Hi everyone. Today I would like to give some advice for attending your first conference a.k.a how to manage 2-3 very intense days:
Plan your sessions and have priorities
In my opinion, the most important lesson I have learned over the last years is that it is very important to plan your conference day and therefore the sessions you want to attend. Luckily, in the age of smartphones, many big conferences have great apps helping you to schedule your day. I really want to recommend the SIOP App here, as it is very useful to manage your conference day during SIOP. However, I learned one important lesson during SIOP 2016 in Dublin: smartphones batteries are not everlasting and my phone was already out of charge after lunch. My problem was that I organized my complete day with the app and made myself completely dependent on my phone. So I would strongly recommend to use the SIOP App but I would always note down the key lectures/sessions with location and time point on a good old piece of paper.
“The main reason for a congress is to meet and discuss with your colleagues, so please talk to the people and ask about their research”
Another thing I had to learn is something I call the Candy Store Effect: Just like a child left alone in a candy store, the selection of interesting sessions at a conference can be overwhelming. Conference days are long. This is why it can be very exhausting when someone tries to attend as many sessions as possible. Therefore, it is very important to evaluate priorities based on your personal field of interest. Unfortunately, it is not possible for you to attend every session of a conference and this is why you should plan ahead and find out in which sessions you think you can learn the most. Sometimes – if there is time – I always try to join sessions I am not familiar with in order to broaden my scope as I believe that you can learn most from things outside of your comfort zone. Sometimes, sessions which are unrelated to my filed help me receiving new inputs as well as a fresh point of view on my professional knowledge.
In case you are presenting a poster or giving a talk you should always store a backup version of your presentation online somewhere in a cloud network. Also, it happened countless times that people forgot their poster on the plane, a train or a taxi. If this happens, you should be prepared and have a DINA4 version of your poster with you on a USB stick so that you are still able to print it at a local copy shop.
Pack for your day
Every congress venue is different and so lunch and coffee options vary. You never know if there will be time for a decent lunch or a coffee break, as you can easily be interrupted. For Example: You just wanted to grab a sandwich right between two sessions and all of a sudden, you meet your former mentor in the hall. Five minutes of chatting later it already happened – you are too late for your next session and still did not manage to get yourself a decent lunch. Therefore, always bring an emergency snack (cereal bars, chocolate, fruit etc.) and some water with you to the conference. Trust me, nobody likes you being hungry at a conference. Next to this, some conference venues do not have free coffee, so always have some local currency with you.
Poster sessions are the place to be
From my experience, poster sessions represent the best opportunity to get in contact with other colleagues. The poster presenter is there to speak about his/her research and this is your chance to meet and discuss with the people actually conducting the research in a relaxed atmosphere without the time limitation of a discussion during a session. So take the chance and join poster sessions. I normally try to make a Top 10 of posters I really want to see which are based on the abstract book before attending the conference and try to talk to the presenters. (One little hint: Do not just awkwardly try to take a picture of the poster without talking to the presenters – take the chance and make contact with them).
In general, as my last advice is that I would recommend everyone to not be afraid to approach people (it doesn’t matter if junior or senior researcher) during congresses. The main reason for a congress is to meet and discuss with your colleagues, so please talk to the people and ask about their research. Trust me, everyone loves talking about their research.
With this, I hope I could give you some advice on how to survive your first conference and I hope to see and meet you in the fall of 2017 during the next SIOP meeting J