How to get the most out of a conference in person

Making the most out of a conference is a good idea! My friend Maria Zurek (former Berkeley Lab postdoc, now at Argonne) made a very interesting talk, and here are her slide:

Maria Zurek (left) and I (right) with Jeff Welser (IBM VP of research, center) and the rest of the Berkeley Lab Postdoc Association in October 2019

She gave a few great pieces of advice, here are my favorites:
– come to the conference with your slides READY. If they’re not ready, you will miss most of the social hours, where the networking happens (that’s a hard one – but very true: a conference is mostly about meeting people, not presenting your research.)

– try to get “invited” to conferences – it puts a halo on you. It doesn’t happen by chance, you need someone to champion you (your PI, or a mentor in the field)
– bring a notepad.  There’s so much information that you won’t remember everything. Plus noting down your ideas frees your mind, and sometimes gives you new thoughts (writing with a pen is a meditative process, much better/faster than taking virtual notes.)
– use social media (twitter is great.) If you don’t have an active account, create one, and subscribe to all the people you’re interested in. When you follow them, they will notice you (I’ve met a lot of people this way.) Hashtags also help to see where the pulse is.
– bring business cards! These are a bit out of fashion now that we all have emails, but people will remember you when they get home.
– use your phone to take pictures (if they’re allowed. if they’re not… worst case they will tell you to stop. Somewhat incompatible with first row, see below.) After a conference, you can give a summary to your group (a write up is always greatly appreciated)
– go to the front row and… nod. Speakers are looking for cues, and if you’re in the front row you can feign interest and reassure them they’re on the right track. Easier to connect afterwards. You’re on longer in school, you don’t need to hide from the prof.
it’s great to ask questions, but it can be tricky. Avoid the questions that are more like comments (gotcha… what’s the point?), or too vague, or too oriented on the details (note them, and keep them for later.) Mark down your question before you ask if you’re shy, this will help you formulate it.
– if you’re very tired (jetlag is real), it’s ok to stay in the back. “Dozing off at the back of the conference room is a good way to summon your creative self” (Nicola Spaldin.) Buy caffeine pills (much faster, cheaper, and less need for bathroom breaks.)
– do not drink too much (that’s a hard one – open bars are tempting. At the very least drink a lot of water before going to bed.) A conference is a marathon, keep drinks for when you come back. Sleep when you can – put your phone away when you enter your hotel room (except to call your partner – it’s ok to let them know that you are busy.) Avoid sweet pastries, the sugar rush can make you sleepy.
– if possible stay at the conference hotel (register early. The extra cost is def worth it, small in the grand scheme of things.)
As for the deadline, I’m obviously not in good shape or I wouldn’t answer at this hour… such is life