By Rebecca Taormina (National Park College), Miguel Valencia (Florida International University), and Yueyi Che (University of California, Berkeley), based on ideas submitted by GSA student members and other sources.
Attending a scientific meeting for the first time is certainly a memorable experience (SPIE, 2019); however, it’s normal and common to feel slightly intimidated or overwhelmed. The best way to overcome those feelings is to inform yourself about what to expect during the meeting. For that reason, we created this document with general tips to maximize your experience during the event.
To make your attendance more enjoyable, we identified and targeted the following topics: (1) before the meeting, (2) make a plan, (3) take notes, (4) networking/socializing, (5) snack up, and (6) follow up.
BEFORE YOU GET THERE
Book your hotel and flights as soon as possible in order to maximize your options (especially if you are on a tight budget). Having your flights and housing booked will give you peace of mind. When packing your luggage, take a look at what the local weather will be like. Bring comfortable shoes and dress in layers since room temperature will vary at certain convention centers (ILA, 2022). Other recommendations:
- Check the transportation cost and routes from the terminal to the convention center.
- Print or download a map of the convention center.
- Look for information about special events, such as student receptions, field excursions, short courses, demos, and other events.
- Check out local restaurants and attractions before you arrive. Make dinner reservations in advance (ILA, 2022).
- If applicable, arrange to meet up with peers and colleagues (ILA, 2022).
PREPARING FOR YOUR PRESENTATION
If you are a presenting author, you will have submitted an abstract over the summer, and hopefully you received an email confirming your presentation time and location. Then, make sure you are registered for the conference! If you lost the email, you can always go to the Meeting Program on the GSA Connects website. You can find your presentation by using the search function and typing in your name.
If you are giving an oral presentation, you are given a 15-minute time slot. It is recommended that you prepare a 12-minute presentation with time for questions. Make sure to practice before you arrive. This could be with your co-authors, cohort, or friends. Have someone look for any typos or formatting issues. When you arrive, you can upload your presentation in the speaker ready room. Take the time to locate your session room before your session starts.
If you are presenting a poster, look at the dimensions prior to creating the poster, and create your poster in advance to check for formatting and text issues. You can print your poster before the meeting and bring it with you in a poster tube, which is recommended. Or you can print at a local shop, like FedEx. Check what day your presentation is and be sure to hang your poster beforehand. GSA provides materials for hanging the posters. Poster presenters may not have practiced presentations, but do try to practice how you might answer possible questions beforehand. The poster sessions can be overwhelming, so try to make friends with the other presenters around you. (For more details, please see the Information for Presenters webpage.)
MAKE A PLAN
Use the online Meeting Program and download the GSA Connects 2022 Mobile App to start planning your own conference schedule. With the online program you will be able to see the timetable and make a note of which sessions you are most keen to see or any presenters you especially wish to see. Then you’ll have an idea of how to structure your days around these must-see events when you arrive.
We really recommend that you plan ahead because there is so much to see. Take 15 minutes every night to make a list of the next day’s events that you don’t want to miss. Make a separate list of those that would be nice to attend but could be bumped if something better comes up (SPIE, 2019). Then, take a look at the conference venue map and plan your route. Remember that you can add any activity from the program to your personal schedule when you log in with your GSA credentials.
Last, plan to arrive a bit early for the programs you are most interested in, if possible. Some rooms get crowded, which can make it hard to see the presentation (Conference Monkey, 2017).
Make sure to bring a small notebook. Try to take short notes of every talk you attend, which can help you focus and recall later the main idea of the talk. Additionally, record the titles of presentations and names of people you want to remember, as well as ideas you’d like to revisit. Be sure to take note of the author so you could follow up with them later (ILA, 2022; SPIE, 2019).
