Surviving your first professional conference

Current Editor Bridget Ierace at the 2019 American Astronomical Society Conference

Current Editor Bridget Ierace at the 2019 American Astronomical Society Conference

For me, this semester has been the start of attending and presenting at professional conferences. These are great opportunities not only because presenting looks great on your resume, but because they are a great opportunity to learn many new things and meet new people.

I thought I would share some helpful guidelines I learned at my first two conferences this month. A lot of this advice was given to me and was very useful in making it through what can be an overwhelming experience. Personally, I've only been to science conferences, but I’ve tried to focus on general advice for any student attending their first conference.

1. Attend any undergraduate orientations and meet ups.

A lot of conferences will have an orientation to help students know what to expect and learn how to make the most of your time there. They might give a lot of similar advice to what you will read here, but they will also tell you specific information pertinent to that particular conference and your field. Also, meeting other people in your situation is important because you'll want to have a couple people you can eat lunch and hang out with. The students you meet at conferences in the field you want to study/work in are also likely to be your colleagues in the future, and you may see them at many more meetings.

2. Attend as many plenary talks as you can.

Plenary talks are given by invited speakers and will normally cover a variety of different topics. Most people at the conference go to the plenary talks, so they will be one of the largest events. It's a good way to hear about the important things going on in your field that aren't always the exact topics that you study.

3. Check out the exhibit hall.

A lot of conferences have an exhibit hall filled with booths from different companies and institutions in the field. You can pick up a lot of free stuff like stickers! You also can talk to people from places you may be interested in working or interning for. Make sure you find at least an hour or two in between sessions to walk around.

4. Take a break if you need to.

The days at conferences are long and exhausting. You will hear so many technical talks, and your brain will be drained by the end of it. It's totally okay if you need to skip a session and take a nap. Make sure to take care of yourself by eating well and getting some rest.

5. Don't miss out on the chance to explore a new city.

Often, going to a conference means you get to go to a new place you haven't been to yet. Try to take time once you arrive or before you leave to take in the sites and maybe check out the local food or a fun event.


So, try to make the most of whatever conference you're attending, whether you are presenting or just attending. It can get overwhelming at times, but it gets easier with every day.

Article by Current Editor Bridget Ierace, @bridget.anne