Going to a scientific conference for the first time is always exciting, and it is also great opportunity to learn, network and have fun. In this blog post we have gathered some practical tips and information, which you might not even consider before going to a scientific meeting for the first time. The internet (and also your boss and co-workers) are a good source of important advice about scientific meeting etiquette, in which we will not get into details now. We shall discuss about all the little details and practicalities that no-one else tells you.
It will probably be the first time that you are about to present your own work and results to a scientific public, and there are many ways that you can prepare yourself for that and make everything run smoothly in the event itself. Going to a scientific meeting also needs lots of preparation, and the more prepared you are, the easier things are likely to go. Scientific meetings may vary in size, atmosphere and procedure. In most cases you are expected to give a presentation in the conference, whether oral presentation or a poster presentation. Whether it is your financer or your boss/supervisor that requires that. They both are good ways to make your work visible to others, but there are also clear differences that you might want to consider.
Plan your presentation
Technical problems are likely to happen, so have the presentation file with you in at least two different places/storages and in a format that is most likely to be accepted worldwide in different computers or desktops. Practise your presentation in advance!! Also take printed handout of your notes, if you are likely to be nervous and forget what you were about to say. Do not fill the slides with too much information, and consider placing pictures and photos to visualize your presentation and making it more interesting.
Poster sessions, instead, are nice opportunities to discuss about your work face-to-face with time with those that are interested in the topic, or have something to contribute with or share new ideas. The negative thing about giving a poster presentation is that you have to make the poster, have it printed out well in advance, and carry it to the meeting and back. You might not want to have it with your hand luggage, because it is easy to forget in an airplane – or to be lost by airline, but putting your poster tube into the actual luggage might be even more risky. If you have colleagues traveling with you, consider sharing a poster tube together and carry in turns. Before leaving from office, print out A4 handouts to be given to those that are interested, and do not hesitate to hand cards with your contact details to people passing by your poster. You can also print a QR code (and put it in your poster) linking to a website where your contact details or your research group can be found.
In many poster sessions there are hundreds of posters and limited time to go through all of them – those that are interested and with limited time in the conference, might get back to you afterwards. Do not forget to take nails and pins for hanging your poster on the wall! Not all conferences provide those. Check the poster regulations in advance. If a European conference wants you to have a portrait poster in A0 size, it might look ridiculous in a North American meeting, there the larger is the better and poster walls are at least twice as big! Use colours in your poster and do not do what I did: grey poster on a grey poster wall was not a brilliant idea. I did not win the best poster’s prize. Remember that most people who come to see your poster, know nothing about it. Prepare a short “speech” or summary to highlight the main principles, methods and findings to be shared with the curious listeners.
Prepare well your source of nutrition and hydration
Some conferences include coffee breaks and free lunches for the participants, while the others do not. Make sure that you are taking some snacks and a water bottle with you – otherwise you might get hungry and suffer from low blood sugar, loss of liquids and get cranky and uncomfortable. The disadvantage of carrying too much stuff with you, is that your bag might get too heavy and give you painful neck and sore shoulders. Avoid laxative food and snacks, and make sure that your snacks are not wrapped in a paper that makes noise in the lecture room.
Especially if you are a woman, consider taking various pairs of good shoes with you. What is good for an evening get-together in a fancy restaurant or a cocktail party, might not be a good choice for standing by your poster for several hours, or walking long distances between the lecture halls (especially if the conference happens to be one of those with > 5000 participants and 8 sessions going on simultaneously). Some hotels have spa, poor or Jacuzzi facilities for their guests. Do not forget your bathing suit at home! This is especially important, if you are travelling to a scientific meeting in Florida in November. It would also be a good idea to pack clothes that are comfortable to wear and do not get wrinkled in your suitcase during travel. An extra pair of pantyhose might not be a bad idea, since they break easily and you might not have time or opportunity to look for new ones in the middle of a conference day.
Have enough sleep
Although the social programme might be interesting and networking possibilities tempting, do not forget to have enough rest! When you have slept enough, you can handle the long days and flood of information that you are most likely to get. Especially if you have small children at home, take a scientific conference also as an opportunity to have good sleep and rest well. If you travel to a distant city/country where you have never been before, take advantage and travel 1 day before, or if possible, take some extra days after the conference to see around and get to know the new destination.
Good luck! After the trip be prepared to share the experience with your co-workers, and why not, prepare a blog post about your journey, if you or your research group have an active blog. Use social media as a tool for networking and raising awareness about the event and yourself as a scientist! Twitter, Facebook and Instagram offer good opportunities for that. See and be seen!
Text by Kaisa Figueiredo