My first conference approaches. Yes, I'm at the tail end of my fourth year of grad school and I haven't been to a conference yet, due to a combination of no research results and an unwillingness to spend the money to travel if I'm not presenting. But I'm jumping in with both feet: I'm attending what I'm assured is a large and overwhelming conference (over 3,000 posters presented across 14 sessions), attending a pre-conference teaching institute, and presenting not one but two posters. I'm not usually of the rip-the-bandaid-off mentality, so I don't know what's gotten into me.
Yesterday's meeting with my advisor has me as prepared as I can get. I know what I should wear (more formal than anything worn in our jeans-and-sneakers department, but no need to worry about a suit) and what I should bring to my poster session (a short and shorter prepared spiel, a stack of handouts for those who are interested but don't want to be dragged into a conversation, and a sign-up sheet in case the handouts run out).
And I have a plan for networking. This started out as a discussion of my career interests, at which I was reluctantly forced to realize I should be actively asking people about their jobs (teaching and research requirements) during the teaching institute, to find out if the kind of job I want even exists anymore (is it possible to be at a college and not have publish-or-perish pressure?). It was extended into my advisor's suggestions for making the conference less overwhelming, trying to arrange individual meetings with relevant people. This morning I struggled over a 4-line email to a very relevant person, trying not to beg for 10 minutes of her time.
Now that I think about it, the real reason I haven't been attending conferences is that I'm just an insular type of person. I try, or it feels like I try, but it's all I can do to have the minimum number of reference letters - it's almost inconceivable to me how people can know more than three people well enough to even ask for a recommendation. The most stressful part of the conference may well be attempting to talk to people instead of sitting quietly and learning.