Wednesday, April 8, 2009

My First Conference - Networking

My advisor's recommendation for dealing with the overwhelming size of My First Conference was to contact potentially relevant people for individual meetings. This is rather more intimidating to me than a conference of 8,000 people, so I attempted one, and otherwise just attempted general networking.

My one meeting may or may not be considered a success. The professor didn't have a schedule planned, and suggested I come up after one of her talks. Naturally, of the four talks she was giving, two were during my posters, one was during a formal student lunch, and the last was right before one of the posters. I managed to avoid any stress over this by visiting her students' posters; she's the kind of professor who shows up to support her students, and I managed a quick conversation with her. This let me off the hook for trying to come up after a very popular talk. It was just a quick conversation, but I introduced myself, and she even asked if I was planning on doing a post-doc and whether I'd consider applying to her university.

My other formal networking attempt was the formal student lunch, which was a small group of a students and one "non-traditional" PhD in the field. This was the first opportunity I've had to talk to a PhD in my field who went into industry. I definitely got a good feel for what that career path is like, and I got to have the best cheesecake I have ever tasted. But, it did more to solidify my plan to go into teaching than to move me back toward the non-academic options.

Informally, I made some networking attempts at the pre-conference teaching institute. I chatted with people at their posters and at some round-table discussions. I even made myself send some follow-up emails the day after the conference (since I didn't have to spend the day traveling). I don't expect anything to come from any of these contacts, but they certainly made the conference more bearable.

Overall, I think just attending the poster sessions made the conference seem smaller. Yes, there were 180 posters at each session, but there were usually only 10-15 in any given sub-field, and never more than a half dozen that seemed interesting to me. It was easy enough to get the presenter's summary, and see if I could come up with a question or two. Even two minutes of one-on-one conversation in the crowd seemed like a healthy interaction, and a vital break from the endless hard-to-process research talks.

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