I had a series of thoughts while flying back from a conference this past weekend. There weren’t too many students attending from my university, and moreover, there were not too many early-stage graduate students attending either. I started thinking about why this is and then proceeded to ponder this topic during the rest of my plane ride. I wanted to share the main thoughts that came from this flight.
To preface, I’ve been fortunate to be able to attend quite a few conferences as both an undergrad and in my 1st and 2nd year of graduate school. I realize that none of those opportunities would have been possible without the encouragement and financial support of my lab, student travel grants, and training grants. I feel very lucky to have had access to these resources.
Why should I attend conferences?
Conferences can vary from research area, size, etc., but the overall goal of these meetings is to communicate and share within the scientific community. In addition to this, I’ve found these venues to be great in facilitating the following:
These meetings often bring in people from all around the world and many leaders in the field. It’s an amazing opportunity to chat with people over the coffee breaks and discuss ideas and questions in person. Sending a formal email to someone can sound intimidating, but a casual chat over coffee breaks down the barrier of formality and offers the opportunity for lively discussions and even potential collaborations. At a summer workshop, I got to meet the authors of an impactful paper that is closely related to my own research. This meeting provided additional insight into our current project, and the discussions provided valuable information that we would not have gleaned from the original paper.
Research feedback and perspective
At most meetings, you’ll have the opportunity to present your own research either as a poster or an oral presentation. This is a valuable opportunity to get feedback on your work from others outside of your research group. Additionally, it’s useful to see how your research fits into the overall bigger picture of the field. Oftentimes, we’re most familiar with the closely related work, but it’s remarkable seeing how everything is linked together, and this provides an oftentimes refreshing perspective.
Talking to industry members
Some might think that conferences are just for those who are currently in academia or want to purse academia. However, many researchers and executives in the industry also attend conferences. If you’re interested in working in the industry, conferences are a great opportunity to chat with these researchers and learn about their work. At multiple venues, I’ve connected with industry professionals which eventually led to internship offers.
Conferences are also a wonderful opportunity to see the world and have a little fun while you work. When traveling to New York for a meeting, I stopped by the Lincoln Center to see a performance by the New York City Ballet. In my wildest dreams, I never thought I’d have the opportunity to actually be in NY to see a show! As a self-proclaimed ‘foodie’, it’s also a great opportunity to try some new food. (Chicago has had the best so far!)