Tamar Schlekat, SETAC Scientific Affairs Manager

Five-day scientific conferences can be grueling as they are typically jam-packed with events and activities that could leave a participant reeling. If you’re planning to attend a scientific conference, even if it is not your first, you may want to read ahead for some unsolicited, yet potentially valuable advice on how to survive it. Using a focus group of veteran conference attendees, I narrowed the advice down to the following suggestions.

Plan ahead!

  • Pre-register and make travel plans well in advance. Registration fees are always more affordable in advance. Booking hotel rooms through the conference room block not only helps the society organizing the meeting keep meeting costs down but also guarantees the shortest daily commute.
  • Review the scientific program and prepare your schedule. You may want to make use of the online itinerary planner that allows you to search the program based on several criteria.
  • Look up a few individuals that you want to connect with. I am not suggesting you stalk them, but let’s say that if you do find photos online, you’re more likely to recognize them if you see them around the conference venue. When you do see them milling about, introduce yourself. Most are really nice, and you never know what opportunities may arise from meeting someone and having a conversation.
  • Squeeze in extra events. Go to a networking event or an affiliated activity. The possibilities are endless.

At the Meeting:

  • Attend a platform presentation session that is not in your direct field. Sit through the whole session. You may learn something new or pick up an idea or two you can incorporate into your own research. Observing the dynamic of a collaborative group alone is worth the time invested to attend the session.
  • Check out one of the special sessions. There will always be some take away from them that will broaden your perspective.
  • Listen to a keynote presentation. Keynote presentations are always thought-provoking and, if you’re lucky, could be controversial, leading to interesting exchanges and discussions.
  • Mosey around the poster sessions. Take time to explore posters and talk to presenters. The one-on-one interaction can be very valuable. See if you can spot the best and worst designs in terms of on-point science communication.
  • Take notes. Use those empty program pages or an electronic device of your choice.

A week-long conference is a marathon not a sprint, so:

  • Pace yourself. More than 2,100 accepted presentations makes for long days. Four whole days with thirteen concurrent sessions, in addition to the many interest group meetings, side-events, socials, networking and career programs makes for even longer days. So, give yourself a pass to skip a talk or two.
  • Get some sleep! Yes, SETAC is known to be the fun conference; there are many planned evening social activities, plus you will surely stay up late “networking” with colleagues. I will go out on a limb and say that you may want to schedule a mid-week lunchtime nap to catch up on sleep in case you cannot tear yourself away at night.
  • Pack an empty (to get through airport security) reusable water bottle to carry around. The environment will thank you, too.
  • Pack snacks. Lines at the convention center snack stations may be long, snacks may not be to your taste and, on top of it, may be pricey.
  • Dress in layers. No one can predict temperatures in conference centers, and while some centers are known to overuse air conditioning, venues in colder areas tend to over-heat their spaces.
  • Wear comfortable shoes. Do not make the mistake a friend of mine did when she wore new pumps to her first SETAC presentation at a Monday morning session. She limped the rest of the week.

See you at the next SETAC meeting!

Author’s contact information: tamar.schlekat@setac.org

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