How to make the most of events

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EVENTS FEATURE
How to make the most of events
Going to a scientific event? Get tips and advice on networking,
presentations, time management and more.
“Visiting a conference is
like pressing the reset
button — sometimes
you meet someone
who makes you think
differently about where
you’re heading.”
Sally Davison, European Molecular
Biology Laboratory (EMBL)
WHATEVER THE scientific
subject or trend, there will be a
conference or event to promote
and explore it. All over the world,
and in every discipline, there are
opportunities to deliver ideas,
discover the impacts of new
research and look for new career
avenues. But to get the most out
of scientific conferences and
events it pays to be prepared.
Being equipped with prior
knowledge of what the conference
offers can ensure you get the
most out of attending. Christine
McCary, chair of employment
concerns at the US National
Association of GraduateProfessional Students (NAGPS),
had first-hand experience of the
benefits of preparation at a recent
event. When she approached
Q: How many scientific meetings or conferences
are you planning to attend in 2011?
7
5%
4%
19%
2%
None
1 6 | NAT U R E J O B S | 2 3 J U N E 2 0 1 1
One to three
Four to six
More than six
Source: Naturejobs poll, n = 418
the person presenting a poster
of interest, she was expecting to
speak to a fellow student, but
instead discovered the presenter
was a senior scientist from
the student’s lab. Fortunately,
she’d read up on the research
beforehand. “We ended up
talking for about an hour,” she
says. “It was a great experience.”
Conferences and events are
a common fi xture for most
scientists — more than 80 per
cent of respondents in a recent
Naturejobs poll planned to attend
at least one this year (see image).
Whether you’re looking forward
to networking and catching up
on the latest advances in your
field, or just want a break from
the lab or office, several strategies
can help you make the most
of your time: picking the right
events, maximizing networking
opportunities, delivering effective
presentations, managing time,
and navigating logistics.
With such a varied calendar of
events, choosing the most relevant
conferences is crucial. “It really
depends on what you need at that
point in time,” says Anne-Marie
Glynn, programme manager for
courses and workshops at the
European Molecular Biology
Organization (EMBO), which
funds around 80 events each year.
Generally speaking, larger
events offer a bigger selection of
speakers and a broader perspective,
while smaller events are often
better for networking. “If you
want an overview of the subject
you are interested in, then a big
conference is probably the place to
go,” says Robin Holliday, Fellow
of the UK’s Royal Society, which
holds around 30 conferences
of various sizes each year in
London and Buckinghamshire.
“If you are a leader yourself, it
is better to have face-to-face
interaction at smaller events.”
Nifty networking
Networking is one of the main
benefits of attending conferences,
but it’s not always easy to get
started. Rebecca Twells, manager
of scientific conferences
and advanced courses at the
Wellcome Trust in the United
Kingdom, suggests opening a
conversation with a question or
observation about the subject of
the conference rather than trying
personal small talk. To break the
ice Twells suggests reading up
on the person you want to talk
to. “Look at their abstract and
think of a question to ask before
you approach them,” she says.
Check whether the event
programme includes any formal
networking events. For example,
some of the Wellcome Trust’s
smaller conferences feature a ‘speednetworking’ element that works on
the same principle as speed dating.
“People sit down, have a couple of
minutes to chat to someone and
then move on,” explains Twells.
The format can help delegates
who are reticent about trying
to break the ice on their own.
Remember to maximize
incidental networking
opportunities, such as coffee and
lunch breaks. “If you use that
time to check emails and phone
messages, then you’re cutting
down on your networking time,”
says Sally Davison, head of the
course and conference office at
the European Molecular Biology
Laboratory (EMBL) in Heidelberg,
Germany, which has hosted around
10,000 attendees at its Advanced
Training Centre (ATC) since it
opened in March 2010. “Consider
having an out-of-office reply so
you can focus 100 per cent on
the meeting.” Holliday agrees,
saying informality and making
time for discussion is essential.
If you’re interested in meeting
a particular speaker, be aware
WELLCOME LIBRARY, LONDON
that some will only stay for their
talk. Check with the conference
organiser when speakers will be
arriving, and try to stay at the same
hotel, if possible. “Often organisers
identify invited speakers and
scientific organisers with a different
badge, so look out for that,” adds
Davison. To make it easier for
those you meet to remember you,
consider taking a business card
with a photo or a link to your blog.
Be aware that some fellow
delegates may not be as
comfortable networking because
their working environment
has a more rigid hierarchy.
For students such events are a
chance to explore potential career
opportunities in a more casual
setting than a formal interview,
but you still need to be prepared
for meeting senior scientists.
“Doing research ahead of time can
really bring down stress levels,”
says NAGPS’s McCary. Reading
up on the scientist’s work will
also equip you with the necessary
knowledge to allow subtle selfpromotion: “You can slide in some
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comments that show you would
be an addition to their lab.”
Whatever your networking
strategy, be assured that your
fellow scientists are there to talk
to you. “Our speakers are there
specifically to help attendees get the
most out of the event,” says Darren
Hughes, a scientific officer in the
Wellcome Trust’s conferences and
courses team. “They’re extremely
approachable — participants
shouldn’t feel intimidated.”
