Tips for navigating an academic conference
Scientific conferences can be overwhelming, especially if you are a first time attendee. Here are some tips that will help you organize your time and provide you some guidance on ways to maximize this experience!
1. Have a plan/Do your homework
This might seem like a no-brainer, but turning up without a plan at a big event is quite common than you think. Don’t do it. Most conference websites have an online agenda, which adds to the convenience of chalking out an itinerary. Focus your time on topics or presenters who share your interest. Also, have a backup plan ready in case a presentation is cancelled or a speaker is unable to attend, which is rare, but does happen.
2. Ask questions/Participate/Interact
Conferences are perfect occasions for like-mined people to interact, exchange ideas and ask questions. There is no such thing as stupid question, so don’t be shy! This might be your chance to communicate with nationally known leaders in your field of research or profession. Keep your questions relevant and brief, and instead of commenting try to open a dialogue.
3. Take time to visit the exhibit hall
The exhibit hall offers you an opportunity to explore new technologies and also browse research and educational resources. And collect swag, too! This is also the perfect opportunity to network and meet new people. Bring along plenty of business cards, as you never know who might ask for one. Take quick notes after you meet new people, as this will come in handy later (see Tip # 5).
4. Attend social events
Most conferences have sponsored socials and receptions hosted by exhibitors. Instead of retreating to your hotel room after the conference, try attending some of these events (add the list of interesting socials to your itinerary; see Tip # 1). This is a great chance to follow-up with a speaker or presenter and interact with your peers at a personal level. You might establish new connections this way, and even lay the foundation for future collaborations.
5. Follow up with conference attendees
Use your meeting notes to follow-up, with the people you met at the conference, with an email or send an invitation to connect on professional networking sites. These notes will help you to break the ice and keep the dialogue rolling. Keep it simple, and don’t wait too long.
P.S.: Don’t forget to have fun and make the most out of this opportunity. And last but definitely not the least, wear comfortable shoes!