Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Conference Lessons

Apparently will I was away, my blog got listed on Inside Higher Ed's Around the Web, which is totally awesome and unexpected. Hello to any new readers!

Last week's conference was my first time attending a specialty conference, instead of a more general mega-conference. It was wonderful to get to really know people, even if it's not in my thesis field. I learned a lot of science, but I also learned a lot about completely unrelated things, like fire trucks, nuclear waste managements, and the Episcopal church. This conference really encouraged spousal attendance of the social events, making it the first conference I've met a priest at.

Things I learned from the conference:

1) Talking to people socially at lunch and coffee break is a great way to get them to ask questions about your science later. Even if you know no one, just ask to join the table/circle, and listen for a while. Next time you see them, they may actually start a conversation with you.

2) Presenting a poster after your PI gives a talk brings more people to your poster, and gives you a chance to clarify those things your PI may be overselling. Unfortunately, my PI isn't very fond of this method, so I may not have many more opportunities for this type of thing.

3) Being visually distinctive can be a very good thing. I was wearing a rather unique hat for the outdoor portions of the conference (again, more social events than I'm used to), and people would start conversations with me about my hat which could then meander towards the science.

4) Lessons in how to effectively nag my advisor from his former student. Since my advisor tends to be cranky when his blood sugar is low and forgets to eat, bringing pastries to meetings can help, apparently.

5) Your thesis research doesn't define what you do by any means. I've heard this before, but talking to older professors, it was really good to hear that with specific examples.  It also made me feel better about working on such unrelated projects, because it'll help open up a wider range of post-doc options later.

6) Networking is partly about being in the right place at the right time: by sitting near the right person, I was told about a faculty opening (if I were actually graduating) that I may otherwise not have found out about because it's a cross-department listing (i.e., an EE department looking for a materials person).

7) Lots of ways to simply expand on the PTWD and make the second pair of papers more substantial stand-alone papers, instead of merging them into one.

8) People are really nice about lending their cellphones when yours has tragically died. I was able to actually call my husband on his birthday briefly, and schedule a taxi courtesy of other people's phones.

9) Playing certain pieces as an instrumentalist ruins them for future listening. I still really dislike Beethoven's Violin Concerto, even though I last played it in 2003.

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