Episode 28 – How to get the most out of attending a conference
Whether virtual or in person, conferences are without question one of the best ways to meet people and hear about new work in your field. Amongst other things, they can also be fantastic places to find jobs, collaborators, and thesis examiners. But to get the most out of attending a conference, it really pays to prepare before you go, to be brave once you get there and then do some follow-ups afterwards.
This week Michael and Jen chat with our wonderful colleague Dr Linden Ashcroft about our strategies for getting the most out of attending a conference, particularly when it comes to networking, which can be challenging for all of us.
Here are a few good reads for more advice on networking at conferences:
Introvert’s guide to conference networking – how to get the most out of conference working whilst preserving your social energy
How to get the most out of attending conferences – an article that talks about why conferences are important, how to pick which ones to go to, mistakes to avoid and how to make the most of it when you’re there
The Scientific Conference Guide (Or, How to Make the Most of Your Free Holiday) – an excellent guide that takes you through what to expect at a conference, and how to conduct yourself at each of these stages
10 Tips for grad students to make the most of a scientific conference – a great guide for attending conferences when you’re early in your research career
Advice: how to network at conferences – this is some really high quality and down to earth advice on how to behave when it comes to networking at conferences. I highly recommend reading this one if you’re new to the conference scene!
The Guardian – 5 tips on how to make the most of academic conferences – some more tips on networking at conferences
Hello and welcome to Let’s Talk SciComm, a podcast by the University of Melbourne Science Communication Teaching Team. I’m Associate Professor Jen Martin and my wonderful co-host is Dr Michael Wheeler and we believe that science isn’t finished until it’s communicated.
Hello and welcome to another episode of Let’s Talk SciComm. I’m so happy to be here, joined as always by my excellent friend and co-conspirator and co-host Michael Wheeler. Hey, Michael.
Hey Jen, what are we conspiring for in this episode?
Well, we’ve conspired today to be joined by one of our very, very favourite people, one of our favourite podcast guests, who’s also a wonderful colleague and friend to both of us, Dr Linden Ashcroft. Hello Linden.
Good morning, conspirators. How are you?
Well, we’re really excited ’cause you’ve come back. Now, last time you joined us on Let’s Talk SciComm, on your own. I know you’ve come many times, partly with our team, to talk about time management strategies.
But last time you were here just on your own, we were talking about editing, and I feel like we had this really wonderfully cathartic conversation about how hard we all find writing and editing.
Yeah, definitely felt cathartic. And talking about it as well was useful for me. It made me reflect on, Oh yeah, that tip that I tell other people to do. I should do that. That’s a good idea. That was good.
Yeah. No, no, it was good. So I’m, I’m looking forward to an equally cathartic conversation today. And this time we want to chat about conferences and how to get the most out of attending a conference. Because I think the three of us all unanimously strongly agree that conferences are really important and really useful things to do when you’re a researcher and can be incredibly empowering. Or indeed when you’re teaching. You know, there are wonderful teaching focused conferences as well. And we certainly strongly recommend all of our students to try and get to conferences during their research degrees.
And I know we’ve all had really positive conference experiences over the years that we’ve chatted about. But of course, just attending, just signing up, paying the money and turning up, whether that be in person or online, that’s definitely not enough to get the most out of the experience. So we really want to just chat today about what you can do, what strategies you can employ to get the most out of the time and the energy and the money that you invest in attending a conference.
So let’s do it team. So first of all, Linden and Michael, I want to hear from both of you about your best conference experience.
Conferences are such a perk of the job I think. Going to a conference is such a treat and a privilege to get together with people who are doing research in a similar field to you. And I think for me, my best conference experiences have either been really big conferences where I’ve realised that I’m part of a huge community of people or really small conferences where I get to know people really well.
But the instances that I’m thinking of have both been very successful and enjoyable because I did my homework and I did my preparation. And so I was going into both of those conferences with a bit of a mission, if you know what I mean. And I was able to, to meet the people that I wanted to meet and learn the things that I wanted to learn and enjoy the things that I was hoping I would enjoy and, and that made them really great. Also, both of the conferences that I’m thinking of were in person conferences in exotic locations, and that definitely helped.
