5 reasons to attend a conference
07 Jun 2019
There’s a whole slew of reasons why you might be asked to go to a conference – or why you might be thinking of heading to a conference yourself. Normally, if your supervisor or boss is trying to get you to go, they’ll hit you with phrases like “it’ll be good experience to present your work” or “you’ll get exposure to a wider variety of research.”
It doesn’t make a conference sound that exciting does it? I know from my personal experience that if someone tells me something will be ‘a good experience to have’ or something will be ‘good for the CV’ then I instantly switch off to the idea.
Maybe you’re on the fence about attending the conference? Maybe you aren’t sure if it’s worth your time? My advice is to go for it, and not just because there’s free food and drink. I’ve got a plate-full of reasons why you should go to that conference you’ve been considering, so here’s my top five (that you probably won’t hear from your supervisor)!
Number 1: It makes you excited about science
For me, the PhD has been a long road full of ups and downs – and I know it’s the same for a lot of us. You can probably relate, some days you’re excited to run your experiments or do your work, but then there are other days where you’re really dragging yourself out of bed to get to the office that morning. Nothing gets me from one side of that hump to the other like getting immersed in a conference! I couldn’t even tell you what exactly it is about the conference: maybe it’s just being totally surrounded by science, maybe it’s hearing other people’s success stories (and even hearing about other people’s failures can help!)
Whatever it is, if you need a kickstart to being enthusiastic about your work again, a conference will do the trick!
Number 2: You get a day out of the lab/office
Science is well-known for going hand in hand with workplace burnout. You might not be able to take a holiday right now, or it might not seem worth it to take the day off, so how about a change of scenery whilst still doing something relative to your work?
Depending on the conference, you can vary from a day at a conference centre, to a whole week at a hotel! Not to mention you might be able to travel. Here’s my pro tip: take your gym gear, swimming costume, or whatever else you might need to make use of the facilities at the hotel whilst you’re there!
Number 3: Networking (AKA making friends whilst stood near a poster)
Stay with me for a moment here – I know that ‘networking’ is one of those scary buzz words that everyone throws out when they’re talking about conferences, but I’m hoping I can change your perception of the word!
For me, networking is about making friends with other people in a similar situation to me. Sure, you might get a chance to meet some of the big-wigs in your field or to schmooze some industry reps for a discounted rate, but 90% of what you’ll be doing is grabbing a coffee (or wine?) with someone and chatting about the talks, the lovely Hawaiian weather, how much you’re enjoying not being in the office, or something like that! I’ve made lifelong friends at conferences – a shameless plug for SfAM’s ECS Symposiums!
Number 4: You get to find out what parts of science you might like, and what parts you don’t
OK, moving away from the wine and the pool and the fact that my imaginary conference is somehow an all-expenses paid trip to Hawaii, and back to the science. The great thing about a conference – no matter the size – is that it’s full of people working on science you might be interested in. Watching their talks and looking at their posters is a great way to find out whether that’s something you might be interested in doing at some point, or if you’d really rather not.
As a side note on this point, it’s also a great way to gauge what makes a good presentation or poster. Every conference has good or bad talks, so even if you’re not presenting anything at this conference, you can make a mental note of what works and what doesn’t for later!
Number 5: You never know what opportunities will come up!
A lot of conferences these days will have great resources for finding job opportunities and new positions. There’s also that networking thing I mentioned earlier – you never what the person you’re grabbing a sandwich with will know about opportunities for collaboration, funding, or work! You might even find some non-scientific opportunities – the person whose poster is next to yours might be making looking for a tennis partner, or someone to play Dungeons and Dragons with, or be just desperate to find a fourth person for their bobsled team! You might even meet the love of your life, locking eyes across the conference dinnertable.