Scientific conferences, symposia, meetings and forums are a great way to improve your research experience and enhance your profile. They act as a platform for communicating research, usually in the form of papers and posters. If you get the opportunity to present a poster or, even better, a talk at a scientific meeting during the course of your PhD and postdoctoral research post make sure to take it up! Not only will it help to get your research more widely seen, it will get you seen too – especially if you give a talk.
Presenting a talk
The audience at a scientific meeting will be full of professors, postdoctoral researchers and PhD students but it may also contain bachelor students or even school students and the public (depending on the meeting) so it is crucial to pitch it at the right level. If you do and people find your talk engaging, it is more likely they will make a note of who you are and try to talk individually to you afterwards. Giving an effective talk is something you will have to work on during the course of your research so make sure you get as much practice as you can – start small by giving talks in your department.
Presenting a poster
As for posters, again make sure it is simple, logical and easy to read. Don’t put everything on it otherwise it will be cluttered and no one will read it. Put your contact on it so anyone reading it when you’re not there will know how to get in touch with you – even better, attach some A4 mini-posters or your personal card for people to take away with them.
Conferences are ideal networking arenas for you to extend the scope of your contacts. Anyone can read about research in their field in journals and books, on websites and other media. A conference gives you face-to-face contact with your peers from all around the world. It is a rare occurrence and usually costs quite a lot of money (registration fees, travel and accommodation) so it’s important that you take full advantage of your time there. If you go with your research group make sure you don’t hang around together – you can talk to each other anytime. Split up and find interesting and useful contacts you can get back in touch with when you get back home.
Posters and talks are a great common talking point to break the ice so even if you are a shy or unconfident person you should be able to find a reason to start a conversation with someone. And remember, if you do find someone you want to keep in touch with make sure you write down their name and contact details and keep them in a safe place – how many times have I come away from a conference having forgotten who I was talking to or having lost their details! Prepare for the meeting by examining the programme in advance of the meeting. Find out who’ll be there so you have the names of those with whom you’d like to make contact with and a strategy so you get the most out of your experience.
You may have funding to attend conferences embedded into your PhD studentship or in your research grant. Make sure you make good use of it. In addition, if you join a learned society you will have access to travel funds, especially if you are a student or a junior researcher. Learned societies are the main organisers of scientific conferences – you will see this if you read lists of meetings. If you are a member of the society you will get reduced registration fees and will have access to peripheral activities such as career workshops. For a small subscription (as little as £10/$15) you will be able to apply for funds to travel to the meeting and sometimes for subsistence too. Be aware that different societies have different rules for funding eligibility. For example, you may have to have been a member for at least a year before you can make an application so make sure to join up sooner rather than later.