Making the best out of conferences

Every survival kit should include a sense of humor.

I love serendipity. A while ago, a German blog lead me to this posting, providing different tips on how to get the best out of your conference experience. Depending on the type of the conference. And then one of the blogs I watch (regarding scientific writing) started its own series on conferences — and how to survive them (first posting here). But what caught me eye was the posting on “survival essentials”. The author(*) gives five helpful tips for surviving conferences, motivating me to share the following as a comment:

Interesting topic — here are some tips I found helpful:

Take a small (plastic) bottle of water: Easy refill, unless you’re in a country where you cannot drink the tap water.

Bring your own bag: Never seen a conference bag I like[d] or that was useful to me (and some smell like a petrochemical accident). I usually empty out the bag, trash the uninteresting stuff and give the bag back to the people who gave it to me (perhaps there is a conference goer who wants to bring back t[w]o bags for his/her children ;-)). But no sense walking around with two bags, even for a day. The conference badge is usually enough to show that you belong to the conference. Same applies to proceedings if they are also available as PDF (much easier to read them on a tablet — hello search function ;-)). Last minute changes are useful, but even those are usually available online.

Take an umbrella (small telescope-like one in the bag). It might not be raining when you arrive but it might be when you leave.

iPad instead of notebook: Unless you are presenting (and need to bring your own computer), I find an iPad much more useful during conferences. You can’t type quickly, but at least read/check eMail very well. Downside: Sometimes it’s more difficult to get online with an iPad.

[Note: corrected spelling mistakes in […] and added some formatting]

and when I started writing this posting, I stumbled upon the quotation above and left another comment:

Ah, when I started to do a post on this topic, I stumbled upon another essential in the form of this quotation:

Every survival kit should include a sense of humor.

Yes, conferences are important. Yes, some topics are serious. But no matter the planning, no matter the expectations, some things *will* go … wrong … or “differently than expected”. Keep your sense of humor. Or to put it differently (forgot who said it): Take the job seriously, but yourself lightly.

And that’s actually the point I want to make here — conferences can be incredibly stimulating. Published papers (hell, even reviews) inform you about the work that was done 6 month to (a) year(s) ago. Conference presentations inform you about recently done work — or work in progress (if people present unfinished work, that’s less than a vice and more than a virtue). But talking to people on conferences — that can give you an idea of what they are working on currently. Or — even better — what they will be working on soon. Or, even way, way better, that you can work together on something because you both want to do something but you do not have the respective skills/expertise/access/funding/whatever. There is a really bad kind of “collaborative work” (insider deals, publication cartels, etc.), but there are also positive aspects of working with others. And conferences can be key here. They provide you with opportunities to work with each other, or — at the very least — be stimulated by the work others did.

But these things do not solely have to happen on conferences. Sometimes just seeing what other people blog about can give you interesting ideas. And as for science — yes, it’s got rules and methods. But essentially it’s people working together and looking over each others shoulders … and on conferences you get to meet these people.


(*) One of the two people who wrote this highly recommended book:

Thomson, P., & Kamler, B. (2013). Writing for Peer Reviewed Journals. Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge.

Really helpful, esp. if your supervisor has no clue about the target audience and thinks a discipline as a whole (e.g., “psychology”) is “the community” to address.

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