Hi all! I haven’t written in some time, but a topic just came up on twitter that I really want to write about:
As a member of the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology I have so many thoughts on this, so I’m going to put them all here for easy reference. Most are relevant to other conferences too!
- Conferences, especially SICB, are endurance trials, not sprints. You learn a lot of new information, meet a lot of people, and generally are busy every waking hour (and sometimes later) for five days straight. Don’t be afraid to take a break if you need one. You don’t have to go to every session, and you may even process all of the new stimuli better if you take some time to decompress and organize your thoughts.
- NB: Your advisor may want you to go to some specific things… you should probably do that.
- Go to talks outside of your area of expertise. You may not understand everything, but you will inevitably be exposed to new ideas and ways of thinking about familiar concepts. Some of my best “big picture” ideas are the result of exposing myself to lots of diverse topics. Are you a swimming biomechanist like me? Maybe check out a bee talk. Really interested in cnidarian phylogenies? Maybe try something on community ecology. You never know. Go to whatever looks interesting.
- Bring a note-taking device and a note holding receptacle. I know some people swear by digital devices–tablets and laptops. I prefer a paper notebook and pen: I find the lack of internet lets me focus on the talks, and I never need an outlet. I write notes on interesting findings and methods, and write down names and contact information of people I meet or want to meet. (Pro-tip: This makes it easier to follow up with people after–see below.)
- Meet new people outside of your lab group/ institution. Do it. This may be the single most important thing you can do at a conference. If you’re shy like me, this may be challenging, but you can always ask for an introduction from someone you trust. As long as you’re polite, you probably won’t run into trouble.
- DO NOT EAT ALONE. This is the single thing that makes me most sad and upset at conferences. Seeing a group of friends going off to eat, and then having to sit by myself with whatever terrible food I find is no fun. Invite yourself along with others if you have to. I volunteer to eat with you if you are going to be alone. You can always leave early if you want alone time later…
- Follow up with people about a week after the conference. If someone introduces you to someone else, say thank you. If you get introduced to someone, follow up with them. If someone’s research was really interesting, and you want to know more–or just want to let them know it was awesome–FOLLOW UP. It’ll help people remember who you are, and being courteous and appreciative is a good thing.
- Bring extra back ups of your talk/poster. Just do it. A USB takes up no space, and you’ll be glad you did in case of emergency.
That’s off the top of my head for now… What are your tips for new conference goers? Did I miss anything?