Why attending science conferences is good for your career and helps you feel like part of a community.
The American Astronomical Society held it’s Division of Planetary Science conference this past week. Here’s what I learned about conferences and the science community.
Science conferences are great! They offer a way for the community to interact with itself in ways that don’t typically happen outside a department. Academia is too often filled with the grind – whether it’s classes, data collection, writing proposals and papers, etc. While attending a conference has its own fair share of duties, it is a brief but rewarding experience. Below are three of the main things I learned about being a scientist from this conference.
1. A Science Sampler Pack
Attending a conference is like getting a sampler pack of hot-cocoa (or pick whatever sample pack item makes the most sense for you). There is such a wide array of topics that are covered in such a short amount of time that it is only enough to grab your interest and make you want to buy more. This is especially useful for early-career scientists, like grad students, who are still navigating the nuances of their field and allows them to scope out topics that might be of interest for future projects. I learned more about my scientific interests in this one-week conference than I have in the past year. Many of the projects that interested me may not be available right now, but I have a better understanding of the types of research that interest me going forward.
2. Matching People to Papers
I’ve read dozens of articles, papers, and posters this year and several of them were written by the same small group of people. For the first time, I was able to meet those authors as people! It’s a scary thought, but behind every paper, article, or blog you read, there is someone who pours themselves into the thing. Seeing someone in real life and watching them interact with others can give a lot of insight into how they communicate ideas. Even if meeting “Dr. Leaderin-in-their-field” doesn’t make understanding the material much easier, you often catch a glimpse of what they are passionate about. Recognizing that passion later in a paper can make the read a little more enjoyable.
3. Name Recognition
This is pretty much the opposite of the above; instead of recognizing others, here I mean that others will start to notice you. Many scientists use conferences as a way to build friend groups outside of their department, even if they only meet once a year at the conference. It’s a way to meet potential collaborators or people struggling with the same frustrating data or techniques. This is a good time to get your name out there, especially for an early career scientist. Asking questions at poster sessions, joining in during the thematic discussion hour, and setting up meetings with specific researchers were ways that I worked on getting my name out there at this conference. For next year, my goal will be to present something and share my interests with the community. For now, I’m happy that I was able to interact with new scientists and feel like part of the community. With any luck, I’ll be able to follow up with some of them next year and pick up where we left off.