Apologies in advance for this one - I'm writing it the day after a convention so it is likely that I'll be rambling a bit.
Ad Astra 2016 marks the first event I've attended as a writer, whatever that means. I have some publications under my belt, feeling pretty good about my skills thus far, though I'm definitely going to keep at it.
That being said, there are definitely some major things to consider about this. Ad Astra had some real good things to it, some real awesome panels. One thing to remember though is that each of those panels may not have a direct pay-off for you. Whether it is because they are about a topic that you feel like you've mastered, or it is because it is about a genre you aren't really digging, that doesn't mean it isn't for you. A lot of panels tend to meander around topics you weren't expecting, and you never know what is going to trigger an idea you hadn't thought of.
The biggest value probably has nothing to do with the panels and direct learning opportunities when you're at the stage I'm at in my career. I definitely went to those panels, and felt like I learned stuff, but the value was far more from networking and meeting other people who were also trying to navigate their way through a career in the arts.
I'm a big fan of exporting lessons from one industry to another, and I was pumped to see that there was some of that going on. I met writers who had mentors and mentees that included how to run their business and more. There was a lot of networking going on, and that definitely felt like the biggest value that I can point to the day after and go "yes, this is a thing I got out of this."
I think that the lesson here is even if you're a writer, a career/life that many of us choose in part because we aren't outgoing, you need to get out there. Meeting new authors is one of the best ways to test yourself, your writing, and get that much better.