Last week, I had the immense privilege of going to my first international conference. I was a little bit terrified as I went on my own to a country (Spain) whose language I had zero grasp of. As conferences go, apparently this one was fairly small; I think there were between 500-1000 people. There were no parallel sessions so it was possible to see everything, though the schedule was pretty packed. As a whole, the experience was really amazing. Naturally, not all of the sessions were entirely relevant to my work. Despite that, most were quite interesting. During the talks that were particularly relevant, I basically sat on the edge of my seat, frantically taking notes on the new, unpublished research being discussed. Getting to see what is about to come out in the literature in my area of interest was awesome and really inspiring. As a result, a few seed ideas for possible scientific questions and the ways in which I might want to address them have begun to slowly form in my mind.
I was a little bit nervous (that is an understatement) at the concept of networking, partly because of having read some posts & comments on the topic recently (e.g. this one by Scicurious). But having to give a 20-min talk to a smaller audience (~70 or so) on the first day (pre-main conference) seemed to boost my adrenaline level to the point where I managed to not only make a few friends around my age, but I also successfully forced myself to ask 2 half-decent questions during the Q&A sessions (something I had aimed to do) and also managed to speak to a fair amount of people whose names I know quite well from the literature. I guess it’s because of the small size of the conference, but still I think I was fairly lucky to just happen to “bump into” a few interesting & important people at convenient opportunities. It also helped that I vaguely knew one senior person who works part-time in my department, who kindly introduced me to a few people and invited me to go to the bar on one occasion and a restaurant on another occasion.
As I was one of the chosen junior presenters, I also got an invite to an apparently exclusive party on the hotel roof terrace, for conference organisers and all the other presenters. I made sure to limit how many free drinks I had in the sun (given past experiences) and even talked to a few important people but generally just hung around chatting with some of the younger presenters.
One thing I found surprisingly tricky though, was talking to people about my research. I am perhaps a little too enthusiastic about my plans and ideas but having just started fairly recently, most of them are still in the very beginning stages with nothing to show for them yet. So when I excitedly started telling people about my topic, they naturally asked me what approach I am planning on taking etc. However, I was a little unwilling to actually reveal my (secret) ideas for now, which made talking about it a little difficult! I’m sure once I successfully attempt some of them and publish something it will be substantially easier but I can’t help but feel like I was a bit too evasive with people! Nevertheless, I had some really interesting science conversations around the subject.
The whole experience has really fanned my enthusiasm for my research and left me with a lot to ponder. However, it was such an intense, physically and mentally draining experience that I could really do with a few days to recover! No such luck though, there is some more learning to be done and some science to set in motion.