People go to conferences to get feedback on their work and to learn about recent findings. They also go to meet new potential bosses, collaborators, and interesting people. I advise not to concentrate only on your work, but also on on your goals. Here is my algorithm for attending conferences:

At home

  1. Take a sample poster from your colleagues (if you don’t have one), as there may be a standard format used in your lab. You may prepare your own style, but having a model is good.
  2. Prepare your poster. Have a look at these two Bitesize Bio articles for some good tips on this.
  3. Prepare a concise talk.
  4. Present your poster to someone. Ask for feedback and if he/she has questions about your presentation.
  5. Prepare a list of other answers for any other questions that you think you may be asked.
  6. If the conference is not in your home city, use a service to print and deliver your poster to the place where you are staying. This is easier, as you don’t have to travel with the poster tube. I was happy using this service in the USA, and there should be many others.
  7. Design and print business cards if you don’t already have them, and don’t forget to take them with you!

At the conference

  1. Plan to sleep well beforehand. Get prepared to look good and to be in a good mood.
  2. Arrive early and make yourself comfortable at different conference areas.
  3. Check the program. Find out which talks, posters or seminars are of interest for you.
  4. Make sure you know when and where your poster session is and ensure that you are standing next to it.
  5. From the program, find people you’d like meet, and note when and where they are presenting. Meet them and feel free to make contacts with others.
  6. If you have travelled to another country for an international conference, you should try to find people from your country—this could make you more comfortable and let you feel “at home.”
  7. If you had an interesting conversation, exchange business cards. Be first to offer this.
  8. Be curious and helpful. Ask people about their work and offer them new ideas. Many people will be there to make their results visible. If you’d like to stand out, help others and this pays back.

After the conference

  1. Write e-mails to new contacts (if you liked them or if you promised to).
  2. Discuss interesting topics and contacts in your lab.
  3. Add new lines to your CV.
  4. You should have been missing your experiments? Welcome home.

Do you have any more tips for surviving a conference? Please let us know in the comments below.

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