Abundance… A First-Timer’s Take on the 2021 Annual QRCA Conference

Ashley PaulsonI personally chose the word abundance to describe my first time at the QRCA conference: abundance of knowledge, abundance of experiences, abundance of opportunities, abundance of connections, abundance of friendships, abundance of life lessons.


There was a stunning array of interesting, talented people and extremely relevant presentations and discussions throughout the whole conference. Almost every speaker left me with a desire to learn more. I am now armed not only with more knowledge of the qualitative research industry, but also about myself. For example, I discovered that my superpowers are that I’m engaging and enthusiastic, characteristics I fully embrace knowing they help me to excel in so many ways.


I never thought I’d find myself laughing, dancing, drawing, doing improv, or meditating live in a Zoom meeting while in a room all by myself, and yet, I was pushed out of my comfort zone to do so and it was always worth it. The Energizer sessions really helped to showcase to first-timers like me how fun everyone within QRCA is, and the type of community they’ve been able to build as a result.


Because the conference was virtual this year, I had the ability to be more vocal and share my thoughts about presentations, whether through the chat function or during the discussion sessions. I felt comfortable engaging and discussing my experiences even though I’m early in my career. I realized that you’re never too young to have knowledge to share.


I truly believe one of the greatest benefits of an online conference this year was the international reach, opening up the possibility for those who may have otherwise been unable to travel to the U.S. Additionally, the breakout sessions were randomly selected, helping to avoid any potential awkwardness trying to pair up with others and encouraging interaction. And of course, networking, networking, networking!


It took no amount of time through the networking sessions to discover that I had so much in common with others, be it a passion for Disney, the redeeming qualities of loving baby Yoda even though I’m a Gryffindor, an appreciation for bourbon, or aspiring to be a real-life Wonder Woman. I felt like I had found my people, ones I could truly be myself around and who matched my energy. I was always in a safe environment with others, so much so that even when I got emotional during a breakout session, I felt understood, rather than judged, when expressing myself.others, so much so that even when I got emotional during a breakout session, I felt understood, rather than judged, when expressing myself.

Life Lessons

Although this conference is targeted towards enhancing qualitative research skills, the lessons learned can be applied to everyday life. A few of my favorite conference quotes portraying that include:

  • “Sometimes we need to be shaken out of our comfort zone to discover how far we can get.”
  • “If you have a source of power bigger than yourself, that gives you hope during bad times, keeps you humble during good times, and helps you love others and serve the world.”
  • “We’re not looking for category insights, but human truths.”
  • “Stay present. Have a neutral mindset. Develop emotional agility.”
  • “If you live in a world of abundance, it'll create abundance for you.”

My Advice to Future First-Timers

Put yourself out there. I quickly realized that what I would get out of the conference experience would be directly related to how much I put into it. I noticed a snowball effect throughout the week; I started small with sharing my thoughts and asking questions, which led me to get noticed and receive positive comments about my engagement and enthusiasm (superpowers!), increasing my comfort to continue to open up and express myself, causing me to become more energetic each and every day.

QRCA is so much more than just a community of qualitative professionals. What I’ve discovered is that QRCA is a community of inspiring, creative, energetic, caring, encouraging, and devoted individuals who truly want to help you reach your full potential.

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