The struggles of a researcher often seem to be never ending, but that’s what makes your career so challenging and rewarding! Juggling a professional and personal life can be complicated. Over time, though, you’ll learn organizational techniques and time management skills that will make it easier. When you first get started, however, your years as an early career researcher can be extra difficult, making anything added on top of your daily workload an irritant at best and overwhelming at worst.
Case in point is the academic conference. As an academia scholar, you’ll be expected to attend these conferences somewhat regularly, and sometimes, you’ll even be asked to present at them if you have pertinent findings or knowledge to share. Instead of seeing these conferences as yet another “to-do” to add to your list, looking at them as a way to network and expand your reputation and circle helps you get through them easier. Your first conference can be a little nerve wracking, of course, since you don’t know what to expect. These tips will help you survive the first, and subsequent, academic meetings by preparing you ahead of time on how to make them successful.
The Importance of Conferences
There are two main ways people who are new to conferences view their attendance at their first one: for those less social, it’s a dreaded event in which they expect to stand as wallflowers awkwardly attempting to mingle unsuccessfully until it’s over; for social butterflies, it’s a chance to catch up on the gossip and get to meet new people.
Both of these perspectives are incorrect, and you’ll figure it out quickly. A conference is actually set up by committees as a chance to meet others in your academic field and connecting fields in order to expand your network and learn new knowledge or share ideas.
During an academic conference, it’s common to see people trading business cards, collecting email addresses and social media information, adding connections in real-time, and finding other ways to communicate with people who they can help or who could help benefit them.
Visualizing conferences as a means to the end of meeting your ultimate career goals can change your view from dreading the event to looking forward to the opportunities.
How to Survive Attending a Conference
Even if you’re looking forward to the event, you’re still likely nervous about what to expect at your first conference. Survival is the key until you learn what you’re getting into, and the best way to survive is to prepare early.
As soon as you decide to attend a conference, start researching it. It’s likely that the program is already listed well in advance, since the presenters have to have time to prepare. Look into the program and the schedule. Usually, there are multiple panels offered at the same time. Planning ahead gives you the chance to design a schedule so you hit the presentations you’re interested in most.
Consider the Schedule for the Day
Conferences are often all-day events, so also make sure you plan your meals into your schedule. If you know anyone who is attending the event, you might consider inviting them to eat with you. This gives you the chance to learn about evening plans and get an invite to a group event or ask someone to meet with you.
Another survival tip that you’re lucky to have in today’s world is to use technology. Most conferences are on Twitter with a conference hashtag, and if you follow it, you’ll be able to see what other people are doing and make sure you don’t miss anything important.
You can also follow live-tweeting if you’re not able to attend part of the conference. You might not get the entire panel discussion, but you’ll have the highlights. This should be enough for you to be able to engage in an intelligent discussion on anything that comes up later, helping you to have confidence in yourself!
When you plan ahead, design a schedule that covers the main things you’re interested in, and stay on top of the threads in social media that take care of any gaps you might have missed, you’re able to make the most of your conference. No wallflower worries necessary; networking is a natural part of everyone’s schedule and you’ll be included organically.