Hmm, that helps.
Because they were fun, but because they were away from my everyday life, you know.
I don’t know, is yours the same, Michael?
Yeah, absolutely. I love going, travelling as part of a conference, great opportunity to see new parts of the world and often times places you wouldn’t normally visit. They, conferences sometimes in obscure places.
I remember the first conference I ever went to was when I was in my honours year actually. And I took out a loan to go to a conference in Finland. It was a small enough conference focused on exercise science. The reason I took out a loan to get over there is because I had just come back from a work placement where I was out in Australia and I knew all of the people that I had connected with in Australia were going to be in Finland. But yeah, I was a broke student, so to get a, I had to get a loan.
A dedicated one though, to get a loan out. “What are you doing? Are you buying it, you know, a snowboard?” “Oh, no, I’m going to a work conference.” That’s pretty keen.
Yeah, oh it was, it was great though. It was only small. I think it was like, it was 500 Euros, but that was a lot at the time. And yeah, it was a great conference. I loved it. I think it really opened my eyes to you know, that research can be fun as well, especially when you’re presenting it in front of friends.
I hadn’t realised that professors could give jokes as part of their talk. There was one professor who in a lineup of very formally dressed speakers, their keynote, they just delivered it in a tracksuit. And I thought, that’s excellent, you don’t need to wear a suit to present your data.
Yeah, so it was great. And also I had been writing my honours thesis and I had referenced this one person in it loads. And I knew they were going to be there. I really wanted to meet them. But I didn’t know how to do it. I did eventually get to say hello, but it was under some odd circumstances.
I don’t know if I’ve ever mentioned this on the podcast before, but this particular conference they have this one ceremony where some important researchers get knighted with a horse collar. So it’s at the dinner and they announced these people’s names and it’s a you know, it’s a big honour. And they come up and they have a massive heavy horse collar that they hang over their neck. And I have no idea why, but after that ceremony I was at the bar and who happened to rock up beside me, but this one person that I really wanted to talk to. And all I could say was “Congrats on the horse collar”.
Did you ask if you could try it on and see how heavy it was?
Oh I should have, the endless possibilities of what else I should have said’s running through my mind after that you know, the night of that encounter. But that’s all I said. And they said thanks and yeah.
I think my best conference experience is a little bit different to both of yours in the sense that it wasn’t associated with too much frivolity or, or even an exotic destination. I think my most useful at least conference experience was sort of in those middle doldrums of your PhD, where you just start to think, what on Earth am I doing this for and who cares anyway? And what am I wasting my life on this for?
And I went to an Australian conference. So you know, no particularly exotic location. And I just remember thinking, I just couldn’t believe it, that people were so excited about the work that I was doing. You know, I got up and gave a talk and explained what I’ve been doing and and what I had found out so far. And it just changed so much about my experience of my PhD, that all of these people who I respected and whose papers I had read and who I saw as such capable amazing researchers were coming up to me, a lowly PhD student, saying, “Oh my gosh, I can’t believe that you’re, you’re being that thorough and I can’t believe you’re following these animals in the daytime and the nighttime. And I can’t believe you’ve got this amazing data set”. And I just stood so much taller after the conference. And I had this renewed sense of this is worth doing.
And even though it’s physically and mentally really hard to work on a nocturnal species, there are people who are taking note that I’m doing this work and it’s contributing to our understanding. And there are people who care about this. So it really was this cure for my sense of complete misery and alienation I think, as a PhD student. So it was a pretty positive outcome really. It got me through another year and a half or whatever it was, which is very helpful.
Well, that sounds amazing. Conferences are an opportunity where you do get to talk to those people whose names you only see in bold at the bottom of titles that you cite a lot of the time. And getting feedback from those people. It could just be one flippant comment to them, but it makes a real difference to you. And conferences allow that to happen, they kind of flatten out the playing field a little bit, which is really helpful.
