaway for future first timers is to have fun and enjoy making new connections with all the great people in the field of industrial hygiene. We hope to see you in Columbus next year for AIHA Connect!

Kyle Hancock, Connor Harry, and Layla Miller

Kyle Hancock, MPH, is senior associate health scientist at Stantec Chemrisk.

Connor Harry is an industrial hygienist at Stantec Consulting.

Layla Miller, PEng, is an environmental engineer at Stantec Consulting.


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