Summer conference season has come and gone; poster tubes have been put back on the shelf and handy back up thumb drives of .pptx files are tossed in a drawer. After months, or perhaps years of full immersion in lab work, reading papers, and TAing classes, scientific conferences provide momentary contact with real scientists doing real research- much like meeting the actors you watch on TV. For a graduate student, attending a conference is tantamount to a vacation. The light-heartedness of that statement in no way detracts from the importance of meetings. Attendance is an investment in your future as a scientist; it provides networking opportunities for future employment or graduate school, a platform to share and discuss your research, motivation and inspiration to complete your research, and a source for learning about current research.
What conference to attend is influenced by your advisor, financial ability, and application to your research. Most of my colleagues attend the same three or four conferences a year. However, due to recent experience (and the subject of this blog) I encourage you to think outside the box when it comes to conferences.
I recently attended the Annual Science Conference for the International Council of the Sea (ICES) in La Coruna, Spain. The diversity of people (570 attendees from 35 countries) and research (from ocean acidification to telemetry) made the meeting unforgettable. A total of 17 theme sessions with 287 oral presentations and 105 posters provided fertile ground to explore areas of marine science I never pursued in academia or industry.