6 reasons why students should attend conferences

[Sheree Bekker] This post is from guest blogger Amy Vassallo. Amy is a PhD candidate at the Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Sydney and Research Assistant at the Prevention Research Collaboration.  As an advocate for women in science she is the student representative on the Franklin Women Peer Advisory Board and curates their monthly e-newsletter. In 2017 Amy is also the student representative on the 13th Australasian Injury Prevention and Safety Promotion Conference Scientific Committee.


As research students we are encouraged, and at some institutes required, to attend conferences.  Sure they’re a great way to present your work and research findings, but there is so much more to be gained from conference attendance beyond an 8-10 minute presentation. So what are some of these opportunities and how can you achieve the most out of the few days?


  1. The opportunity to present your research (well!)

At the end of the day this still needs to be the first priority for conferencing.  A poorly prepared presentation sticks out like a sore thumb and the audience certainly can tell the difference between a speaker who is nervous (and be very forgiving towards them) and a speaker who is winging it (and be far less forgiving). Be organized and submit your abstract before the deadline, or if you’ve missed out keep an eye out for late breaking abstract opportunities, which often come up in the months just before the conference.  Also consider submitting for a poster presentation in addition to your oral presentation.  Electronic posters are increasingly popular at conferences and are no longer the unfortunate cousin of the oral presentation hidden behind the muffins at afternoon tea.  E-posters are less work to prepare than traditional posters, so feasible to do in addition to an oral, and gives you lots more opportunity for discussion and two-way dialogue about your research.


  1. The opportunity to meet other students

Conferences early on in your career can be frightfully intimidating, especially if you’re not there with your supervisor or colleagues from your research institute.  Meeting a group of other students early on can make all the difference.  Many students feel like a fish out of water at their first few conferences (or remember that feeling) and therefore actively want to make new connections. So attend any and all of the social events for students and introduce yourself to people.  You know you will already have a few things in common since you’re at the same conference and experiencing post grad life. Your fellow students may also be your future research collaborators, so these student friendships you build at conferences could be of huge benefit into your future career.


  1. The opportunity to meet leaders in your field

Sometimes it’s hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel of your study program, and meeting or listening to inspiring leaders in your field can be just what’s needed to reinvigorate you.  Be prepared and read the conference program and speaker list beforehand.  Is there someone you’re simply desperate to meet one-on-one?  Perhaps a mid-career researcher?  Contact them beforehand to arrange a time to talk, as you shouldn’t expect to bump into everyone at morning tea. But this comes with a warning, make sure you have a clear intention as they will inevitably ask ‘so what is it that you want from me’ and you need to be prepared with a response.


  1. The opportunity for careers information and inspiration

Jobs in injury prevention are varied, and that’s one reason why this field is so appealing.  Being at a conference and seeing the breadth of attendees and presentations can provide invaluable advice and inspiration for students about what to expect post-graduation, whether you intend to remain in academia or not.  Have a look in the conference program for any careers focused sessions designed for students and early career researchers.  Conferences are also a good opportunity to find out about professional organizations in your field (like the AIPN for example).  Joining organizations such as these provides you with a network of colleagues, and often a discount on your conference registration or the chance to apply for a student award. Once you get to the conference browse through the sponsor stalls, you never know what inspiration you might find there.


  1. The opportunity for skills development and to learn something new

It’s increasingly common for conferences to have satellite skills development workshops either held in the preceding days or over breakfast.  Be sure to check out the conference website beforehand, as these may require an additional registration, but can help make it easier to justify the need for conference travel.  Conferences also provide the opportunity to learn about areas of research you may have never heard of. Try going to some concurrent presentation sessions on a topic you’re less familiar with, you might learn about a different research method or skill that could be innovatively applied to your area.


  1. The opportunity to have fun

Go to the side events – the workshops, the pre-conference tours, the conference dinner – just do it!  They always offer a chance to learn something new (related or not to your research) and can help with the nerves and anxiety you might be feeling about more formal conference networking.  Delegates get the chance to let their hair down at these events, and that gives you the chance to see the person behind the research expert, make some friends and have a bit of fun, as a student you deserve it!


At this year’s Australian Injury Prevention Network conference, the scientific committee have taken these six goals as the inspiration for the development of an exciting conference program for students.  There will be a focus on posters, a preconference walking tour and informal presentations, a careers panel, a preconference workshop on meta-analysis and a speed networking session just for students designed to help you develop your research pitch. All the details of these events are available on the conference website.

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