Hi everyone! It’s been a while. Today I wanted to take advantage of the fact that currently we’re in the middle of the conference season and share some of my previous experiences of attending a scientific conference. At the beginning of October, I attended my first in-person conference (DPS 2022) in over two years, and that naturally got me comparing my experiences attending a virtual vs. an in-person conference. And so, that’s what today’s blog is about, along with some tips I’ve gathered either from my peers or my experience over the years that I’d like to share.
I didn’t realize until I was back at a conference in person (at my first DPS even), just how much I’d missed the whole vibe (or just how much of ‘conferencing’ I was missing out on! Gathertown is great and all, but nothing beats being surrounded by the physical presence of other science-loving folks)!
Anyways, let’s get started with some of the obvious, but sometimes forgotten tips!
practice your Talk
This sounds like a very obvious and somewhat silly tip but I do think it’s an important one. Practising your talk/elevator pitch at least once not only helps you realize how you’re doing time-limit-wise (trust me, you do not want to be that person who goes way beyond the designated time) but personally, it also helps boost my confidence to talk in front of a large group of people. In the past, I used to practice my talk in front of my peers (who were familiar with my science) of course, but also my parents who didn’t know pretty much anything about my work. The reason for doing this is to get a diverse set of opinions on how your talk sounds. It’s often been either my parents or my brother who would give me pointers for parts of my talk that for lack of a better term, were my blindspots!
Over the years I’ve come to realize that conferences can be crazy.. crazy fun but also crazy busy! If you are someone like me who finds peace in planned and organized days, this is very important. Instead of feeling like you’re running a week-long marathon without any preparation (looking at you 20 years old me :P), looking up the conference schedule ahead of time, and making a list of talks/events you’re interested in attending can actually enhance your conference experience. However, it is very important to realize that you can’t do everything. Instead, prioritize what’s important to you and focus on enjoying those events/talks.
Speaking of prioritizing what’s important, networking is important! Some would argue, even more so than the talks and posters. It took me a while to get over my social anxieties and to approach someone who is practically a stranger at a conference. However, when I compare my first-ever conference (back in 2017 I believe) networking experience (or lack thereof) with my most recent DPS networking experience, I’ve definitely improved quite a lot over time. I’ve also realized that instead of spending all my time attending talks, I should allot equal time for socializing at a conference as well. Especially with other grad students! You never know, they might end up being your future colleagues haha! One great tip/trick that I learned from one of my peers is that instead of crossing this hurdle alone, take advantage of the fact that you’re attending a conference with your friends/labmates. Attach yourself to one of your more seasoned colleagues if you can and they can introduce you to people they know. Similarly, this trick works with a supervisor as well who might be able to introduce you to someone with similar science interests or backgrounds. This is especially helpful for grad students and early-career scientists, I think.
Getting involved (volunteering and outreach)
This is another and in my opinion slightly easier way to network with different people at a conference, especially as a grad student. Volunteering for both the DPS conference itself and the associated outreach activities gave me plenty of chances to talk to new people from different backgrounds and even age groups. Because I was helping out at a registration booth, I had a better idea of who is attending the conference (especially people with similar research backgrounds/or whose work sounded interesting to me), so it was easier to find them later to have some conversations. Plus, because they’d seen me work at the registration booth before, introducing myself/the initial small talk wasn’t as awkward as I usually find it to be.
Explore beyond your field
This one is kind of an extension of my previous point about connecting with a diverse group of people. Though to be completely honest, this DPS was probably the first conference where I’ve actively paid more attention to other planetary bodies and their cool science. While it may not always turn into a perfect collaboration, exploring beyond your own field can definitely open doors for future projects, job-funding opportunities etc. And if nothing else, at least you got to learn something new haha!
For my Past self and my future self
And lastly, just a couple of things that I would like to tell the younger me: There’s always someone better than you so don’t compare yourself with others. Don’t let the imposter syndrome win! And more importantly, do NOT miss out on all that conference swag haha!
To my future self, I’d like to say: Don’t be afraid of asking questions. It doesn’t need to be in front of a crowd, at least find a chance to have a 1 on 1 conversation instead.
Well, that’s all I have in terms of conference tips for now. Hopefully, I can add more to this topic as I gradually increase my own experience of attending scientific conferences.
Until next time!