I've been meaning to write a blog post since the meeting kicked off on Monday, but as conferences always go there's always someone to talk to or some meeting to listen in on or a talk to attend. I'm taking advantage of a short break between coffee socializing and talking to students and exhibitors about the next SETAC YES meeting to write down some thoughts and perspectives on this conference.
This is my 6th time attending the SETAC North America meeting, and even as an early career researcher I'm always overwhelmed with catching up with people I knew from before while also making new contacts. It's great to be back as something of a scientific family reunion at this year's meeting in the clean and contemporary capital of Utah. Salt Lake City has been a great venue for this event and for my return back to the US of A after a year away, and a good opportunity to wear my autumn boots on this chilly autumn day!
While I've been busy this week I've managed to come up with a few thoughts and suggestions to help make the best of those fast-paced and exhausting conference days:
- Be comfortable. I yet again made the mistake of wearing heels on the first day of the meeting. I followed up the rest of the meeting wearing my favorite broken-in Lacoste black trainers, and while I may have looked more casual I felt more comfortable and more like myself. When you feel comfortable you can act more like yourself and let the more important things shine through, like your passion for your research or your presentation skills. We tend not to wear conference clothes all of the time, with shoes not broken in and dress pants we haven't worn in a year. Instead of just dressing up, focus on embracing your style while still conveying a professional look, attitude, and how you carry yourself. And if you can stand and talk to a new contact without shifting awkwardly in shoes giving you a blister, you can make the focus of the conversationmore on you and your ideas and less on what you're wearing.
- Let ideas happen. I spoke on Monday to Namrata Sengupta from Clemson about the Clemson What's in our Waters (WOW) project, which I'll feature in a future blog post talking about outreach projects at different universities. This idea first came about over drinks at a previous SETAC meeting. It wasn't from a formal sit-down brainstorming session but just came about while sitting around with friends and colleagues talking about what would be fun, useful, and engaging for undergrads. At conferences we all get busy thinking about our own presentations, project meetings, and talks we have to go to, so be sure to leave time for creative endeavors and new ideas to take form, which often times don't take place in a board room but at a pub or over coffee with friends.
- If you're at a loss for words, ask where someone is from. I love doing this because it can always lead to a story or a shared experience. Maybe you've been on a trip to where someone grew up or you happened to go to nearby universities for undergrad. It's interesting to see where people go and where they came from throughout their careers, and it's an easy conversation started since everyone you meet is always from somewhere. One exhibitor even made a word association game out of it, asking people what the first thing they thought of when they heard 'Texas'. It was a bit more boring to do that the opposite way for me and ask people what they thought of about Nebraska. Yes, it is flat and yes, we have corn.
- Take notes! I'm in a slight crisis at having lost my original program book, after I wrote down some ideas and follow-up tasks during an organizational meeting. Now I thankfully have my trusty green idea notebook back at hand and have been jotting down impressions and ideas from this meeting along the way, without needing to rely on the intermittent wifi connections. You'll meet so many people and hear so many ideas, so write them down before you forget them! I also write down a couple of words about someone if I take a business card, whether it's what we talked about or what I wanted out of a follow-up, just so I don't end up with a pile of names and affiliations after a long week of talks and meetings.
- Minimize your screen time. The hardest part about being a blogger at a meeting is that I don't want to sit by myself and blog! There are so many colleagues and new people to talk to that I hate the thought of isolating myself to write. For me, writing is a way to relax a bit and recharge after a lot of social and professional interactions, so forcing myself to think and write during a break in the meeting was a good exercise. It can be tempting, especially for us introverts, to want to spend too much time on your phone or computer or to make excuses that you need to work on something. While there are emails that need answering and presentations to practice, be sure to focus on using your time for personal interactions. And they don't always have to be formal-great ideas and connections come from coffee with new colleagues or jokes at a poster social.
Now with the poster social starting I should get off my laptop and back into the social universe. Good luck to those of you finishing off the SETAC meeting and for anyone with an upcoming conference,whether its a first-time meeting or sixth-time meeting! Tomorrow is my conference presentation so I'll tie up the lose ends of the post I made about making my conference presentation based on the five easy steps for making a presentation. So stay tuned for an upcoming post on how it went and how I used the five steps to make the best possible presentation. And now, time for beer and networking!