After a 2 year break I’m back at EGU16 for the 3rd time and this time I’m here as a postdoc in a new research area. I love the EGU General Assembly conference and community – especially for Early Career Scientists (ECS) they provide a lot of support. However going to a conference this big (>10,000 participants) can be daunting, overwhelming and exhausting. I know that EGU provides a guide on how to navigate EGU and you can find more information here: http://www.egu.eu/ecs/at-the-assembly/
Instead of a guide I thought I highlight 5 conference Dos that’ll hopefully help make your conference experience even better
- Pre-conference networking
If you’re not on social media I suggest you think about getting active on one of the many platforms. There are great articles out there why you should consider Twitter (http://www.melkettle.com/2015/07/why-academics-and-researchers-should-be-using-twitter/ and http://deevybee.blogspot.co.uk/2011/06/gentle-introduction-to-twitter-for.html).
I have to say for research networking and outreach Twitter is my weapon of choice. When you register for a conference find out if it has a # (e.g. #EGU16) and start tweeting that you are attending and start searching Twitter for the # to see who else is going. This is a great way to get some initial contacts and it’ll make it easier to go up and talk to someone or even arrange to meet for a coffee. My experience this year: I met Laura Roberts-Artal, EGU’s very own communications officer. I managed to arrange a meeting with her to learn about Twitter analytics but already at the ice breaker she spotted my name and said Hi. I also met Steven Gibbons – who I have been following on Twitter for a while and we had planned to meet for coffee but during one of the poster sessions I saw his name and just went up and said Hi and we had a wee chat about the conference. There where also spontaneous invitations for coffee via Twitter and even a Tweet-up was organised.
If you’re not on social media and don’t want to use it, another good way – but a little less spontaneous is email. Once the conference releases its programme see who you would like to meet or you would like to invite to see your poster or talk. Then email them directly asking for a short meeting or telling them the details of your presentation. Make sure to tell them why you think they should come. Just before EGU13 I applied for a job with the British Geological Survey and I managed to have a quick meeting with my potential managers about the post and of course about myself. It definitely helped me during the interview to have met two people before.
2. Plan your programme but be flexible
Big conferences will publish the program online in advance for you to have a look at. At this point think about a conference “strategy” – What do you want to get out of the conference: Networks, feedback, research ideas, a postdoc? Then start planning your schedule around this goal. I love that EGU has an app for scheduling which really helps. See what session you’re presenting in and what else is going on in the same session or related sessions by the same group or division. However – also look through the rest of the programme and see what titles catch your eye. Sometimes a keyword search can help find talks that you might have missed. It’s also good to mix it up since insight or ideas sometimes come from unrelated research areas. If possible also try to attend networking events and talks or short courses that will teach you something new or just sound like fun. EGU can be overwhelming with >4000 talks and >6000 posters and PICO presentations. Luckily it’s divided into the Divisions and themes e.g. Outreach, education, and media. If there are 2 sessions parallel don’t be afraid to leave one sessions to attend a talk in another session.
3. Presenting (talk or poster)
If you got selected to present a talk make sure you know the time allowed for your talk and practice it before to make sure you are within the allowed time. Firstly this is good practice and should be kept up until you retire and secondly if you run over most conveners won’t allow time for questions – and since you’re presenting your work for feedback, insight and advice you are missing out on a great opportunity to discuss your work. For example at EGU the talks are split into 12min presentation + 3min questions.
If you’re presenting a poster be sure to have it up as early as possible since many participants wander along during time off to see what posters to come back to during the official session. Obviously make sure you are at your poster for the session – if the sessions is rather long or you are presenting 2 posters at the same time leave a note for participants during what times they can find you at your poster to discuss your work. What I also like but don’t see very often are A4 copies of your poster for people to take home. With double sided printing why not add a small CV or summary of your research on the back of the posters. This is probably better than handing out business cards – especially if you’re looking for a new post.
4. Networking during the conference
If you have done some pre-conference networking (through Twitter or via email) make sure you approach people that you know or have been in touch with before the conference. Try attend the networking events and talk to people – I know this is not easy and I definitely found it daunting as a PhD student to talk to people since I had limited experience to offer. However – I would tell my PhD student self to just ask people about their experience or share some of your recent work. If you’re not sure how to start or what to say just prepare some questions e.g. How long have been in academia? Did you ever work in industry?
When talking to other PhD students or postdocs don’t be afraid to share some of your experiences – even negative ones (but no bitching). You probably find that someone else has had the same experience and can offer some advice. At this year’s EGU I shared my experience with imposter syndrome and found that the postdoc and PhD student felt similar (not uncommon in academia) but we shared some tips and it’s nice to know you’re not alone.
5. HAVE FUN
Make sure you do have fun – leave some gaps in the schedule to have a break or to just wander past some posters. If the conference is somewhere nice try and take some time to do some sightseeing – this will also help with the networking since it can be a nice opener for a conversation. Depending on length of your conference amend the time you take out of sessions to process all the information and to make sure you do remember what you have learned. EGU is a weeklong conference and is full of events, talk, short courses, posters and much more – I tried to have 30 minutes to 1 hour a day where I wouldn’t do any events and either enjoyed the sunshine, went to the Early Career Scientist lounge to have a coffee or a chat with other researchers, or met up with people. I also had a 50/50 split between science sessions and non-scientific sessions. E.g. I went to a sessions called Rhyme your research – where we learned about poetry and how it can be used to communicate your research in a very different way. This was so much fun.
Any other DO’s to add? Why not leave a comment!