As I complete my first virtual meeting of 2020 as a graduate student in science, there was two things I decided to take away from Scientific Sessions 2020. First, there is a specific agenda you could create to help yourself at professional conference meetings. I have some tips on getting involved with the content at the meetings. Second, I want to provide a reminder about the few advantages of virtual meetings.
An Agenda for Professional Conference Meetings:
First you need determine your priorities for attendance. This could be looking at the science specific to your interest that compliments your current work, or engaging in a way where you will communicate with someone outside your current network. Professional meetings have loads of information and dynamics that could create an overwhelming feeling, especially if it is your first meeting as a student. This is the “adulting” component of being a graduate student.
To help with attendance cost, a student should apply for everything. That means any student travel grants, waivers for registration fees, of even finding other agencies that offer to fund “professional development” in students. As frustrating as it can be, plan to be a “penny-pinching patty.” This is part of the goal in prioritizing what you hope to get out of a conference; you need to have the stamina to handle all the sessions you hope to see. This means making sure you eat throughout your entire experience, even if it is virtual.
Second you need to develop general outline for the time frames of the sessions you plan to attend. This is almost like brainstorming what you hope to experience in the scientific sessions you attend at a conference. For me, this year I used the app associated with the American Heart Association meetings. The “AHA” conferences app helped provide reminders and take notes, it’s a virtual planner for your brainstorm session. I found myself on three different occasions changing the sessions I planned to attend virtually. These changes were more related to sessions I was asking others to attend for me, where then I attended a session they could not see in return.
So that brings me to my third point for creating an agenda. Third, a buddy system, which seem obnoxious for scientific conferences. However, if there is an overload of content you want to see and engage with, like I did for this year’s Scientific Sessions, then creating a system to get coverage for all sessions is ideal. Furthermore, this buddy system can lead to an expansion of networks due to attendance of sessions you may not always find yourself becoming involved with.
A Research Tool Box and Advantages of Virtual Meetings:
The main point of research conferences is the presentation of new research in a format that catches attendee interest. Presentations at conferences are typically followed by questions and discussion between presenters and their audience. All of which is was still the framework for virtual scientific conference.
One advantage is no travel and lodging expenses. Most students have to pay out of pocket for travel and lodging at conferences (1). Although, there is nothing that can replace human interaction, there is some light from reduce burden of costs for students in virtual meetings. The stress of affording the expected costs of scientific meetings becomes slightly more manageable. I highlight this because depression and anxiety continue to grow with graduate students. Almost 40% students showed anxiety and depression scores in the moderate to severe range (2). Virtual conferences still allow you connect with others in a different manner. This point is especially important considering the how the pandemic is eroding graduate student mental health. From a current survey of about 4000 U.S. STEM doctoral students , 40% reported symptoms aligning with generalized anxiety disorder and 37% with depression (3).
In addition to the reduced conference expenses, two are three helpful tools for your research conference tool box.
- Take breaks and or watch conferences sessions in different environments. Do not be afraid to go outside with the laptop and listen to a session while being in the sun. This can help create a comfortable environment for you to fully immerse yourself in the session.
- Get involved on social media for these virtual conferences, it allows for continuing conversation and to expand networks. You can take notes from posts on social media reported by others that you may have missed.
2020 carefully reminds us about the value of human interaction for our lives. We will continue to learn and grow as students, adding to our toolbox. Have a safe, socially distanced, and peaceful holiday.
- Malloy J. Stop making graduate students pay up front for conferences. Nature. 2020;13:2020.
- Evans TM, Bira L, Gastelum JB, Weiss LT, Vanderford NL. Evidence for a mental health crisis in graduate education. Nature biotechnology. 2018 Mar 6;36(3):282.
- Chirikov I, Soria KM, Horgos B, Jones-White D. Undergraduate and Graduate Students’ Mental Health During the COVID-19 Pandemic.
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