Best part of doing a PhD? Conferences! When you finally manage to do some meaningful research, it’s time to present it to a wider audience. In other words, pack your suitcases and bon voyage! I know that attending conferences might be a bit overwhelming in the beginning, so here are a few tips to make the most of them.
- Find a good conference. If you’re as lucky as I am and have a great supervisor, she or he will suggest interesting events to you. Otherwise you’ll need to do the work yourself. However, at Imperial we’re flooded with e-mails advertising scientific events, there’s also Google and your colleagues who can give you some advice. Personally I like to choose small conferences where you can actually talk to other participants, but you’ll need to figure out yourself what you prefer.
- Send your abstract before the deadline. Yes, I mean it – even if you think you aren’t ready, apply to give a talk or present a poster. Some conferences are pretty competetive, so don’t worry if you get rejected (it happened to me many times in my first year). If they accept you though, get preparing! I already wrote a few words about giving oral presentations, hope that helps. For the poster, one important thing: make sure the airline you’re flying with is ok with a poster tube (Ryanair isn’t). Otherwise I strongly recommend a poster printed on a fabric, you’ll definitely get attention of other participants 🙂
- At the actual event it might seem hat it’s obligatory to attend every single talk you possibly can. Don’t even try… After one day you’ll be exhausted and you won’t understand a word, trust me. It’s ok to skip some talks that don’t seem interesting so that you can fully focus on the ones you really want to hear. Having said that, don’t stick to the topics you feel comfortable with. Ask around, maybe there’s an excellent speaker coming up who can introduce you to a completely new field? Broaden your horizons, seriously! You’ll have enough time during your PhD to focus on your tiny area.
- Talks, presentations… they’re all important. But conferences are all about networking! I always get excited when I can see faces hiding behind names I know from the key papers in my field. Coffee breaks, dinners, informal chats – you can learn way more talking to people than sitting in lectures. And make great friends, that happened to me already 🙂
Most importantly, have fun! Make sure you learn new things, but also that you enjoy the experience. Spend as much time with other participants as possible, join the trips, conference dinner, visit local attractions in your free time. I like to add the weekend to my stay at the conference venue, to get a mini-vacation. This way I visited Paris, Vienna, Copenhagen, Philadelphia… Trust me, you want other researchers to remember you as a cheerful young scientist, not an exhausted zombie. This will pay off in the future.