The National Academies of Science, Engineering & Medicine’s Transportation Research Board—referred to within the profession as TRB—was established in November 1920 out of the need for research around the safety, efficiency, and opportunity of emerging modes of transportation. While the emerging modes of transportation we research today are very different than they were in 1920, the need for research and dialogue remains the same.

By putting the nation’s leading transportation researchers and practitioners in the same (sometimes physical, sometimes virtual) room, TRB encourages the sharing of information through committees, publications, and events throughout the year, the largest being the Annual Meeting in January.

The 2021 Annual Meeting and Why It’s Unique

The Transportation Research Board Annual Meeting is a gathering of more than 13,000 international researchers and transportation professionals sharing research and developing research questions to address the biggest transportation challenges our communities are facing. TRB Annual Meeting agendas are built around committee meetings, presentations, poster sessions, and your year’s worth of receptions and networking events. Grab coffee with anyone whose career involves transportation research, and they’ll likely have plenty of anecdotes to share from TRB Annual Meetings past.

Photo of the crowds TRB brought in 2020

Crowds gather in the Walter E. Washington Convention Center during TRB 2020. The 2021 Annual Meeting will look very different.

The Annual Meeting is typically a five-day conference held in January in Washington, DC. The 2021 meeting is noteworthy for two reasons: for one thing, it’s the conclusion of TRB’s Centennial Celebration, marking 100 years as an organization; and secondly, it will be fully virtual for the first time ever due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Compared to the typical experience of thousands of people roaming the Walter E. Washington Convention Center and congregating in hallways and coffee shop lines, the virtual format will be very different for TRB, and like every virtual conference, it will come with its share of adjustments—but there are advantages of the virtual format too, including lower registration fees and no travel required.

Attending the TRB Annual Meeting as a Student

The Annual Meeting is not just for seasoned professionals. Every year, students who are interested in the research side of transportation attend the conference and use the opportunity to learn more about the profession. While in a typical year, the students you meet at TRB are pretty serious about research, the 2021 Annual Meeting opens up some interesting possibilities for all students who want to learn more about transportation and otherwise might not put the time and expense into flying to Washington, D.C. for the conference.

If you’re a student who’s pursuing a transportation engineering or planning career—even if research is not your intended focus—there are a few reasons you might consider attending virtually in 2021.

1. It’s TRB’s centennial year. The 2021 Annual Meeting concludes TRB’s centennial celebration, meaning it’s a milestone in the organization’s history and the transportation profession as a whole. Read more about the centennial celebration here.

2. The virtual environment makes TRB more accessible. Perhaps you weren’t able to travel to Washington DC in January for the conference, but now you can get access to all TRB sessions by tuning in from home. The cost for attendance is lower, too: registration fee for students before November 30 is $95 for a non-member full-time student and $75 for a TRB student affiliate.

3. Attending research presentations and workshops will introduce you to the key questions our profession is asking. The research that’s currently being conducted will make its way into projects down the road, so it’s important and helpful to know what’s being discussed on the leading edge.

4. You’ll be more familiar with the Annual Meeting if you attend it in the future. If the TRB Annual Meeting goes back to in-person in January 2022 and you decide to attend then or in a future year, you’ll have a leg up because you’ll have a general idea of how the conference works and the types of events you’d like to attend.

5. You’ll have the opportunity to interact with companies and organizations you’re interested in working for. Keep reading for specifics!

Kittelson's Amanua Osafa and student friends at TRB 2020

Kittelson's Amanua Osafa and student friends at TRB 2020

Kittelson Staff Networking during TRB 2020

Kittelson Staff Networking during TRB 2020

Opportunities to Network With Potential Employers at TRB 2021

The TRB Annual Meeting is a great opportunity to make connections in the profession, and while networking takes some effort in the virtual format, TRB is building a few opportunities into the agenda. One of these events is a Careers in Motion Networking Fair. This fair will take place on Friday, January 22 and will provide the opportunity to live chat with hiring managers, learn about available opportunities, and get your resume reviewed by a human resources specialist at the Resume Critique Booth.

Additionally, from January 21-29, companies will have virtual exhibits where students can pop in and chat with representatives. This is an opportunity to have some face time, albeit virtual, with a company or organization you’re interested in learning more about. We at Kittelson are currently working on putting our virtual booth together and look forward to the interactions we’ll have there.

Stay Tuned for More Information on TRB 2021

TRB is continuing to roll out information about the 2021 Annual Meeting, and we’re all continuing to get a better idea of what the virtual conference will be like. Kittelson is assembling a “Roadmap to TRB 2021” which will contain more detailed information about navigating the virtual conference, building a TRB schedule, and maximizing networking opportunities. If you aren’t already on the list that receives our monthly newsletter and other timely tips, we invite you to sign up for TRB email updates from Kittelson to get this guide delivered to your inbox in the next few weeks.