Beyond Cornell: Societies & Conferences for Students

Beyond the Lab. Photo courtesy of Emma Greig.
Photo courtesy of Emma Greig.

Involving yourself in a relevant scientific society is one of the best and easiest ways to enhance your career as a young researcher. Become a member, regularly browse the society’s scientific publications, and attend the annual meeting. Conferences are great places to learn about the latest field research, to meet other students and researchers, and to scope out potential graduate advisors and programs. The conferences of the societies mentioned here are all worth attending, and they are very welcoming to undergraduate students—especially the various ornithology society meetings. All offer substantially discounted membership rates for students, and many offer competitive travel fellowships to encourage student participation at their conferences.

Ornithological Societies of North America (OSNA)

As an umbrella organization, OSNA handles memberships for all the major ornithology societies, including the following:

  • American Ornithological Society. Formed in 2016 with the merging of North America’s two oldest ornithological societies, the American Ornithologists’ Union and the Cooper Ornithological Society. The AOS publishes The Auk: Ornithological Advances and The Condor: Ornithological Applications. The AOS conference, sometimes held in combination with other societies, is the biggest ornithology meeting held annually and has the most diverse offerings explicitly geared towards students.
  • Wilson Ornithological Society. Historically based in eastern North America; publishes The Wilson Journal of Ornithology. Wilson Society meetings are notably welcoming to undergraduates.
  • Association of Field Ornithologists. Field-biology oriented; publishes the Journal of Field Ornithology. AFO meetings are notably welcoming to undergraduates.

There are also several societies organized around specific topics or taxa in ornithology, including the Raptor Research Foundation and the Waterbird Society.

Though not as explicitly bird-focused, other potentially relevant societies include:


Most professional scientific societies hold an annual meeting that includes research-related talks and poster sessions along with social and career-building events. Forthcoming meetings are listed on the societies’ individual websites, and a list is usually available at the Ornithology Exchange.

North American Ornithological Conference (NAOC)

Every four years, leading scientists, students, and world experts in the field of ornithology gather together from all parts of the Western Hemisphere to attend NAOC. All the major ornithological societies listed here are represented, making NAOC one of the largest ornithological conferences.

Northeast Natural History Conference

This is a smaller, regional, and notably student-friendly meeting held in the late spring, and sponsored by the Eagle Hill Institute in Steuben, Maine.


Undergraduates who have conducted research should present their work when they attend a scientific meeting, either as a talk or (more commonly) as a poster. It is generally fine for your poster to show preliminary results if your undergraduate study is not yet complete. Consult with your research advisor and labmates for advice on how to do this. Preparing a talk or making a poster are both learned skills, no different than learning how to write an essay or take a math test. No matter whether it is your first scientific presentation or your 20th, the best plan is always to get as much advance feedback as possible on your presentation.

Keep in mind that most conferences offer lower rates for early registration, and the absolute deadline for signing up to give a presentation or poster is often 4–6 months in advance of the meeting, so plan early.

Financial support to attend meetings

Meeting attendance requires financial support for travel, food and lodging, and conference registration. Some societies offer travel awards to students—the relevant information is always on the society’s website, usually in the section that describes the meeting itself.

In some cases, your research advisor can help fund your attendance (you should ask them). The staff in the Office of Undergraduate Biology in Stimson Hall may be able to suggest other travel funding sources within Cornell.

Undergraduate students working with Lab of Ornithology mentors are eligible for Lab conference travel support if the student is presenting a poster or talk at the meeting.