So Linden before, or maybe it was Michael, maybe both of you talked about this idea of having to do your preparation. But I think Linden, you were saying that you, the conferences that you had the best experiences out of, were the ones you prepared for. What does that actually look like for you? What does preparing for a conference mean?
For me, it’s meant doing my homework about what’s happening and thinking OK, I mean, it’s just like lots of other communication things that you have covered on the podcast. Why am I going to this? What is my goal here? Who am I going to talk to? Am I trying to find a job? Am I trying to get some feedback on something? Am I trying to find inspiration, because deep down I’m feeling really despondent about the work that I’m doing? Or do I want to meet people who are at a similar level to me and figure out how their careers are going?
For me, like having a real plan. I remember going to this conference in Vienna. I was doing a postdoc in Europe. And I, the postdoc wasn’t going as I had hoped, but I thought this conference will be a good chance for me to meet other people. So I sat down and I figured out who are the big names that I want to talk to. Come on Linden, be brave, send them an email beforehand and say “Hey, would you have time for a quick catch up during this conference? Or can I have a talk to you after your session or after my session?”
And they did. And it was, it was great. It was so inspiring. And also yeah, it made me realise that they’re just human people who also get overwhelmed by big conferences. And also like the opportunity to be visiting somewhere else. So doing the homework beforehand about who’s going and what’s on and what you really want to get out of it. They were the things that helped for me.
And also cutting myself a bit of slack rather than setting myself a punishing schedule of I’m going to go to every talk from 8:00 AM to 8:00 PM for seven days. Finding some time to, to have a break for a session or so and explore the place or catch up on sleep. All of those things allowed me to have the strength to keep going as well I, I think.
Yeah, reaching out to people before a conference or during a conference is important. And I think it’s a little bit easier when you think about how they’re in networking mode themselves. Everyone’s in network working mode, right?
Yeah, good point. And I always think about this conference I went to. It was here in Melbourne, actually. And it was quite small and there were a lot of professors and really well respected people there. And I assumed oh, they’re just going to want to talk to each other about important person things. Then I’ll just kind of loiter on the side. But I realised there were quite a lot of important people loitering on their own as well?
Yeah. And social interaction’s hard anyway. And it’s very different for different people. It’s difficult to overcome that barrier. But I feel like once you get into it, it’s a little bit easier.
It’s like you know if you ever go around handing out CVs to shops or restaurants looking for a job. And the first one, it’s really awkward. You walk, you’re like “Excuse me, Can I speak to a manager, please? So sorry.” And then by the end of it you’re just you know, asking for the manager, very confident. “Here’s my CV”.
And I think it’s the same with networking conferences. Once you kind of break into a couple of conversations, it gets a little bit easier. But then again, I guess everyone is different as well.
Yeah, it just makes me think about the fact that when we talk about conference networking with our students, we try and bring in both an introverted and an extroverted point of view. You know granted, that’s absolutely a continuum and most of us are in fact ambiverts, meaning that sometimes we’re more introverted and sometimes we’re more extroverted.
But you know, let’s just imagine that you’ve done all the homework that we’ve talked about. You know what your goal is. You know who you’re there to see. You’ve done your homework, so you know where the sessions are and when. You know, you imagine you’ve done all that and you’ve arrived.
Maybe each of us could just share our top tip for in person networking. And I’ll flag for you that then after that I want to start talking about virtual conferences a bit. But other than just kind of loitering on the side and, and seeing opportunities to break into conversation, what are our thoughts on how you do in person networking? Given that at the end of the day that is the main reason to go to a conference after all.
My main tip, and it seems a bit flippant, but the thing that has made me feel satisfied with going to a conference apart from maybe having a posse, having a small collection of people who I know quite well but I can kind of return to and feel comfortable with is to have a list of goals, have some KPIs. There’s some Key Performance Indicators.
