21 June 2013

Making the most of your conference experience.

I sat next to an undergrad on the shuttle from the airport to the meeting site for Evolution 2013 this afternoon. My first Evolution meeting was in 2003 in lovely Chico, California, and I've attended this meeting nearly every year since (I've been to Botany and Ecology on occasion, too). I'm acutely aware now how much my conference experience has changed over the years. It's overwhelming at times to sort through the myriad talks offered concurrently, and the undergrad with whom I spoke was appreciative to hear a few ways to think about strategizing his conference experience.

My post yesterday mentioned three basic goals for any conference as instructed by my PhD advisor. In case you're interested in more, here you go: conference philosophy and practice.

  1. I spent approximately half of my first Evolution meeting running between buildings to try and catch talks in different sessions. That was a practice which quickly fell away. Now I pick one session in each time block, arrive a bit early, and sit through the whole thing (this is also in part because I knit and sometimes use my laptop to take notes, as I've mentioned before). 
  2. How do you choose which sessions? Sometimes it's obvious, and sometimes it's not. If you have a few friends with similar interests, I like division of labor: go to different sessions and compare notes later.
  3. Choosing sessions part 2: Go to talks given by people you know (but see #4 below). Going to someone's talk, especially if they're a new friend, can be an effective way to show interest in their research. Sometimes grad students and undergrads appreciate having friendly faces in the audience, so it is a nice show of support.
  4. Choosing sessions part 3: Albert Meier, one of my undergraduate mentors, told me you shouldn't go to a talk given by someone with whom you work (or have worked in the past). Basically, you should probably already know about their research, or feel comfortable asking them about it. Use your time to seek out folks unknown to you, or people you would like to meet. (Note: I prefer this strategy to #3)
  5. Pace yourself. I've dealt with social anxiety at various points of time over the last decade, and sometimes I can't handle too much socializing with new people. I make sure I can retreat to a corner of the venue, take a walk outside, visit my room, or otherwise recharge.
  6. Use technology and informal events to your advantage. There are often announcements or informal gatherings organized on the fly. Also check the job/announcement bulletin boards for opportunities to score field trip/banquet tickets, etc.
There's lots more I could write, including many issues related to large-scale conventions (for an example, see this entry on con crud). As with anything, your personal preferences may vary.

I think I'm supposed to be doing something with a conference somewhere RIGHT NOW, though...

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