So you finally collected some data and want to start presenting some of your findings to a wider audience (by that I mean people other than your yourself and supervisors). The first thing you will probably hear from your supervisor or a colleague is “why not present at an upcoming conference?”. With that in mind, you probably looked up a few upcoming conferences at some flashy destinations (or not, depends on your luck) and was wondering if it’s worth the time and effort to present at a conference?
To be honest, I was never really fond of attending conferences because I always felt I could be using this time to do more work on my research project. Therefore, I would go there hang my poster, stand next to it for about 5-10 minutes, then wonder around taking pictures of the venue whilst waiting for food breaks. Long story short, the mission was to hang the poster and then go home.
Nonetheless, it was still a good change to the usual routine. At the end of the day your presentation goes down as a contribution to your research project. You also get to dress smart, see a new venue/destination, eat some good food and take some cool pictures.
However, having attended workshops on making the most of conferences, I changed my approach and applied 2 simple strategies that made a world of difference to my conference experience. The first thing I did was I ACTUALLY STOOD NEXT TO MY POSTER and not just commit a “hang and run”. I also actively approached people who were near my poster and/or showed some genuine interest. It makes life so much easier for the person when you talk to them about your presentation other than giving them the tedious task of reading everything on your poster and figuring out what’s going on. Basically standing next to your poster and engaging with the audience is one thing and standing next to your poster like an inanimate object is another.
The other thing I did was actually making the effort to join group conversations with other attendees during breaks. I cannot stress how important this is! It’s the best opportunity to have non-formal conversations regarding your research and exchange contact details/social media accounts with other attendees. Honestly, sometimes you end up doing a better job discussing your work during these less-formal conversations than you do on your actual presentation (perhaps the pressure factor).
Last but not least WAIT FOR IT… I still took great pictures and enjoyed the food. Now the main benefit from doing these simple extra things is that I REALLY got my research out there to wider audience. Till this day these people network with me from time to time and I keep them up-to date regarding my research progress!
So YES, academic conferences are definitely worth the hype. However, just because you decide to attend a conference does not mean it will automatically become beneficial without putting the extra effort 🙂