So when you feel like you have achieved those. If you’re exhausted, you can slink back and and not do anymore networking if that’s all that you feel that you’re up for. So I always try to ask a question in a session. I always try to meet someone new who I really respect and I used to, I haven’t done it for a while, give or receive a business card, ideally both. I’m not sure how business cards go anymore, people generally just shared Twitter handles or things. But they were my kind of KPIs.
And once I had done those, I was like good, I’ve conferenced. If I do more, that’s great. But I’ve, I’ve set out to do my goals. And if I’m really exhausted by that, then that’s fine. I can sit and learn instead without the pressure of all that networking. So that’s what I do that makes me feel safe. What about you, Michael?
Yeah. Oh, that’s great. I’ve never gone, I’ve never been organised enough to have business cards. And I feel like the moment I do create a business card then I’ll have made it. It’s a, that’s a great idea.
I think for me, my tips would be to just be aware of what you’ll probably feel like doing to make you feel safe, which is maybe make friends with one person and stay with that one person the whole time. I think it’s really important to resist that and to you know, try and chat to multiple different people.
My top tip probably would be to have a conversation about this with your supervisor before you go over and say, “Look, be great if you’d introduce me to a couple of people”. Yeah, that’s really helpful if you have an introduction and have a bit of an ‘in’.
Yeah, I totally agree. I think your supervisor can absolutely be a top ally, no question. And being brave enough to ask, being brave enough to ask your supervisor, “Could you please introduce me to these people?”
I’ve got two very basic top tips and they kind of work together. One is to make sure you always wear your name tag. I think that’s really helpful so that people know who you are. And if you are at a conference where they haven’t included your Twitter handle on your conference name tag, to add it so that people can go, “Oh, you’re that person that I’ve been tweeting with. Now I know who you are in person”.
But the other really simple thing that I think everyone can do, and again, we’re talking about in-person networking, is set yourself the goal of every time you walk into a new session, you’re gonna sit with somebody different. It’s really simple. But you just don’t fall into the trap of sitting with either your new friend or your existing lab mates that you’ve gone with. If every single new session you sit next to someone new and are brave enough to say “Hi, I’m Jen. Nice to meet you.” You know you’ve got something in common to talk with them about ’cause you’ve chosen the same session and the same conference.
And you know, if there are 10, 20, 40 sessions across the life of a conference, that’s 20, 30, 40 new people that you’ve, that you’ve chatted with. I think just as a basic rule to set yourself, it works really well.
Hmm, yeah and because everyone in networking mode, sometimes all you need to say is “Hi, how you doing?” And the other person will respond and say, “Oh great, what did you think of that session?” And everyone’s kind of got some ready made content to talk about. You’ve… Everyone got something in common.
All of these tips are harder to implement in an online or virtual conference though.
I had an interesting experience just last week of being in the in-person version of a hybrid conference rather than being in the virtual portion of a hybrid conference. And it really did bring home to me that I think the world’s done amazing things in going virtual. And I, I really applaud the fact that virtual conferences are more equitable and more accessible and cheaper. And you know, there’s lots of reasons why virtual conferences are just really the way to go from an environmental carbon impact point of view, if nothing else.
But I did really see it from the other side at this conference that the in-person presenters, they logged on from whatever country they were in. They gave their talk and they logged off again. And because the conference was more focused on the in-person people, there wasn’t much opportunity for online networking. And so these people just kind of came in and left. And it was only the people in the room who had the benefits of a conference.
So I think if we’re gonna have a lot of virtual conferences in the future, it’s just absolutely imperative to try and be equitable as much as possible in what conference organisers provide for the two different audiences because they’re just so different. Pros and cons, obviously.
Yeah, definitely. And the hybrid nature is particularly tricky. I think social media probably has a role to play or a really good interface where you know, somebody who’s in person could be tweeting or making comments that somebody online could be interacting with. But that can often be hard if it’s a new platform that someone has to log onto and all these different things. In some ways a fully virtual conference does lend itself to more networking.
