March 21, 2024

How to Survive Scientific Conferences

You’re going to a scientific conference for the first time? Here is a list of things that I think are important to know.

  • Attending scientific conferences is work, and a regular part of scientific work. It’s allowed to have fun, but it’s a work event.

  • It will be an intensive and exhausting experience.

  • Wear comfortable shoes and clothes (no problem in DH, CL/NLP and CS). You’ll spend a lot of time standing and walking. Back packs are better suited than messenger bags and try to pack lightly.

  • It is not required to attend every single session. Identify the ones that are relevant to you in advance by looking at the topics or the person names.

  • One of the most important tasks on conferences is getting to know interesting people. Do not spent too much time with the people you already know. Try to find a balance between getting to know new people and talking to your peers.

  • It’s ok to take breaks. It’s also ok to do that alone if you need some time for yourself.

  • The question “What do you do?” is a great opener, because most people are willing to talk about their own work. Feel free to ask this to people that you never talked to before. Be prepared to answer that question from others: Have a brief summary of your stuff ready. Make sure to include why it’s interesting.

  • Other good openers are “So, how did you like the session/talk/keynote/conference so far?” and of course “Where you’re from?”.

  • Being able to ask questions after a talk will – at some point in your career – be an important skill. You can practice by thinking about concrete questions that you would/could.

  • The vast majority of people on academic conferences are open and friendly. Don’t be afraid.

Two additions the next day:

  • Many people will spent the evenings drinking various kinds of alcohol in various quantities. You can (and should, actually) join these groups. Nobody will think less of you if you don’t drink alcohol. If you do, know your limits.

  • It may be a good idea to follow-up on some of your new connections with an e-mail after the conference.