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Career Planning: Attending Scientific Meetings

By: , Posted on: November 18, 2015

planning a career in biomedical sciencesUndergraduate, graduate and postdoctoral students need to attend high quality scientific meetings. Since attending a meeting is costly and takes the trainee away from their laboratory work, students, supervisors and institutions debate the cost/benefit of “sending trainees to meetings”. We feel the benefits far outweigh the costs involved.

There are different types of meetings.

1. Large broad based meetings which include several disciplines

2. Smaller specialty meetings of 150-500 attendees

3. Intimate meetings of 75-125 people, such as, Gordon Conferences and society subspecialty meetings, where you share residences, meals and social events with colleagues. These interactions allow for intense scientific interchange with peers and senior investigators on fairly narrow topics

What is the value of you attending a scientific meeting?

1. You have the opportunity to disseminate your research work and receive feedback.

2. You learn what others are doing in your field.

3. You improve your communication and presentation skills.

4. You meet peers and senior scientists in professional and social settings with opportunities for networking and for discussing research tips which are never published in manuscripts.

5. You obtain new knowledge.

6. You hear talks and Q&A’s by leaders in the field.

7. You broaden your knowledge base across disciplines.

8. You set up collaborations.

9. You have opportunities to share reagents and expertise and learn new techniques.

10. You attend formal career development sessions to help understand the process of career planning and job hunting and to find out which positions are out there in the academic and non-academic community.

When is the best time in your training to attend meetings?

You will find meetings fill both similar and different needs at each stage of your training and job hunting. For undergraduates, meetings tend to be very inspirational and provide a sense of what the life sciences and biomedical research community is all about. You get to meet the giants in your field and in other fields. You have the opportunity to present your work and talk about it with interested folks. I remember the excitement shown by one of my students when a “big name” came by and talked to her about her poster.

For graduate students, honing presentation skills and getting feedback is important, as is the opportunity to network and to learn about the hidden secrets of techniques and concepts from peer and senior scientists working in your field. Also the opportunity for face-to-face meetings with potential postdoctoral supervisors or industry scientists who may have jobs to fill is an added bonus to attending meetings.

For those contemplating postdoctoral studies, email potential supervisors and invite them to attend your presentation or try to schedule a brief meeting during the scientific meeting to introduce yourself and provide your “elevator pitch”. As postdoctoral students, you are looking for faculty and industry jobs. Your supervisor and those members of your training committee or department who may be attending the meeting will be able to introduce you to their colleagues and friends who may be potential employers. See if you can visit research laboratory groups located in the city of the meeting. You may be able to observe potential academic or non-academic job sites. This is a great opportunity to get more out of your scientific meeting than simply attending the meeting. You may also plan some vacation time before or after the meeting since you are already there.

How do you prepare for a meeting?

You need to prepare for the meeting. Review the program carefully and identify those posters and presentations you want to hear and see. Especially in a large meeting, you need to plan so that you use your time efficiently. There will also be much to take in so you need to set priorities. To prepare your own presentation, obtain as much input as you can from your supervisor, laboratory colleagues and peers. Rehearse your presentation and your poster so it is well delivered and you are prepared for questions. You want to put your best foot forward and make a good impression on colleagues and potential collaborators and employers.

Guidelines for financial support

Here are some guidelines we use to regulate meeting attendance. In order to be reimbursed for modest travel and room and board, the trainee must present their original research work at the meeting as a poster, platform presentation or talk. Expenses need to be kept to a minimum by using cost containment, but beware of “penny wise pound foolish”. If you stay at a cheap hotel away from the meeting, you may spend too much time commuting. Usually a trainee is supported for one out of town meeting per year. Some trainees may have their own funds from scholarship awards which will provide them with more opportunities. Enjoy your scientific

Read more on career planning from Avrum and Meshulam on SciTech Connect

About the Authors

Avrum GotliebAvrum I. Gotlieb, MD is Senior Academic Advisor to the Dean; and Professor in the Department of Laboratory Medicine and Pathobiology at the University of Toronto in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

His book, Planning a Career in Biomedical and Life Sciences: Making Informed Choices is available for purchase on the Elsevier Store. planning a career in biomedical sciences

Use discount code “STC215″ at checkout and save up to 30% on your very own copy!

Meshulam Gotlieb, MA is an Academic Translator and English-Language Editor based in Beit Shemesh, Israel.

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