How to Make the Most Out of a Conference

John Ramos

Super Students create cool stuff and cool stuff is meant to be shared. Our research projects, technical innovations and competitive spirit often bring us to conferences, contests or similar events. We get to socialize with like-minded people, get advice from the big guys and earn a chance to shine.

Whether you’re interested in visiting student science conferences/fairs, programming competitions, business idea contests or entrepreneurship conferences, there are a few tips I’d like to share to make the whole experience more productive and enjoyable.

Bring Business Cards

A lot of young scientists are not familiarized with the whole business card thing. It’s an incredibly simple and useful tool that serves a vital purpose: sharing your contact details with the hundreds of people you meet at these events.

Let’s say you met a fellow student who is presenting a great project which just happens to be related to your own work. You have deep conversations about the subject and end up brainstorming a few ideas for further projects (and who knows a collaboration). Instead of jotting down incomplete information in bad handwriting in old post-its, you could just BAM, hand a business card.

While people from the business world are quite used to this ritual, science guys still get surprised when I present them my card. But I’ve retained lots of precious contacts this way.

Student Business Card

Connect with People (both Students and Speakers)

It’s time to get out of your comfort zone and meet as many people as you can. This includes both your fellow students and participants as well as speakers, lecturers and workshop givers.

It’s fairly easy to make student acquaintances, as these events usually feature social programs meant to help people meet each other. This is an enormous opportunity to share similar interests, come up with new ideas, discuss dreams and ambitions and (why not) just joke around and have fun. It’s not everyday that you get to meet cool people from all over the world.

The same goes to older participants. Some conferences host Nobel laureates and key players in scientific fields. After their lectures or during coffee breaks, don’t be shy: go talk to them. It may seem intrusive or scary at first, but all of them will be happy to get to know you or answer your questions. Think about it: you have the chance of having a conversation with some of the most brilliant minds in the planet. Are you going to throw it away?

Treasure the Take-Home Messages

Lectures and formal sessions may take up to an hour or more. Some are really engaging and interesting, others are more theoretical and hard to follow. Either way, there’s one method that allows you to retain the most important points of any talk.

  • Put the smartphone away and actually listen to the lecture. Some lectures are given by elders, true Guardians of their fields who have worked on them for decades. This is one of the very few chances to listen to what they have to say.
  • If possible, connect their points to your own experiences. How does their advice and knowledge relate to your own work? Can their thinking structure be applied to your project? What are you learning that you didn’t realize before?
  • Watch out for that final slide named “Take-home Messages”. This will be the most important slide of the lecture. It will let you understand the key points of the whole session and organize your thoughts for better retention.
  • If the lecturer makes his slides available for download, go ahead and save it somewhere easy to come back later.


Immerse Yourself in a Multicultural Environment

More than scientific or educational value, the greatest advantage of these events is the human element. In international conferences you will find people from all over the world, from Spain to India, from Indonesia to Nigeria, almost every continent is represented.

Although this is not too common, there are still people forming closed groups of familiar cultures or nationalities. Make it your mission to meet people from different backgrounds and cultures.

Sometimes we’re prejudiced against a certain group and it has nothing to do with racism or discrimination. We just automatically assume that just because we’re from the advanced institution X or Y, people for Kajikystan (no that doesn’t actually exist) aren’t doing research worth mentioning. On the contrary, you’d be surprised about their resilience and ability to jump hurdles related to funding, lack of equipment and so on.

To keep a healthy network of people from all over the world, don’t forget to follow-up afterwards. Follow them on Twitter, add them on Facebook, send a friendly email, you name it. Just don’t break contact!

Know How to Lose

Student events are usually of a competitive nature, so it’s not only classy to know how to lose, but also an asset when it comes to improving for next time.

All participants in these events worked really hard to produce something worth presenting to an audience of hundreds of thousands of people in their field. Just having the opportunity to be present at these events is a prize in and out of itself. But, … what if you did get the podium or the first prize?

Getting a distinction by a team of scientists, inventors, businessmen and women is an understandable ambition, but still incredibly hard to get in such a competitive environment. I encourage you to work as hard as you can to WIN. However, if you didn’t get the prize you wanted or weren’t selected at all (as finalist, session winner, whatever), know how to lose gracefully and professionally.

First, congratulate the winner and show appreciation of his work. Then, try to understand why he won. Why did the judges think that his work was better than yours (or at least, more suitable to win the competition)?

You can even talk to the winners and ask for their perspectives and advice. How did they design such a great poster? What was their thinking process to arrive at their conclusions? What was the role of their mentors and how was it important?


Photo Credits:

Business Card by Albert Hwang,
listen by Jay Morrison

John Ramos

Author John Ramos

A medical student, entrepreneur and Science enthusiast. When outside the gym, hospital or conference halls, John does his best to keep up and running.

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