For me, my virtual conference experiences and they’ve been presentation style conferences and also poster style conferences using different fancy browsers and platforms and things where you have a little avatar and you move to different posters or you know, you earn different points by asking questions and engaging with sessions, and you can win a prize and all these different things. A lot of it just comes down to doing a bit more homework, like you have to work a little bit harder. You really have to put the effort in to figure out who you want to talk to and connect with people and make use of all the tools that you’ve got and that can be really tiring.
You know, you’re right Michael that you do have access to so many videos or so many presentations. I went to a virtual conference back in… oh quite a few months ago now, and the recordings were available for four months afterwards. And every week I put on my list, watch some of those recordings. And do you think I watched any of them? I wish that I had, but now they’ve expired. You know, I think you have to be really disciplined with a virtual conference.
And it drains you in a different way to going to an in-person conference because you are a little bit more isolated and you have to try that much harder. So you kind, your preparation is almost the same. But you’ve got a I don’t know, really. Have some good snacks with you and make sure you’re, the tracksuit pants you’re wearing are active tracksuit pants. When you’re going to the conference you can, you can really [be] paying attention. That’s… it’s a hard thing to do.
And you just have to be so disciplined about not allowing yourself to get distracted by other things, which in fact is true at an in-person conference as well. At an in-person conference, you can also just sit up the back and write emails. It would be a crazy thing to do. But it’s much more tempting to do that when you’re attending a virtual session isn’t it?
Yeah, absolutely. You should take it just as seriously in terms of blocking out time to actually fully participate. And yeah, you’re right, the temptation is to multitask and don’t take time off work. But I think you probably should.
So we’ve mentioned Twitter quite a few times at conferences. How do you guys feel about Twitter and the role it plays at conferences? ‘Cause I know sometimes when I’m talking about Twitter with people who don’t use it and describe the important place that I think it has in conferences in the sense that to me often that you know, there’s two conversations going on simultaneously. There’s one that’s happening in the room and there’s another one happening on Twitter.
And people who have never done that respond by saying, “Oh my God, that sounds awful. That just sounds so distracting. And how could you possibly concentrate on two things at once?” And, and I sort of now think, Ooh, is Twitter more of a distraction? Whereas I’ve always felt like it’s a really great way to fully participate because you’re aware of what people are thinking and you, and you can see maybe what’s happening in a concurrent stream when you’re in a particular room.
And it’s a great way of networking. You know, you connect with all sorts of people at a conference that you might not get the opportunity to chat with in terms of bumping into them at a social event. But you interact with them on Twitter. So I’ve always been a big fan, but I guess it is distracting.
I find Twitter to be quite helpful in conferences to see what’s going on. But when it comes to myself contributing, I remember a colleague telling me once they found Twitter very helpful because they would write a summary of each talk that they saw. They would be their tweets and also their conference notes.
And I thought that’s a really good idea. But when I sat down to do it, it just takes me so long to compose a pithy tweet of 280 characters summarising someone’s research in a respectful way that’s also informative. I just found that I got a little bit distracted.
So I think you do need to pick your strengths a little bit, whether you use it for the social connections or whether you use it to communicate research that you’re learning. I found it really hard to do the latter and quite easy to do the former, but that’s just been my experience.
Yeah, I also think it’s a great opportunity to tag scientists that you respect or you know, it’s when you’re in a room and a lot of people are trying to talk to the same person, it’s very difficult to get their attention. But if you say something thoughtful about the talk that they gave and tag them in it, they’ll definitely see that.
It’s also great for promotion, right? Twitter’s also a really good way to promote your talk. If you’re at this conference, come to my session tomorrow. It’s at this time. Here’s the abstract, or here’s a sneak peek of the poster. If you couldn’t make it, that’s OK. Here’s a recording. I’ve seen that done quite successfully on Twitter that has allowed people to share their work with that wider audience. And also raise their profile a little bit and contribute to the conference conversation too.
Yeah, I’ve also seen people use Twitter really effectively when they were obviously confident that the timing of their talk was going to be exactly as advertised because they set up tweets in advance on a timer.
