It’s been a whirlwind of a week: I deposited my dissertation last Wednesday and left for Providence, RI to start my postdoc at Brown, and then promptly boarded a plane for Portland, OR for the ESA meeting. This is my first time as a SEEDS (ESA’s group to promote diversity by supporting young ecologists from underrepresented groups) mentor, and I’m very excited to see the meeting from a different perspective. I’ll post more on those thoughts soon.
In the meantime, now that I’m a wise PhD and a seasoned ESA attendee (this is my seventh!), I thought I’d share a few random thoughts on how to have a successful meeting:
1) Connect. ESA is one of the larger meetings I attend, and this is the largest in the meeting’s history, so it can be a bit intimidating at first, especially if you’re new and alone. It took me a few years before I really felt like I’d built up a good network of friends and colleagues at the meeting, but it’s still something I work on. Your instinct may be to hang out with people in your lab group, but I encourage you to branch out. Attend the business meetings of the sections you belong to (or think are relevant)– these are open to all, and are a great way to network and plug in. Attending workshops and mixers are also a great way to do this. And remember: not every interaction has to lead to a project or collaboration. If you’re an entomologist, it’s okay to make friends with a paleoecologist! Just knowing someone as a friend and conference buddy can have all sorts of benefits, including mental health, future roomshares, peer mentors, and networks that could provide leads on jobs. Create opportunity: you never know what may come of it.
2) Have goals. Are you looking for grad advisors? Postdoc mentors? Faculty jobs? A research project? Give yourself concrete ways to meet those goals, and commit to accomplishing them before the end of the meeting. Maybe you’ll commit to introducing yourself to three potential postdoc advisors at the meeting (actually, committing to meeting new people is always a good goal no matter what stage you’re at), to attend a session on invasion ecology to see if it’s your thing, or to get useful feedback on your poster.
3) Pace yourself. You are much more likely to have a productive conference if you realize that you don’t need to fill your schedule. You will be especially inclined to do this if you’re a student, and you may feel guilty that someone has paid for you to attend and you’re taking a break from sessions. You’ll find natural breaks, so take time to go for a walk, take a nap, write a blog post, or chat– some of the most useful interactions at meetings happen in the hallways. Also, one of the perks of being an ecologist is getting to travel. Take time to enjoy the city!
4) Engage in the online sphere of the conference. Sign up for Twitter (use the hasthag #ESA2012). There’s an entire conversation happening on the internet all around you that you may be missing out if you’re not online. Live-tweet interesting sessions. Write blog posts about your day. You’re doing a huge service for the people who can’t attend the meeting, or can’t go to every session. Tweeting at conferences is a great way to get new followers and meet new people. I’m co-organizing a workshop today on social media for scientists, and we’ll share some of the details of that later (follow #esasocial). There is also a Tweet-up happening on Wednesday at 7:30– stay tuned!
5) Have fun! This requires a sense of humor, and sometimes even going outside your comfort zone. Remember that you’re (presumably) doing science because you love it. You’re at a place where everyone around you feels the same. No one will judge you for your love of mud, bugs, slugs, or bark. If you need help having a good time at the meeting, Jeremy Fox’s awesome bingo card at Dynamic Ecology will help.
Good luck, and enjoy the meeting! If you see me in the hallways, introduce yourself– I’d love to meet you.