Finding your way at a large national conference: tips and tricks

Attending a scientific conference can be daunting, especially for trainees. You’re still getting your sea legs so-to-speak with regard to your science, and on top of that, you may be presenting a poster or talk to an audience of the most distinguished researchers in your field. Many of us feel the same way, and it can be difficult to muster the courage to go up to someone and introduce yourself. But this is the perfect time to do it!

To really make the most out of your conference experience, especially at a large meeting like AHA Scientific Sessions, it is important to prepare ahead of time! Yes, you will need to book your flight and hotel and register for the conference itself, but you also need to consider how you’re getting to the airport or how you’re getting from the airport to your hotel. Do you know if there is a special lot for rideshare pickups or are you getting a shuttle? Does your hotel offer early check-in? These are all important questions, and at least in my experience, are often overlooked. Plan ahead for the little details, so your brain can be as stress-free as possible on the day of your travel.

Next, to the conference itself. Plan which sessions that you want to go to, but don’t overbook yourself. Scientific conferences often have some downtime, but perhaps you want to get a little exercise while you’re away or if you plan to get a late dinner with colleagues, you might want to skip the early-morning session. Find out what works best for you, so that you can focus on the science and network without feeling completely drained.

Planning which sessions you want to attend can be extremely important for poster presentations. Often, there are so many posters that you won’t have time to wander up and down the entire exhibit hall perusing at your leisure. Search the program using keywords and make a list of a handful of posters you’d like to see. Or if you have a colleague presenting a poster, do them a favor a pay a visit. If they have legions of people trying to get a glimpse of their work, then move on, but if they’re waiting and nobody is talking with them, go up and talk. It can be extremely isolating to stand next to a poster waiting anxiously for someone to come by and show interest.

One great way to get to know more people in any scientific society is to get involved. If you’re a trainee, there is usually some standard way that you can volunteer to join a committee. In AHA, you can apply to be an early career blogger! This is a surefire way to meet people. This serves many purposes. It helps the society in various ways. It also helps your CV. Finally, you are forced to meet and interact with people, many of whom may be in leadership roles. Knowing people at the conference you’re attending is a great way to boost the number of people that come to your poster or presentation and generally improves your conference experience.

My last tip is to have fun. If you use your time wisely, you can come away from a conference with a head full of new ideas in addition to some new friends.



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