I attended the Entomological Society of Canada annual meeting last week. During this meeting, I was pondering the importance of attending conferences. I thought it would be good to share some of my thoughts on attending a conference as a student. If you would like to comment or contribute to this post, please do not hesitate. Some of the key points I thought of were
1- Presenting your data/receiving feedback; an easy one. This can be either plans of your research or the actual results of your research.
- If you are starting a new project and would like feedback on your ideas or the methodology you propose to use, a poster presentation may be a good thing. This allows people to see where you are going, what kind of research you are interested in and what kind of researcher you are developing into.
- Presenting the final results of your research, either side projects or your thesis. These types of presentations are usually very exciting for the presenter. You are stepping out of your lab and work space and showing people the fruits of your labour. It is a stressful but very rewarding type of presentation. It’s especially nice when you get positive feedback.
2- Getting new ideas. As you listen to presentations, read posters or attend mixers new ideas and new ways of doing research that you have not considered come to light. These new ideas may be the next steps to your future research.
3- Making a yourself known. This relates back to presenting your work (point 1) as well as networking, the next point. When you present your work and talk with people, they start to know who you are, what you do and how you work. When others know who you are it enables you to find graduate or work opportunities.
4- Networking. The most obvious reason to go to a meeting. During conferences, you are not the only person there, so you have to try hard not to come into contact with somebody. Sharing your stories and listening to others will probably help in your own research. You get an outsiders point of view on your ideas and projects. Sometimes, a five minute conversation with somebody can actually give you a whole new idea and direction for what you would like to do. Of course the other benefits of meeting other people include …
5- Getting to know people in a different context. This is usually an interesting one. You tend to see your friends, people you worked with and supervisor(s) under a different light. Depending on what you expect, this can be either good or bad. Stories about your supervisor(s) will be told by those that knew your supervisor(s) when they were at the same point in their career as you are. Sometimes it is very surprising, other times it is expected. Just remember you’ll be the one talked about in the future…
Conferences are excellent and I highly encourage students to attend them. They are stressful but you learn a great deal, you meet new people and you discover so much more about the wonderful field you chose to work in.
As for the price of attendance; sometimes you are lucky and your supervisor will pay your way. But even if they do not, it is ultimately to your benefit to go. I think the price you pay now will benefit you ten-fold in the future.