Attending your first conference

Attending your first scientific conference can seem daunting, but there are plenty of ways you can get the most out of your first experience. Check out these tips to help you prepare, and to get an idea of what to expect!

Before the conference

If you’re feeling nervous about attending, taking some time to prepare for the conference before you arrive can be a good .

Read the programme

Some conferences upload online versions of the programme prior to the event. Having a proper look through the conference programme before you arrive is a good way of giving yourself an idea of what to expect, how the conference runs, and most importantly what interesting talks and workshops you have to look forward to.

Some talks or seminars may have limited capacity and require you to book in advance, so make sure to sign up to everything in plenty of time!

Plan your time

Once you’ve looked at the programme, plan out which activities you want to attend and give yourself an itinerary. Make sure not to pack too much into each day, leaving time for breaks, socialising and navigating the venue. This might also be a good time to plan your journey from your accommodation to the conference venue so you know what time you need to leave. Give yourself some extra time on the first day in case it takes longer than expected. You can be flexible once you arrive if plans change but having a schedule will help you to get started.

Join in on social media

Conferences often engage with attendees on social media leading up to the event. Heading to Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram and following the relevant accounts and hashtags is a good way to keep up to date with announcements and communications. It’s also an opportunity to see who else will be attending. There will be other first timers too, so reaching out on social media before you arrive can be a good way to get a head start on making new connections.

What to bring and wear

We’ve put together a packing list of conference essentials, so you don’t have to! Try not to take a big bag that will be too heavy to carry around, and packing light will also save you time in cloakroom queues.

  • Paper and pen
  • Phone
  • Laptop
  • Chargers
  • Power bank
  • Name badge/lanyard and tickets
  • Snacks
  • Water bottle
  • Tissues
  • Lip balm, hand cream, sanitiser
  • A jumper/scarf
  • Wear comfortable shoes
  • There isn’t usually a dress code, so wear whatever you’re comfortable in

At the conference

Once you arrive, there are several ways to get the most from your time, and make sure you’re taking care of yourself. Remember, you won’t be the only one who’s new to this!

The venue

Conference venues can differ a lot, so check what to expect in advance. Is the conference spread out over a campus, or in a single building? You might want to factor this in when planning your day, and give yourself plenty of time to move between sessions.

You can never be quite sure what the temperature of the conference centre will be, so dress in layers in case you get too hot or too cold!

Check if refreshments will be provided, and what they will be, particularly if you have dietary requirements.

Socialising

Conferences aren’t just about attending talks and workshops, they’re also a great way to meet new people and make interesting connections. There are usually lots of opportunities to socialise, so be sure to make the most of them. Join mixers, ask questions, engage in workshops, or just go and introduce yourself! If you enjoyed a talk don’t feel shy about chatting with the speaker afterwards – speakers are usually happy to answer any questions you may have.

Poster sessions are often a good place to learn about a range of research and meet lots of people. If you are presenting a poster, make sure to spend some time next to it so you can talk to people about your research!

Social media is often pretty active during the conference, so keep up to date and join in conversations online.

Keep a record of contact details

Make sure you don’t lose all the connections you make! Save contact details in your phone, or write them down in a safe place. Business cards can easily get lost so it is always worth making a note of any contacts you get.

Get out of your comfort zone

You might be attending a conference because of a specific research interest, but conferences often have a range of subject matter on offer. Use this as an opportunity to broaden your knowledge, pick a couple of talks or workshops that aren’t necessarily your specialty, but still look interesting to you. You never know what you will learn, who you could meet, or how it could help you in the future.

Look after yourself

There is often a lot to do at a conference, lots of people to meet, and so much to learn. It is important to remember to give yourself regular breaks, keep yourself fed and hydrated, and take time out for a rest whenever you need to. There are often quiet places in a conference venue where you can get some space, or you can take a quick walk and get some fresh air if you need it.

Making connections: elevator pitch

Introducing yourself to a lot of new people can be overwhelming, but conferences are a fantastic opportunity to network. Having your ‘elevator pitch’ ready to go can make those introductions go more smoothly and increase your chances of making great connections! Your elevator pitch should include:

  • Your name
  • Where you work or study
  • What you are working on or studying
  • Who you work with (your supervisor, professors, or lecturers – particularly if they are also in attendance or giving a talk)
  • What you’re interested in
  • If you’re a student this is a chance to tell people what kind of work you’d like to do in the future, what disciplines fascinate you and why. If you’re a researcher, you can talk about what research ideas you have for the future. This can be a great way to meet people who can give help and advice on areas you are interested in, as well as to learn and share.
  • Which parts of the conference you are looking forward to – you might find a buddy to go with you!
  • Don’t forget to ask questions back!

Outside of the conference

Remember to strike a good balance over the course of the conference and put aside some time to do other things. Often conferences are an opportunity to visit cities you haven’t been to before, which can be both exciting and nerve-wracking. Here are a few ideas of what to do outside of the conference.

Accommodation

If you’re worried about navigating a new city, it can be best to book accommodation that is close to the conference centre so you have an easy commute.

However, if you’re keen to use this as a chance to explore, you might want to book accommodation in a neighbourhood that appeals to you.

Most cities have a range of hotel chains available, but if you have limited funds you may consider staying in an Airbnb, a bed and breakfast, or a hostel. Some hostels offer private rooms which can help you feel more secure, and allow you to get more rest!

Sightseeing

It’s a good idea to have a quick internet search of the city you will be visiting, read some online travel guides and maybe make a list of things you’re keen to see. You might not have a lot of time for sightseeing, but it is worth checking if there are any unmissable attractions you’d like to catch.

Online travel guides are also a good thing to check regarding general travel information for that city, and they might recommend good places to eat or visit in the evenings.

Keeping yourself safe

When staying in an unfamiliar city, it is important to keep yourself safe. Familiarise yourself with your travel routes and surroundings when you arrive so you know how to get back to your accommodation safely. Keep your phone charged in case you need to check maps or call someone. If you attend social events in the evenings, try to travel home with a group or get a taxi back to where you’re staying.

Rest and recuperation

Between new people, new cities, and a host of activities, it’s really important that you have some down time. For conferences that last several days, make sure you give yourself at least one evening off to get a good night’s sleep.

If you’re really keen to sightsee and explore, maybe give yourself an extra day or two either before or after the conference, so you aren’t trying to fit too much into a few short days!

After the conference

Hopefully you’ll have had a great first conference experience, learned a lot and met some interesting people.

Reach out to contacts

Don’t leave it too long to contact anyone you may have met, do this whilst you are still fresh in their minds and keep the conversation going. If you have any questions you didn’t get a chance to ask at the conference, now is the time to ask!

Write up notes

Take the time to transcribe your notes soon after the conference finishes, if you leave it too long they might stop making sense. It’s always good to have a record of what you learned, you never know when it might come in handy.

Reflect and share

Head to social media to share your thoughts on your first conference experience, post advice to future first timers, and reflect on what you enjoyed most as well as things you learned for next time.

Remember to follow the people you met or speakers you saw on social media.

If you have any advice to add for first time conference attendees, or other questions and queries, get in touch with us as events@britishecologicalsociety.org