NETWORKING AND SOCIALIZING
There are many different ways to network and socialize during the GSA annual meeting. The GeoCareers Corner has many activities for students during the meeting. Furthermore, you can go to Division business meetings and introduce yourself. The smaller Divisions are a great way to get to know people. Attend different student receptions hosted by the Divisions; most of them don’t require a ticket. Another option is to join ticketed events for students like Division luncheons, field trips, and more. Introduce yourself to the person next to you at a program or during a session break.
Practice an elevator pitch, because many people will be asking you about what you do. Describe in a timely manner your major, area of research, or what makes your work interesting (Conference Monkey, 2017).
If there is someone in particular you would like to meet, make sure to email them ahead of the meeting and let them know you will be there. They might suggest a place to meet or let you know about their presentations. Presenters are busy too, so be sure to respect their time.
Some events will take place outside the convention center. As a precaution, remove your badge when exiting the convention center or when walking around the city (NAFSA, 2019). Try to avoid walking alone at night.
If you are looking into graduate programs, go to the Resource & Innovation Center where some universities have set up booths so you can meet campus representatives, program coordinators, and current graduate students. You can find out which universities will be there in the online program under “Exhibitors.”
Attending the GSA annual meeting is like running a marathon. Conferences are exhausting, so take advantage of coffee and water stations, as well as the free food (cookies, snacks, appetizers) that is available at some events (SPIE, 2019). Also be sure to take time for you! Conference fatigue and burn-out is real. Stay fed, hydrated, and happy. If you have time, take half a day to explore the city (with a friend, of course!).
You will most likely be exchanging contact details with other attendees; when you get back home, send them a follow-up email to establish communication; this is an excellent way to start building your professional network (Conference Monkey, 2017).
We hope this document helps when preparing to attend the annual meeting. There is a lot to remember when attending your first conference, but don’t worry. Conferences can be fun as well as helpful for your career!
REFERENCES AND FURTHER READING
Conference Monkey, 2017, 10 tips for first time conference attendees, 1 Nov. 2017: https://conferencemonkey.org/advice/10-tips-for-first-time-conference-attendees-1111457 (accessed 7 Sept. 2022).
Gaudin, A., 2020, #3 Reflections and tips for attending your first scientific conference: UC Davis Agroecology Gaudin Lab, Jan. 2020: https://gaudin.ucdavis.edu/news/reflections-and-tips-attending-your-first-scientific-conference (accessed 7 Sept. 2022).
Illinois Library Association, Tips for First-Time Attendees, https://www.ila.org/events/annual-conference/tips-for-first-time-attendees (accessed 7 Sept. 2022).
iorgfeflkd, 2019, Reddit Post: www.reddit.com/r/Physics/comments/c6nd46/what_advice_would_you_give_someone_attending_a/ (accessed 7 Sept. 2022).
Personify Member Clicks, 2019, Engaging First-Time Conference
Attendees: 4 Tactics to Try, 6 June 2019: https://memberclicks.com/blog/engaging-first-time-conference-attendees-4-tactics-to-try/ (accessed 7 Sept. 2019).
r/AskAcademia, 2015, First time ever attending an academic conference, alone: Reddit Post, 6 Oct. 2015: https://www.reddit.com/r/AskAcademia/comments/3nns2n/first_time_ever_attending_an_academic_conference/ (accessed 7 Sept. 2022).
r/Physics, 2019, What advice would you give someone attending a science conference for the first time?: PhotonicsWest, Reddit Post, 28 June 2019: https://www.reddit.com/r/Physics/comments/c6nd46/what_advice_would_you_give_someone_attending_a/, (accessed 27 Sept. 2022).
NAFSA, Tips and Resources for First-time Attendees, n.d.:
https://www.nafsa.org/conferences/nafsa-2019/tips-and-resources-first-time-attendees (accessed 7 Sept. 2022).
SPIE., 2019, Advice for Attending a Science Conference for the First Time: International Society for Optics and Electronics, 15 July 2019, https://spie.org/news/advice-for-attending-a-conference (accessed 7 Sept. 2022).