By Chiara Facciotto & Tiia Pelkonen
The HERCULES project is organizing a symposium on the Advances and Future of High-Grade Serous Ovarian Cancer research, taking place on May 8 in Helsinki, Finland. Since this will be a wonderful opportunity to network with other scientists in the field, we asked our researchers to share their tips on how to get the most out for a conference. So here we go!
Before the conference
Work on your elevator pitch. Prepare a 10-30 seconds brief summary about your background and your current project (e.g., I work with these data and my current focus is …). Try to highlight some cool results you have: this could catch the attention of someone working on a similar problem and possibly spark a very interesting conversation. And remember to listen to others!
Prepare well. Familiarize yourself with the speaker line-up and check some of their publications. And don’t forget to read the titles of the posters! Use this information to make a list of people with whom you would like to discuss. You could even email them before the conference and ask for a 15-minute slot in their schedule if you think they will be very busy. Looking up and following their Twitter account can also be a good way to catch up on their latest activities and interests in preparation of being social in real life.
During the conference
Mingle with new people. Conferences can be tiring and hanging out with your lab mates or other familiar faces can be very tempting. However, try to use lunch and coffee breaks to sit with people you don’t know at all or that you have only seen at conferences. At these kind of events many people, especially students, don’t know anyone else present, and they would be more than happy to have someone to talk during the day.
Attend social events. Every conference has at least one, if not more, social events, such as dinners or even trips. Try to attend these, so you can meet other attendees in a more informal and relaxed setting.
Ask people what they do besides science! Scientists love to talk about science, but after a full day of serious presentations, some lighter topics can also be quite welcome. Ask people about their hobbies or maybe about their summer plans: you might find a way to connect also outside academia.
Keep it fresh and comfortable. Conference days tend to be long, which can get exhausting. To stay fresh, bring breath mints or gum, maybe even a deodorant stick. Wear comfortable clothes and shoes, and drink enough water to stay hydrated.
Carry around a curious item. It’ll give people something to ask about and work as a discussion icebreaker. And it will definitely make you memorable 😉
During the poster session
Take care of your poster. If you have a poster, be prepared to walk people through it. Resist the temptation to go see other posters, at least during the busiest time: you can always visit them and talk to their owners towards the end of the day when the poster area is less crowded.
Talk to the poster presenter. When you visit a poster, always try to ask at least one question and accept when people offer to explain their poster. Try to always have a minimal exchange with the presenter: briefly tell them what you work on and why you find their poster interesting and then let them tell you about their research.
Provide your contact information. If you have a poster, have your contact information on it, so people can mark them down and contact you after the conference is over. Consider also bringing business cards you can give to other attendees.
Learn something new. Go to a poster you do not understand at all and ask the presenter to explain it to you until you do. Who knows, you might even discover something useful for your own research.
Ask questions and initiate discussions. If you are looking at a poster but there is no-one there to present it, just start discussing the results with the other people looking at it.
Ask permission from the poster’s presenter before taking a photo. Many posters have yet unpublished results, but it’s usually OK if you take a photo just for your own notes. Or people might be happy for you to spread the word on their cool new software or method. Just ask.
After the conference
Keep in touch. Keep in contact with the people you meet during the event and continue the discussions you started there.
Use social media. Follow the work social media accounts of speakers and other attendees, to stay updated on their future breakthroughs.
Now you are all set to go. Good luck with your next conference!
We thank especially Alejandra Cervera, Sampsa Hautaniemi, Ville Rantanen and Anna Vähärautio for their contributions to this post.