And so as they talk, they’re like “And if you look at my Twitter feed now, I’ve just shared X resources”. And you’re like, “Oh my gosh, how did they do that? They’re on stage. But they’ve also sent out a tweet”. And this series of tweets that comes out at the same time as the talk is happening in real time, providing extra resources and links. And I mean, that’s pretty amazing, right?
Yeah, that’s next level. It’s also helpful to figure out who’s attending. You know, who’s coming to the conference and those kinds of things. I find Twitter to be, to be handy in that way.
So before we wrap up Linden, just last thoughts on… I know when we talk with our students about this, we really try and impress upon them about how important it is to follow up and do you know yes, you’ve got to do your preparation work, but you’ve also got to do your follow-up work.
So I know for me that means that everyone I’ve had a conversation with I try and touch base with him again, send an email or send them a message on Twitter. Or just kind of say, particularly as a student, “Hey, this is, this is me. We had a great conversation. I promised I’d send you this or you promised you’d send me this”. Just know that you’ve sort of confirmed that interaction in that relationship, I guess.
Do you have other particular things that you think are important to do as follow up?
Now, I think that is really important. I often find in my conference notes, if there’s something that I want to follow up on, whether it’s a paper or a person or a comment, I’ll put a little star next to it. And the best way for me to actually do something about those stars is to make sure that I’ve got time put aside when I get back from the conference.
It’s so easy to make a beautiful, inspirational, optimistic list of things that you want to do and people you want to follow up with, adventures you want to have after a conference. But then you get back to your day-to-day things, you’ve got assignments or you’ve got other research to do, you’ve got lots of other commitments and those, that list of stars just gets further and further and further down in the notebook and you don’t do anything about them. So I find that if I put aside some time, block it out before the conference starts, “follow up conference ideas”. Then that is actually how it gets done.
It’s super handy if you have a plane flight after a conference that you, you know, you haven’t overindulged. Obviously that’s always one of our main tips is get some sleep, don’t eat everything that gets offered to you, and don’t drink too much.
But manage to stay well enough that you can be awake on the plane or the train or whatever on the way home, and that’s an excellent time to take stock of your follow up list, I think. OK, we need to finish up, so I want everyone’s number one piece of advice for how to get the most out of attending a conference.
Think back particularly to your student days, ’cause we know many of our wonderful Let’s Talk SciComm audience are currently research students. If you were to do one thing every time you went to a conference, what would that be?
Do your homework and allow yourself space for some fun.
Yeah, I love the fun part.
I think go with an open mind because you’re going to be exposed to new ideas and new people. And yeah just, just go with an open mind, have a bit of a plan, but be prepared for the plan not going according to plan as well. I’m covering off all bases there, haven’t I… But yeah.
And I think set aside time to just focus on the conference. You don’t want to be getting distracted by other work. If you can tie up some loose ends before you go. Make sure you get enough sleep before you go. You’ve just got you know, a sole focus in life for the three days or four days that you’re at the conference and that’s just to, just to be present and take part in that conference.
Yeah, I think all of those things. And when I said you know, make sure you get enough sleep and you don’t eat and drink too much. Obviously, I wasn’t suggesting you don’t have fun ’cause why else go to a conference but to have fun. But you need to pace yourself right? To get through, to get the most out of the whole thing.
But I think to me my number 1 advice would be try really hard to get the balance right between pushing yourself outside your comfort zone and being courageous and taking opportunities to have new conversations, meet new people, think differently, be exposed to feedback on your own work. You know all those things take a bit of courage because you, you make yourself a bit vulnerable when you put yourself out there.
At the same time, is also going a bit easy on yourself. If the best thing you could do for an afternoon session rather than force yourself to go and sit through another two hours of talks when you’re exhausted is go and have a bit of a nap so you’re in good form for a conference dinner that night.
Just be realistic about your capacity. And try and give yourself permission to not fully participate every minute if actually you’re just really worn out; particularly if you’re a little bit more introverted and you find it exhausting being in groups of people all the time. It’s OK to go for walks. It’s OK to take breaks. It’s OK to miss the odd talk. That’s also good part of being at a conference, I think.
