Since our original “how to” post on conferences, our correspondents have attended several academic meetings and are ready to deliver a Master class in making the most out of your conference experience. Some of these tips will feel reminiscent of advice given from before, however new caveats and twists add dimension on how to put your best attendee foot forward.
Prep: Your first battles will begin far before you walk through doors of the conference hall. Once you have signed up for the meeting (hopefully at least a month in advance), you will be bombarded with emails from conference organizers asking for feedback and abstracts, while giving information on special sessions they will provide. Do NOT ignore these emails, because the information provided can determine whether you win your poster session or miss that special guest lecturer you didn’t know was coming. On a similar note, try to get your hands on the meeting schedule as soon as it becomes available online. In recent years scheduling has become far simpler, however, as several of the larger meetings have embraced millennial culture by creating phone apps to help you organize your time. Definitely find out if your conference offers an app, because the calendar alerts will help keep you organized and plan ahead (frankly a much easier way of organizing than flipping through a 50 page packet with a sharpie).
Accommodation: The organizers will typically provide you with information on booking hotels nearby (or the meeting will be in one); usually at reduced rates. These rates do not last up until the day of the meeting, however, so book ahead of time. Sometimes you can find even better deals yourself on sites like airBNB, so shop around for whatever will work best for your budget.
Leaving your mark: OK, you are in the conference, have your schedule planned out, and grabbed your access pass. Now the real challenge begins – NETWORKING. In our first post we talked having the courage to speak to fellow attendees and reach out to speakers that interest you. Here we suggest you take that one step (or a few) further. Great ways to connect with people even after the conference is over is through social media like Twitter, Linkedin, or hell even Instagram. You can integrate all these social media in an easily shareable way by placing them onto a business card. To many scientists and graduate students the idea of a business card may seem stuffy and corporate. However, having them on hand does makes you appear more professional. Some institutions may even give them to you at a reduced rate or free. Further, they provide an opportunity to be creative and show your personality. If you can afford it, use a custom template or create design to help you stand out from the crowd. You never know; a conversation could turn into a job opportunity, and having a business card on hand will impress them as well as keep you in their minds once the conference ends.
Special Events: Yes, you should aim to attend all of the events that interest you, but some of them will not be open to general attendees. These special events may require early sign-up before the conference or have limited seating once you arrive. They tend to be advertised in emails or special sections of the program before the start of the meeting. They can include internship fairs, mentor-mentee lunches, writing workshops, and the like. These sessions usually include more active learning/interaction, helping add an extra layer of dimension to the conference experience.
The Expo Hall: If your conference has one, it can wind up being one of the most fun/engaging space of the whole event. And funny enough, since formal talks may not happen there, you could overlook it entirely. The expo will have booths from various organizations displaying their work and the potential opportunities they provide. Better yet, creative folks will have booths selling science jewelry, books, mugs, shirts, and more. Basically, it can turn into science Etsy fair, with unique items you would likely not find anywhere else ( I got to try VR at my last one). Occasionally there will stalls where more informal talks take place as well as interactive activities you can take part in. Just be careful about your wallet, because all the creative crafts might leave your broke.
Tweet: Yes, I mentioned twitter in the previous blurb, but frankly it deserves it’s own box. Most, if not all academic conferences will have their own @, hashtag, or both. You can use twitter to promote the meeting to your followers, let people know you are in attendance, and network with other attendees. When you hear a cool talk, tweet about it. When a special session leaves you feeling motivated, @ the meeting and let them know. This helps give a sense of community within the conference as well as lets organizers know what they are doing right. To be honest, normally I hate twitter. It can get very negative very fast, and sometimes I feel we would all be better off without it. However, the science twitter community is uplifting and supportive. It’s a great avenue to discover opportunities, cultivate ideas, and foster friendships with fellow scientists and communicators across the globe.
So now with the tools talked about here and our previous post, you are more than ready to tackle whatever these meetings throw at you. Just remember to be present, open, and most of all try to have fun!