Advice for attending your first meeting

Are you about to attend your first scientific conference? Here are some top tips to help you get the most out of it.

The early bird

A little advance planning can save you from a headache later on. When you register early for our conferences, you benefit from reduced registration rates. You also allow yourself time to apply for funding, like our Travel Grants or Grant for Carers.

Don’t forget to book yourself a hotel room early to get your first choice of accommodation. Print business cards so you’re ready to network or alternatively, bring A4 printouts of your poster and include your contact details.

Pack smart. If you’re flying, put your laptop and other critical items in your carry-on luggage. Remember to bring snacks and a jumper in case the venue is cool. Wear shoes you feel comfortable in – you’ll be on your feet a lot.

Prepare, prepare, prepare

Do your homework ahead of time so you’re not on the back foot. Look at the range of speakers attending and do a little research into the papers they’re presenting. Does anything particularly interest you? Formulate some questions ahead of time and prioritise attending those sessions.

When asking questions, remember, if it’s too long to fit into a Tweet, it’s probably better to save it for an email instead. Avoid questions that begin, “This is actually more of a comment.”

Practice your personal pitch. Memorise a short and engaging few lines to summarise your career that you can churn out over and over as needed.

Practice your presentation. The more you practice ahead of time the less likely you are to stumble. Present your research in front of your advisor or other graduate students and incorporate their feedback. Prepare ready answers to the most likely questions you will be asked. Don’t forget to make your audience aware of what career stage you’re in so they can put your research in a better context.

Embrace the chaos

Conferences are hectic and noisy affairs. Mentally prepare yourself for this, but remember you can’t do everything. Go through the conference programme ahead of time to plan your schedule and find pockets of time for breaks. Missing a few things here and there to recharge will be worth it so you can fully engage with the sessions that are most important to you.

Arrive a little early to the venue to orientate yourself to your surroundings. Try to make time for mealsdrink plenty of water and take trips to the toilet. It may sound simple, but with so much going on, this can be harder than you think. Dress comfortably but professionally with particular attention to your footwear. The more comfortable you are the more you will be able to get out of the event.

Seize the opportunity to explore the local area and attend sessions that are outside your usual area of expertise. This is your time to challenge yourself and to grow personally and professionally.

Grow your network

You’ve heard it a million times before but it’s true: you can’t underestimate the power of networking! For the less extroverted among us, this is not always easy, but the pain of stepping out of your comfort zone pays dividends later on. Effective networking can shape and strengthen your research as well as increase your visibility to prospective employers. Here are some top tips to do it well:

  • Identify a couple of people you’re interested in meeting with ahead of time and email them before the meeting. This will make connecting with them on the day much easier.
  • Update your LinkedIn / ResearchGate profile before the conference so that any new connections you make will see your latest achievements.
  • Remember that other people are feeling shy and insecure too. Help them out by being the first to say hello and start a conversation. It can be difficult but avoid hanging out with only people you know.
  • Don’t be afraid to approach your research hero or a speaker you enjoyed and pay them a specific compliment (i.e. “I really enjoyed your recent paper in Neuron about sodium channels”). They will really appreciate it and this is a great way to start a conversation. If possible, go armed with a thoughtful question and a succinct summary of your own research.
  • Try to attend as many social events as possible. Strike up a friendly conversation at a dinner or coffee queue or sitting next to someone at lunch. This is an easy way to build up your confidence and get used to introducing yourself in a relaxed environment.
  • Find something in common between yourself and others to help build relationships, e.g. mentioning a work colleague you both know or a shared research interest.
  • Attend poster sessions which are generally more relaxed and informal. If you’re presenting, don’t forget to add your email address to your poster to make it easier for others to get in touch with you.

Post conference follow-up

Make sure you maintain any new connections you’ve made after the conference. Follow up with people you’ve met by sending them a quick email and suggesting next steps. You could propose meeting for a drink or send them a copy of an article you discussed. Reply promptly to their emails and make regular contact when possible. Don’t forget to add new connections to your LinkedIn account.

Good luck with your conference. We look forward to seeing you at a future meeting!

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