I love going to conferences. They are totally overwhelming, but if you recognize that you can’t do everything all the time, they are completely reinvigorating. After some traumatic conference experiences, I have come up with a short list of tips on how to get the most fun and benefit from attending a conference.
- Plan ahead. Generally, big conferences will have a lot of different talks all happening at once, and trying to pick which sessions to attend can be overwhelming. Go through the schedule for each day, and pick out the talks that sound interesting. Then, divide them into “must see!” and “would like to see.” Prioritizing which talks really matter makes it easier on days when you’re just too plumb tired to pick out only the good stuff.
- Make room in your schedule for “re-charge” time. Whether you just sneak off to a quiet corner to read, or skip an entire morning to check out the city (heck, I went to an art museum once, just to get a break), the time off will be well worth it. It sounds really silly ““ why pay so much money for a conference when you’re just going to miss part of it ““ but your (or at least my) brain needs that time off. Otherwise, everything just sort of blends into one overwhelming mass of academic goo. It’s like stepping in tar.
- But don’t plan too much! I know, I know, I dedicated my first two points entirely to planning and now I’m all “ah, not too much.” But here’s the thing ““ conferences are sort of organic beings. You’ll run into old acquaintances and make new ones. Unexpected social and networking opportunities will come up. Heck, the whole energy of the conference may shift from listening to talks to chatting in the hallways. Just go with the flow ““ you’ll meet some cool people and learn some awesome, relevant things (usually).
- Don’t put too much on your plate. Conferences are extremely tiring things. You must be always on ““ always taking in information, always ready to meet someone, always on the move. So while there are a lot of great ways to spend time, make sure you’re not spending too much of it.
- If you’re talking or presenting a poster, prepare way in advance and get lots of practice. I know it sounds like complete common sense (and it is), but sometimes, people come in the conference expecting to work on their talk in the evenings. I am sure you can make time to work on stuff, but honestly, there’ll already be a lot going on and you’ll be tired. If possible, bring the finished product (with practice!) to the conference, and don’t think about it too much until it goes from Future Issue to Situation Imminent.
- Bring comfortable walking shoes and a sweater. It gets cold in convention centers and trust me, you’ll be doing a lot of walking.
What are your experiences? Got any tips?