There’s a lot to think about when attending an academic conference. From keeping track of a jam-packed schedule and navigating unfamiliar event halls to making the most of networking opportunities and setting up future collaborations, it can be easy to feel a bit overwhelmed when it comes to taking advantage of all the chances for furthering your academic career. To help, we’ve put this list together of what you should avoid when attending your next conference (and what you should focus on instead).
Don’t come unprepared
Conferences can be multi-day events filled with different halls each with their own events, panels, and talks. To ensure you make the most of your time it’s important that you examine the program in advance. Make a note of the presenters you recognize and search for panels with engaging topics to put together a schedule of the events you plan on attending. Consider reaching out to certain researchers a few weeks before the conference to book in a one-on-one discussion. After all, conferences are a great place to meet and catch up with colleagues, so free time fills up fast!
Don’t be scared of meeting new people
One of the key advantages of attending conferences is being able to meet people who are doing exciting research face-to-face. Talking to presenters and seeking out people doing research in your field after panels and during coffee breaks is the perfect way to make contact with people who may one day be adjudicating your work or collaborating with you on a project. If small talk isn’t your thing, come prepared with a few talking points so that you can easily make the transition from initial introductions to more meaningful discussions. This can include the research being presented, the interests of your conversation partner, and panels that you’ve already attended.
Don’t neglect conference and panel etiquette
It takes a lot of preparation to successfully deliver a presentation. Because of this, it’s important to be respectful when attending talks and panels. Whenever possible, arrive on time and stay for the entire discussion. If you absolutely must come late or leave early, be sure to wait for a break in between speakers to avoid distracting someone mid-presentation. If you are planning on staying for the entire event, consider leaving the aisle seats open for those who may need to leave quickly and quietly during the talk.
When it comes to Q&A sessions after presentations or panels always try and keep questions short and sweet. This is the time to get clarification or offer polite critiques about a particular speaker’s research. It is not, however, the time to demonstrate your own knowledge or give a long comment about your research or opinions, which can be discussed one-on-one with the presenter afterwards. Asking a question, even with a brief introduction for context, should take no more than 30 seconds at most; you can help stick to this limit by writing your questions down in advance to ensure that they are clear and to the point.
Don’t forget to enjoy yourself
Overall, it’s important not to let the points mentioned above get in the way of enjoying the conference. Outside of the program, many conferences offer social events, physical activities, and outings to local sights allow attendees to make the most of their time at the conference and in a new city. Make the most of these to take a break from the buzz of the conference and rejuvenate yourself for more action as the conference progresses.
Conferences are exciting places where new discoveries are announced, collaborations blossom, and scientific advancement are pushed forward. Going into a conference with a positive attitude and open mind will not only help you expand your knowledge, but may also provide you with invaluable opportunities to make new connections for future collaborations.
Image credit: The Climate Reality Project