Robin's Blog

Thoughts on academic conferences, or “Conferences aren’t lectures!”

I’ve just been to my first ‘grown-up’ academic conference – the Remote Sensing and Photogrammetry Society Conference 2011. I learnt a number of things from this conference that I thought I’d share:

1. Conference presentations are not like undergraduate lectures
In an undergraduate lecture you go in, listen to someone talk for a long time, and try and write down/remember as much of it as possible – because almost any of it could come up on the exam. It was not uncommon for me to have 3-4 pages of handwritten notes for a 45 minute lecture. Conferences aren’t like that – you don’t need to remember (or even understand!) all of the details and you only need to care about the bits you actually care about. Why is this? Well, you’re not going to be examined on it, and you can get the details from the author another way (through the paper in the conference proceedings or via email etc). Most importantly though – you only need to be interested in the stuff that is interesting or useful to you – now you’re a researcher no-one else is telling you what to be interested in, you have to decide that yourself!

I first noticed this during some departmental seminars where I was taking notes and so was my supervisor, who was sitting next to me. During the seminar I took about 2 pages of notes, and my supervisor wrote about 5 words. I had treated the seminar like a lecture, and tried to get down all of the information – he had focussed on just the bits that were really interesting to him.

I must admit I still find this very difficult – four years of lectures have got me into the ‘write everything’ mindset, but I tried hard to be more selective at this conference, and I think I did fairly well. I tried to make notes on the bottom of the page in the conference booklet that showed the abstract for the presentation – which could be quite hard if the abstract was long!

2. Show your interest in other people’s work
People want you to be interested in their work – if you get excited about it they’ll be excited too, they won’t label you as a ‘geek’ or ‘weird’. In fact, nothing seems to make researchers happier than having a really in-depth conversation about their work with someone who is really interested.

3. Show your interest in your work – all the time
No matter who you are talking to, show how interested and excited you are about your work, and how great you think it is. Why? Well, hopefully you are interested in your work, but also – you never know who you’re talking to. I spoke to someone who I thought was ‘just an academic’, turned out he was in charge of funding for the majority of my field in my country. My excitement in my project and explanation of why I think it is important may have paid off…

4. Social events are important
We had a lot of nice social events at this conference (including a boat trip around Poole harbour and a very nice meal at a fancy hotel). Most of the really interesting conversations I had were during these events – whether they were learning about the academic environment in different countries, discussing research projects, or coming up with really bad remote sensing jokes. Getting to know people in the social events gets you known amongst the community, so next time someone sees your name as an author they remember you – always useful.

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This post originally appeared on Robin's Blog.

Categorised as: Academic

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