A Young Scientist’s Guide to the Annual Meeting

The 60th Annual Meeting of the Biophysical Society is coming up this February, and I’m planning on being there. It will be my 10th scientific conference as a graduate student, and my 3rd time attending the BPS annual meeting. I’ve been to several different conferences and even organized a couple, but the BPS meeting is undoubtedly my favorite. The diversity and volume of sessions, the career guidance and networking events, and the various extracurricular events have all contributed to the tremendously positive experiences that I’ve had at the annual meetings. It’s also a great place to reconnect with former colleagues and foster new friendships and professional contacts. Of course, everyone has his or her “first time” attending the annual meeting, and it can seem daunting to a young researcher. Don’t panic! I once felt the same way, too. Remember that you are there just like everyone else is: not just an attendee, but a participant in a five-day smorgasbord of biophysics, and what you have to share is important, too.

20131002-Satchal_Erramilli-001At past meetings, I’ve presented my work both in the platform and poster formats, and found both experiences to be extremely enriching. The poster sessions are well organized by topics, and you’ll find yourself surrounded by other researchers who share your interests. This provides an excellent opportunity to get feedback from – and network with – other people who are in the trenches with you. I spent my assigned time at my poster, and used the additional time that day to wander around and converse with the others presenting in that area. One bit of advice that I’ve received – and I’m sure it’s ubiquitously doled out – is to have different versions of your research talk prepared, in 30 second, 2 minute, 15 minute, and 45 minute formats. The “elevator speech” is particularly useful to have down cold before getting to the meeting. Even if you’re not presenting your work, preparing for a meeting is important, and this is a big part of that preparation. No doubt someone at some point during those five days will ask, “So what do you do?” Be ready with a good answer!

In addition to the elevator speech, planning ahead is critical! There are concurrent sessions and tons of interesting things going on all day long, every single day. The schedule is released months in advance, giving you ample time to plan your days. I’ve found the mobile phone app (“BPS 360”) to be helpful, especially since I’m not fond of carrying things around with me. I would also say that it’s totally OK to move between rooms during concurrent sessions to catch talks that you’re interested in. I always felt guilty doing this and tried to skulk out of rooms unnoticed, but I realized it’s a totally normal thing to do. Just plan ahead! One other bit of advice that I’ll pass along to grad students: email someone whose talk you’re interested ahead of the meeting, or ask a question or approach them after a session. This is an easy way to network. Remember, you go to meetings definitely to learn new and exciting things, but also to meet people and have new people meet you. The BPS annual meeting is a great venue for that.

Staying current on social media is another great way to follow the meeting and network with fellow-participants. The Biophysical Society Blog (biophysicalsociety.wordpress.com) is an excellent resource for proceedings from the meeting, in case you missed out on a talk or workshop. Twitter is also a great venue for discussion – be sure to set up an account! This can be a rewarding extension to your professional self, if used properly. In addition to following the society’s official Twitter account (@BiophysicalSoc), simply following the hashtag for the meeting (#BPS16) will yield hundreds of Tweets from participants. The updates are often entertaining and frequently useful, and it’s another great avenue to network with those who share your interests. At the least, you’ll get to find out where (and where not) to go for dinner!

–Satchal K. Erramilli, PhD Candidate, Structural Biology and Biophysics Stauffacher Research Group Department of Biological Sciences Purdue University


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