Sunday, November 26th, 2017...4:48 am

Surviving an Academic Conference

Jump to Comments

Academic Conferences (1)

Written by: Cricia Rinchon, GradLife Ambassador

“How are you finding it?”
“I attended once when I was in undergrad for 3 days, but this is my first time getting the 5-day experience. It was pretty overwhelming!”
“I’ve been going to this for countless years, and I still find it overwhelming.”

Last week I was in Washington, DC for Society for Neuroscience, an annual academic conference where over 30 000 neuroscientists congregate for 5 days. As a huge planner who obsesses over optimizing time, I found it incredibly overwhelming. Each day there were over 200 events to choose from ranging from specialized symposiums to sponsored socials! I survived, Here are some tips I congregated by reading blogs of more seasoned veterans and talking to my peers and mentors on surviving giant academic conferences:

Do your homework. Indeed, you will look at the conference program and optimize your itinerary to know WHAT you want to learn and get out of the conference–but it may be even more important to do your homework behind WHO you’ll meet there. My roommate and I shamelessly Googled what important authors in our field looked like so we could recognize them. Part of my motivation behind this was hearing a horror story that a trainee had unsuspectingly asked our supervisor if he was familiar with a technique that he was actually one of the founding fathers of…

Plan which socials to attend, yet be open to leave your schedule flexible. In terms of events, I am a HUGE planner. Before I commit to an event, I like to know the when, where, and for how long. Ironically, at this conference I had to abandon my incessant need for control in order to truly optimize my experience. Aside from the larger sponsored networking events, there were smaller ones that my group found out about unexpectedly! It would have been a shame to miss just because I didn’t feel prepared.

Reconnect with old peers and mentors. Academia often brings people to other parts of the world, and common conferences are a great place for reunions with old colleagues and mentors. If you’re still working in the same field, it’s important to keep them updated on how their research family tree is growing–and if not it’s a great opportunity to learn about the contrasting opportunities where your common background could take you.

Follow up. Your conference experience doesn’t end on the plane ride home! One of the goals of international conferences is to encourage collaboration. I’ve heard of a lot of great projects and ideas starting from a casual conversation at a conference. Maybe start with: so how was your day?

Best of luck,


Leave a Reply