PhD Life: First Specialized Conference in Indy

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Lucas Oil Stadium Home of the Indianapolis Colts


Last week I had the opportunity to attend the American Society for Mass Spectrometry (ASMS) annual conference in Indianapolis, IN. This was my first conference as a graduate student and the first one in which I won’t be presenting work, so I had the chance to take it all in. I recently joined my research group a few weeks ago, and was grateful that my PI didn’t mind using some of that grant money to pay for me to attend. The conference was amazing in that I was able to listen to oral presentations and see poster presentations that utilized mass spectrometry in a variety of ways which did nothing but motivate me. I knew the applications of mass spectrometry are extensive, but the conference really opened my eyes to the amount of research that can be done.

The first day was hard for me because I didn’t know what to expect or how to approach people. A lot of graduate students can be stand of-ish at first especially if they came with their entire group. I used the first day to really take in how things were done, and I came back on day two ready to make connections and expand on my mass spec knowledge. Another thing that I noticed the first day was that there weren’t many black faces in the crowd. Of the few black people that I met the majority of them where of African or Caribbean decent, but I will save the being a minority in STEM dilemma for another post. In those four days I learned a lot about attending conferences and networking in your field which I summed up below.

Plan your day.

I know for ASMS there were about eight different presentations going on at the same time in 20min increments for about two hours. My first mistake was not taking the time to sit down and read through some of the abstracts to decide which sessions interested me and that I wanted to sit in on. You will be given some sort of schedule, and I think to maximize your time you should definitely plan on your day ahead of time. That way you aren’t trying to decide where to go next once a session is over because you risk wasting time. The rest of the week went so much smoother for me because I already knew what I wanted to sit in on and when I had free time to go into the city and do some exploring and shopping.

Venture away from the group.

If you are attending a conference with some of your group members it is okay to not be glued at the hip the whole time. I understand those people are who you know and are somewhat a safety crutch, but it can hinder you. Say you found a talk interesting and wanted to go sit in on it and your colleague is interested in a different talk you guys can go your separate ways and then just meet back later and exchange details of your talk instead of one person having to endure the pain. Also sometimes its harder to meet new people when you’re always in a group. When you’re alone people are more willing to approach you and start a conversation.

Market yourself.

Get some business cards made! You might not be a PhD candidate yet, but you can always substitute that for PhD student which is what I did (there is a difference). Business cards are a great way to network with people. Who wants to have to jot down someone’s email address on a sheet of paper that may be accidentally thrown out. If you find someone’s talk or poster interesting and think you might be able to use some of their techniques in your own research the best way is to give them a business card requesting that they send a pdf to you or taking their card. Trust me, it makes things so much easier and you don’t want to be that person that when asked if you have a card you say no. Many universities offer business card printing services. I got mine done using VistaPrint because it was cheaper than the printing service at my university, but shop around and see.

Posing in one of the hospitality suites where science and alcohol meets.

Enjoy the city.

Most conferences are in major cities. This is the time to explore new cities that you haven’t been to or revisit old ones. I suggest eating at restaurants that you can’t find in your city. Why go to another city just to eat the same food? Also, check to see if there are some historic spots and tourist attractions in the area. Most likely your trip is being paid for by your PI or the department so take full advantage of not having to go into your pocket. But please make sure that you are being safe!

Victory Field

Don’t pretend.

ASMS is a specialized conference so that means that majority of the people in attendance knows a lot about mass spec. You never know who you may end up bumping into and you don’t want to come off as knowing it all but spitting all the wrong facts to the top researchers in the field. Share your knowledge but be willing to just listen at times

Find colleagues that share similar research interest.

This is a good time to find people that are doing research similar to yours and make some connections. You just never know what you might learn from them, or ideas that may surface while discussing your research. Don’t be afraid to share ideas, but remember to be ethical and cite the person if you use their ideas.

Logistics.

If you’re traveling with your group you need to decide whether you mind being stuck with the same people morning and night so whether you can do an Airbnb or you need a hotel room that you can share with one or two people that you can tolerate. We got an Airbnb this year and I learned that for upcoming conferences I rather be in a hotel. Also, if you’re doing a hotel do you want to be right in the middle of the action or don’t mind spending less money and staying in a hotel further out (~15 min, anything more is a bit of a hassle).

That’s all folks. I hope that you maximize the experience at any conference that you will be attending. Don’t leave not learning something new or meeting someone new. This conference has given me so much motivation and excitement regarding my own research and I can’t wait to go back next year in San Diego, CA and present on my accomplishments.

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