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How to be a conference pro!

Academic conferences are the annual meeting places for scientific communities to network, present their latest research, and celebrate the year’s achievements. Conferences like these are a bit different from, say, a science fiction convention or a technology trade-show. They are rooted in the desire for the community to communicate and collectively advance our scientific knowledge, and everyone has their own reasons to attend.

For attendees old and new, conferences can be a little overwhelming at times, as often there’s just so much going on! As members of the Palaeontology community, we’ve decided to put together a small series about some of the useful experience/tips/advice we’ve gathered over the years from a myriad of conferences.

You too can become a science conference pro!

The attendees at SVP in Dallas at the award ceremony. How many 'audiences' do you think are present here?
The attendees at SVP in Dallas at the award ceremony. How many ‘audiences’ do you think are present here?

Who attends science conferences?

  • Active researchers, such as university professors, student researchers, or museum professionals, present and share their latest research in the form of talks, posters, or workshops, and form the vast majority of conference attendees.
  • Students from high school on through to graduate school want to make connections in their chosen field.
  • Prospective students rub elbows with the people who could become their potential mentors and advisers.
  • Vendors sell products related to the academic field of choice – some of the items are utilitarian, and others are just plain fun.
  • Journalists and science communicators share selected pieces of scientific information with the public, and liaise with researchers to find the most interesting stories to cover.
  • Educators of all levels gain valuable insight on how best to pass on the latest science to their students. And some people attend scientific conferences just because they are interested in learning more about a particular scientific field, but in a non-professional capacity.
PLOS Paleo Editor Andy Farke talking about the importance of open access, communities, and science communication at the PLOS reception
PLOS Paleo Editor Andy Farke talking about the importance of open access, communities, and science communication at the PLOS reception

With this potential range of attendees in mind, there is no single uniform audience at a scientific conference. Attendee interests are varied, even within the myriad topics presented at conferences. But there are a few simple tips we’d like to share with you over the next coming posts, as the communication of scientific knowledge becomes more and more readily accessible. Understanding audiences is one of the core concepts of academic life, and a good way to form the basis for further discussion.

The next few posts will build on this, and we’ll include topics such as:

  • Social media etiquette
  • Academic networking
  • Tips for first-time attendees

We hope you find these useful, and share with any colleagues who might be seeking advice about conferences.

Reach out to us: Tell us how we can make this post even better!

Contact us at:

Rob Gay – @paleorob

Taormina (Tara) Lepore – @OutboundTreks

Franziska Sattler – @ohyeahfranzi

Nathan Van Vranken – nvanvranken@sbcglobal.net

Andy Farke – @andyfarke

Jon Tennant – @protohedgehog

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