Powerful presentations
If you’re preparing a poster for a
conference, make sure you check
the size and orientation of the
poster board you’ll be given when
you get there. When thinking
about design and layout, take
inspiration from other events
you attend. “Look around and
see what appeals to you and what
you think works,” says McCary.
During the poster session, try
to be proactive and approach
people looking at your work.
For oral presentations, good
timekeeping is essential. “Make
The UK’s Wellcome Trust runs up to 25 courses and 30 conferences and summer
schools each year.
sure you know how long you are
expected to speak for, and how
much of the allotted time is for
Q&As,” says Davison. “Take
into consideration that the
programme has been developed
with care.” Pace your presentation
beforehand in front of colleagues,
and consider making provision
for an early stop point so that you ❯❯
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don’t have to skip through slides
if you run out of time, which can
be frustrating for your audience.
“They feel like they’re missing
out on something,” says Twells.
“It looks better if the speaker
finishes, and you don’t realise
they’ve got a few extra slides.”
Try to keep the number of slides
and the accompanying content to
a minimum. “Only have the key
messages on your slides, and then
develop them further orally,” says
EMBO’s Glynn. If you don’t need
to present any data and are giving a
more general presentation, consider
omitting slides altogether. If you
get it right, the style can captivate
your audience. However, you’ll
need to balance that against the
lack of visual reinforcement of
your message and the increased
potential for misunderstanding.
Consider carefully the level at
which you pitch your content, even
at more specialised events. “You
can never assume that everyone
in the audience has the same
experience as you,” says Glynn.
When presenting data, avoid using
red and green together in graphs
as this can cause problems for
colour-blind people. And if you’ll
be including any unpublished data,
it’s best to indicate this clearly.
Visit the lecture room in
advance and meet the audio-visual
(AV) staff so that you can check
whether your presentation will
be compatible with the system
being used. Technical problems
can “throw even experienced
speakers off”, says Glynn. It’s also
a good idea to meet the person
chairing your session beforehand.
Get lots of practice if you’re not
very experienced at presenting.
“It is just a quantity game,” says
McCary. “The more times you do it,
the more confident you will feel.”
Keeping track of time
Time management becomes more
important at larger conferences
featuring concurrent sessions.
Choose what you will attend
beforehand, and check whether
you need to register for workshops
in advance. If you’re interested in
two simultaneous presentations,
check to see if one is repeated,
or if it has an associated poster
presentation that you could attend
instead. Find out whether the
presentations are being filmed for
the conference website, or ask a
colleague if they could cover one
for you. If you’re attending on your
own, try to find a fellow delegate
who might be willing to split the
programme. “Sometimes organisers
pair up students when arranging
accommodation,” says EMBL’s
Davison. “By default you get a
‘buddy’ straight away, and you can
build your programme as a pair.”
Remember to check the final
programme when you arrive at
the conference for any last-minute
changes. If you find yourself in a
parallel session that isn’t what you
expected, “feel free to leave”, says
McCary. “At big meetings people
are moving about all the time.”
A time-management tip that can
help the whole conference run more
smoothly is to submit your abstract
to the organisers in good time. “Try
to avoid submitting it on the day
of the deadline,” says Davison.
Back to basics
If you need to book
accommodation for an event,
check the conference website
for recommended hotels. The
organisers may have secured a
discount, and those hotels will
likely be closer to the venue and
other delegates will be staying
there. If recommended hotels
are more expensive than others
in the area, weigh this up against
the potential benefits. If money
is an issue, you could look
into youth hostels or consider
#OGGVKPIQHOKPFU
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pairing up with a colleague to
share the cost of a hotel suite.
Visas are another area to
consider. “Arrange that as early
as possible,” says Twells. Make
sure you’re clear about which visa
you need and watch out for any
areas of potential confusion — for
example, delegates from outside
Europe who need a ‘Schengen’
visa to travel to one of the 25
European countries that make up
the Schengen Area should be aware
that the visa does not allow entry to
the United Kingdom and Ireland.
During the conference, make
sure you adhere to policies on
disseminating content from
presentations. If you post
something related to unpublished
data on Twitter, for example,
you could be inadvertently
jeopardising a patent application
or journal submission.
If you need more information
at any point, be sure to check the
event website and any emails you
have received. Many conferences
will also have dedicated staff on
hand to answer specific questions.
“We’re here to help,” says Twells.
A fresh perspective
Whether you’re a conference
newcomer or a seasoned pro,
attending events can give you a
new outlook on your work and
career. “You never know who
you’ll get talking to,” says EMBL’s
Davison. “Visiting a conference is
like pressing the reset button —
sometimes you meet someone who
makes you think differently about
where you’re heading.”
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NW213536E
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CONFERENCE & EXHIBITION
Sep.28(Wed) - 30(Fri), 2011
COEX, Seoul, Korea
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WHY BIO KOREA?
ᖕ Korea is a rapidly growing bio hub in Asia (25% growth in last 3 years)
5 IF UI* OUFSOB UJPOB M
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Oct. 23 - 27, 2011
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Simon Chan (U. of California-Davis, USA)
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Jeremy Thorner (U. of California-Berkeley, USA)
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The Renin–Angiotensin System: Today and Tomorrow in Research and Clinical Practice
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