Last week, I attended the International Society for Sports Nutrition’s annual conference in sunny South Florida. What’s could possibly be better than the latest science in the field of sports nutrition with a backdrop of beautiful beaches. The ISSN conference is one of my favorite annual conferences to attend (I may be biased) and happened to be the first academic conference I ever attended. Quick little bit about my first conference. In 2017 the ISSN conference was held in Phoenix, which happened to have record high temperatures that summer. I am pretty sure you could’ve fried an egg on the asphalt. I had no idea what to expect, who I would see and quite honestly had no idea what an academic conference even was. All I knew was I had a poster to present and had to be prepared to answer questions. My first conference was intimidating but I was intrigued and looked forward to the next year. Reflecting back on my first conference and my conference experiences thus far, I have learned some valuable lessons on how to make the most of a conference while still having fun. Whether you are a conference newbie or a seasoned vet, here are a few tips to make the most out of any academic conference.
Plan Ahead. There are multitude of conferences offered each year. Pick the one(s) that are geared towards your interests and areas of study. Smaller conferences tend to have more opportunities for meeting people and are great for first-time attendees. Not sure which one to choose? Ask your advisor or other professionals in your field. Once you’ve picked out a conference, check out the program/schedule. Here you will find an outline of presentations, sessions and events scheduled. Make a tentative plan of which ones to attend but be open to “going with the flow”. This is a great way to learn more about what is up and coming in your field. Take notes, familiarize yourself with some of the research and prepare some questions to ask. This will help you soak up all the information the sessions have to offer. Bring a bag. A few things I like to have on me are my laptop, charger, pen, paper and some snacks. The days can be long and constantly running back to your room can be a pain.
Meet new people. Conferences are great for networking. Fellow conference attendees could be future collaborators, colleagues or even mentors. Resist the urge to spend all of your time with friends/lab mates/colleagues. Step out of your comfort zone and utilize breaks between sessions, special events and workshops to make connections and discuss talks. It can be intimidating, especially as a student, to meet new people. Prepare a short pitch about your research (or research interests) to help connect with other like-minded individuals or get tips on how to advance in your interests. I like to find volunteer opportunities. I find this is a great way to get involved and meet others. Don’t want to volunteer, plan ahead! Make a list of who you want to talk with. You can even reach out ahead of time via e-mail or social media. Remember, everybody had to start somewhere and most will be more than happy to answer questions. Connect with someone awesome at the conference? Follow-up with them after. There’s no reason someone you meet should be a one-time-only contact.
Have fun! Conferences are a great mix of networking and learning. It can be a bit overwhelming at times. Be sure to pencil in some downtime to socialize and recharge. Over time, conferences can become an integral part of your research and a vital way to stay connected in your field.