Making the most out of conferences

I’m finally back from literally going around the globe (Philly->Japan->Singapore-> back the other side to Orlando via San Francisco….). With all the depressing news recently coming in from what seems like everywhere in the world I thought I’ll get back to blogging with something more light, appropriate for the summer time…

My travels involved a string of meetings (RNA2016, SINGARNA, IRB-SIG16, ISMB2016) which I attended/organized/gave talks at with many of my lab members. Going to meetings is always fun but also a lot of work. As a senior lab member and even more so as a PI you have responsibilities for getting your lab members ready (talk/poster preparation/practice) and then getting them acquainted with subjects areas, other labs’ work, and specific people. Here is a funny depicting of this by research-in-progress:

Phd student supervises a master student

Meeting people with my professor at a conference (and in case you are wondering, no, I’m not famous as Obama…)

More seriously, meetings serve as a window into research: you see what’s out there, you establish seeds for future collaborations, and maybe most importantly – you also get to step out of your daily life to look again (as if through a window) on your research projects and priorities. I highly recommend preparing for a conference – think ahead what you want to learn about, who do you want to meet and maybe set these meetings in advance if needed. Another great advice I got a few years ago from my postdoc mentor, Ben Blencowe, is to make sure you attend every year or so a meeting which is outside your list of obvious ones – basically use it to push yourself to learn about new areas. And when you finally come back, make sure to have a summary meeting which will highlight works of interest as well as general trends. This will help not only the poor souls that missed the meeting, but also yourself…

Last and not least – be sure to have some fun. This will help keep you energized and motivated as meetings can sometimes run long and simply fry your brain…. Here is one way of doing it, which involves a lot of Japanese Karaoke + free drinks (seen here are Kristen Lynch and I, working hard to defend the PI honor…)



And yes, there are audio/video recordings as well – but you probably don’t want to hear those…. 😉





2 thoughts on “Making the most out of conferences

  1. I also cannot emphasize the preparation part enough. As a young inexperienced PhD student, meeting fellow students and senior scientists was a very nerve wracking task. One has to be adequately prepared in order to make the most out of a conference. Preparation includes thinking deeply about one’s research, and also thinking about the problems that the community is working on, and how we convince others that our work is interesting and worth their time.

    I have seen a lot of fellow students who remain lost and get overwhelmed at conferences because they did not do their homework well. It is easy to meet and connect with senior scientists and other students, if one is familiar with their work and have some interesting scientific issues to talk about.

    I see a lot of survival books on grad school, but I think a conference survival (and how to make the best of it) book is sorely needed. I for one, would have benefited immensely from it.

    Maybe Yoseph, you can expand on this theme in future posts !!!
    Theme 1: Homework before conference (preparing short pitch of work, identifying areas and work to look out for, and how to seek help from which people)
    Theme 2: During conference (how to have a scientific conversation with other scientists, how to get noticed and make contacts, how to manage time during a meeting).
    Theme 3: Post conference debrief and followup

    As you can see, I would really really benefit from the later themes 🙂


  2. Thanks Varun!
    You make excellent points – I should create a more detailed post about making the most out of conferences. Seems to me though you personally have no problem with getting the conversation going, or asking good questions… 😉


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