Saturday, October 26, 2013

Preparing for and attending conferences!

With the annual meeting for the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology coming up and the annual meeting of the Geological Society of American under way, I thought it was the perfect time to post about conferences!

Attending conferences is an important part of academic life. They are opportunities for networking, showing off your work, learning about the work of others, and socializing with your peers. I have posted about networking and selling your work previously.

Selling yourself and your work!

Professional development and networking

I have yet to post about conference preparation strategies and general rules. So here we go!

1) Prepare your poster/talk in advance

We're all often making last minute touch-ups but hopefully we're not analyzing new data the day before our scheduled presentation! If you're not a seasoned scientist, it can be difficult to deliver a polished talk without a lot of practice (I would know!). Making large-scale changes to your presentation at the last minute is a "sure fire" way to embarrassment! My approach has always been to present to a group of peers at least a week before the start of the conference, giving myself plenty of time to make revisions. I also spend time reciting my presentation to myself, ensuring that each part follows logically. Of course, these strategies don't work as well for poster presentations, which must be printed before the conference. But preparing responses to poster session questions is never a bad idea!

2) Pack business cards

Be memorable! I can't speak for everyone but I often talk to dozens of people at conferences and can't remember them all. Especially if you're new to the field, business cards can make you memorable! Collecting business cards and writing notes about your conversation on the back will also help you remember important interactions.

Business cards should be simple. Although hot pink might seem like the perfect choice, it's not. Business cards are not an expression of your inner fashionista. You should (obviously) include your name, affiliation,  area of study (something simple like "Unicorn Ecology"), and email. Do not use an embarrassing email address such as! Your institutional email ( or a professional non-institutional email ( make a better impression.

3) Pack appropriate clothing (don't dress like a slob)

Conferences are often unofficial interviews for MSc, PhD, or postdoctoral positions. Looking like a homeless person, as many graduate students often do, will not do you any favors. Although many people wear casual clothing or even what appears to be field attire to conferences, you should not. I am not saying you should wear a tuxedo or an evening gown (but how awesome would that be?!). A pressed shirt and pants should suffice.

4) Don't make a fool of yourself in social situations

Many of us are guilty of this infraction, including myself. But you don't want to be remembered for any alcohol induced antics. Sometimes, we're also remembered for our sober antics such as slipping and falling on the dance floor after attempting a dance move that probably resembled a seizure (which definitely happened to a friend of a friend of mine).

How else should we prepare for conference? Are there any other conference rules?