A Few Words on the Return of In-Person Conferences

white wooden rectangular table

With the return of in-person conferences coming in hot, there are some things that can be easily looked over or forgotten. I recently attended my first two in-person conferences of grad school. Below you’ll find a list of things that I found helped (or maybe that I had forgotten) during these events.

  • Don’t be afraid to sit alone. Whether it be at a meal or before a talk, if you aren’t the type of person to break the ice, don’t feel pressured into having to ask someone to sit with them. Even if you are typically an outgoing individual, you don’t always have to be the first one to introduce yourself. I met some of the best people from taking a seat at an empty table and having others come up to ask if they could snag a seat next to me.
  • Don’t be afraid to sit with someone else. On the reverse, if you see a group of people who pique your interest, you can absolutely make the move to ask to sit with them! Remember, everyone is in the same situation and most likely hasn’t been to a conference recently. A lot of trainees have been lacking in the area of networking and social interactions over the last few years, so we’re all a bit rusty.
  • Check the weather for wherever you’re going. Nothing is worse than being uncomfortable in what you’re wearing during a time where you might already be a little stressed. Be sure to check the weather while packing to ensure the elements don’t one-up you.
  • Pack for free time. Also regarding packing for a trip, pack at least one non-business attire outfit for if you have some free time. Speaking from personal experience, you don’t want to be walking a few miles through a garden in your dress clothes while you wait to leave for your flight. Even if you don’t end up using the outfit, you won’t be upset for being over-prepared.
  • Bring a leisure reading book. It’s okay to not be tuned into science for 24-hours a day while you’re at a conference. In fact, it might be better to take a brain break every now and again. Plus, who doesn’t love a good airport read?
  • Don’t feel obligated to do work while there. Remember that you’re at the conference to learn, so you don’t want to miss the opportunity to soak it all in. It’s easy to get caught up in all the PI’s on their laptops – checking emails, writing manuscripts and grants, or scrolling through PubMed. I’m not saying you have to fall off the grid completely, but it’s reasonable to ask to miss a lab meeting or class while attending a conference if you feel comfortable doing so.
  • Practice your elevator pitch of your research. Before arriving at the conference, it wouldn’t hurt to do a few quick run-throughs of your elevator pitch so that you have your personal introduction down. A good outline would be [Greeting] + [Your Name] + [Your Position/Title] + [Where you work] + [1 sentence summary of your research].
  • If there is a Slack channel or online platform, use it to network. With hybrid conferences becoming the newest normal, I often find organizers will use Slack or some other platform so that attendees can engage whether in-person or virtual. Use this to your advantage and post in the introductions channel. Feel free to include things like a fun fact about yourself, if you’re currently searching for a new position, or a shameless plug for people to come see your poster/talk. That’s what these platforms are for!
  • Keep track of who you meet and interact with. Often conferences will have a list of attendees and their contact information as a part of the abstract book. Feel free to jot down notes there about who you meet during the conference so you remember when the conference wraps up. For shorter conferences it might not be such an issue to remember people’s names, but for longer conferences it becomes increasingly difficult to remember all of those conversations.
  • Send your invitations to connect in a timely manner. Once the conference concludes, be sure to send your LinkedIn or email invitations to keep in contact with all the new connections you made. The networking aspect of being in-person is definitely richer than what we’ve had access to online, so make the most out of all of your interactions.
  • Take time to recharge your social battery. After a few years of isolation, it’s easy to feel drained more quickly than we used to. Feel free to take some time to yourself if you feel tired or over-stimulated without judging yourself for feeling that way. A few minutes of quiet can be more beneficial than going to that extra workshop or staying out late after dinner.

Published by Rachel Gilmore

Rachel is a third year PhD candidate in the Biomedical Science program at UConn Health. She studies a rare neurodevelopmental disorder, Prader-Willi Syndrome, using stem cell and stem cell-derived neuron models. Outside of lab, she enjoys hiking, yoga, good food, lots of coffee, and snuggling with her cat.

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