‘Dummies’ guide to conferences: undergraduate perspective

 Undergraduate perspective on Sports & Exercise Medicine – a BJSM blog series

By Lysander Gourbault (@lgourbault)

open_door_to_successConferences are a great place to learn, network and they look great on your CV. But it’s often daunting starting a conversation with those consultants and experts that are seemingly so far above you they are out of reach! Here are a few handy tips to make the most of your time at conferences.


  • Do your homework (part one) – Research conferences months in advance to get the early bird discounts and to submit abstracts.
  • Look for funding – As a student, there may be hidden bags of gold at the end of the university, college or departmental rainbow. Speak to your personal tutor or university financial advisor and see what is available to you. Learn to play the game; in your application show how attending this conference will allow you to gain knowledge you can transfer back into university or your clinical care.
  • Submit an abstract – Very useful for the CV and can get you extra points for your junior doctor application. If, like me, you aren’t exactly sure how best to put together an abstract, ask for advice from your tutor or members of your college.
  • Do your homework (part two)! Research the speakers at the conference – Now you’ve got everything sorted and you’re just making those final preparations before you go, take a look at who the speakers are and some of their published works. This will allow you to firstly, ask a question after the lectures, and secondly provide that all-important conversation starter when speaking to people in the breaks.
  • Research a current topical issue – the best place to look these up is on BLOGS. Blogs are a great place to see what’s going on in the world in your specialty and are much easier reading than normal articles. So go on, get reading…oh wait, you already are!

At the conference

  1. Don’t be afraid to ask a question from the audience.
  2. During the breaks DO approach people and introduce yourself. People love enthusiasm and people love speaking about THEMSELVES. So introduce yourself, ask them who they are and then that topical question you prepared the night before!
  3. Be tactical! Wait until that person you want to speak to is in a conversation with at least two other people. When you go over to say hi, they will introduce you to whoever they are talking to. It’s like branches on a tree, every person you meet leads you to two more people and so forth.
  4. Now you’ve had the chat, don’t leave without their email address – you never know when it might come in handy! They might be able to give you placements or suggest people for you to get in contact with instead. Just like followers on twitter, you can never have too many friends.

After the conference

  1. Make sure you email all the people you spoke to thank them for the chat. Include something about the topic you discussed or where you spoke to them so that they remember you.
  2. Sometime in the future you may wish to speak to them again. You can then just reply on the back of your email. This is really important because these people will be getting 100s of emails. So the fact that they know you might mean they bother reading it!
  3. Make sure you upload the conference certificate on to your e-portfolio if you have one or keep it somewhere safe until you do.

And finally keep going to as many as you can! Conferences are great fun, a superb way to dodge lectures and an even better place to make those contacts that might well give you your break into the world of Sport & Exercise Medicine.

Good luck!!!


Lysander Gourbault is a third year medical student at Newcastle University. He is the joint founder of Durham Sport and Exercise Medicine Society (DSEMS) and has a passion for sports medicine and orthopaedics. You can contact him on Twitter @Lgourbault. Find out more about DSEMS @DSEMS1, on our facebook page or by contacting durhamsems1@gmail.com

Dr. Liam West BSc (Hons) MBBCh PGCert SEM (@Liam_West) is a Cardiff Medical School graduate and now a junior doctor at the John Radcliffe Hospital, Oxford. He is an Associate Editor for BJSM and also coordinates the “Undergraduate Perspective on Sports & Exercise Medicine” Blog Series.

If you would like to contribute to the “Undergraduate Perspective on Sports & Exercise Medicine” Blog Series please email LIAMWESTSEM@HOTMAIL.CO.UK for further information.

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