It’s OK to accidentally eat too many chocolate croissants as well right, Jenny? Is that, that’s what you’re saying?
Asking for a friend?
Asking for a friend, yep.
If you do accidentally eat too many chocolate croissants, the deed is done. Just forgive yourself and don’t worry too much about it.
And wash it down with whatever the local special drink is, wash it down with some of that I reckon.
Well Linden, as always, we are thrilled to have your company. And I guarantee [we] will be inviting you back to Let’s Talk SciComm very soon. But thank you for all your wisdom today and to all our listeners. We hope you get the opportunity to go to a conference very soon, whether that be local or national or international.
Ask around. Ask your colleagues. Ask your supervisors. Ask people about what’s going on and see if you can possibly get there. And one thing we failed to mention is if you are a student, there are often scholarships, there’s financial support, there are prizes. You know, any society out there really wants to have students attending, and there are always, there’s always help of some description on offer to help you get there. So don’t be afraid to ask.
Yeah, thanks so much Linden. And speaking of students, we’ve got our student tip section next.
Hey there, my name’s Owen and I’m a Geosciences researcher at Museums Victoria. My top tips on how best to engage at conferences, whether that’s an online one or an inperson one are first to engage on social media before you go to the conference. Often there’s a Twitter feed for the conference and you might find out who’s going to be going before you’ve even got there. And I always found that very useful, because at least I had some idea of I guess I’ve seen that person posting before. I’d like to try and meet them. So I think that’s a really helpful thing to know.
Secondly, I’d encourage you to use your supervisor’s network. If they’re at the conference as well, they’ll have an idea of who they might like you to meet and who would be great for your work and can talk to about interesting topics. So a supervisor’s able to help you make connections at conferences as well, that’s always a great way to expand your network.
Thirdly, if you hear a great talk… I mean, obviously encourage you to ask a question in that session. Then also talk with that person afterwards as well. See if they’re free to go for a coffee after the session and then you can talk to them more about their talk, and that’s often a great way to make a new connection as well. Particularly if it’s online, this is little bit harder to do. So if you’ve heard a talk that you really liked, I encourage you to sort of ask question in that space.
And then probably it’s particularly important for online conferences to follow up with that person in the week or two afterwards, to send him an email or a direct message on Twitter, say if they’ve got that thing activated. This make sure that you know, if they might remember you if you talk to them again in the future. That might lead new collaborations and then also sort of leads to the sharing of ideas which is one of the great things about conferences. Thanks a lot and I hope some of those tips are helpful.
Hi, my name’s Stephanie Bernard. I’m a PhD student at the University of Melbourne in the School of Physics, working in astrophysics. I’ve been going to conferences for a long time. The first one that I went to was the 2012 Women in Astronomy Conference that was held at Swinburne. And I was an undergrad research student there at the time, and so I went along. And it was so awkward. I didn’t know anybody. There are 100 people or so there from all over Australia. And I just felt really out of place.
And so as I sort of went on in my career in my masters, I really got in my head that I wanted to just get to know people and just talk to people and those sort of things. And so sometimes that would involve grabbing another undergrad or masters student, and being like, “OK, we’re going to talk to this person together”. And so then it’s slightly less awkward going up to someone one on one.
And then after two or three years, I really knew most of… especially the other students around, but also getting to know other senior people in the field as well. Now that I’m very old and we’re at the end of my PhD. Now I’ll have a look around when we go to a conference and have a look for any people who look very young, undergrads, master students, specially onces from Melbourne who I know.
And I will try and grab them and be like, “OK, let’s do a little bit of practice before I introduce you to some people”. So I’ll ask them “Do you have like a one sentence pitch of your research? Do you have anyone in particular that you’ve seen on the list that you want to meet?” And I’ll do my best to try and get people involved because I remember how awkward it was being an undergrad and I really like introducing people around because I know that our Australian astrophysics community is really lovely. There’s so many wonderful people in it.
And I know that I love talking to undergrads about research and I’m sure that everyone else does too. So I try my best to help people get into those sort of networking spaces.
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