My first scientific conference

credit to: PHD Comics (

As I told you from my last post, I was preparing an oral presentation for a national conference that took place at the end of May. Now I am going to share my experience during that exciting week, and I have learned so much from it.

A conference is a place that people showing their ideas, which can bring you inspirations in your own scientific research. The schedule of this conference I attended was tight: the talks started at 8 am, and you ran between rooms until 6 pm. During the 20-minute coffee break, you wanted to drink some coffee, but also to visit the exhibition booths to learn new technologies from companies. You met new colleagues, talked to acquaintances, and participated various social events. During the evening, poster sessions were also a must to attend. Different from an oral presentation, you could take your time absorbing results on the poster, and had an in-depth discussion with the presenter. My colleagues and I usually got up before 7 am, and went back to our apartment after 10 pm. It is challenging both physically and mentally, and you felt that your brain was going to explode because of the knowledge you received. However, it was rewarding that you got amazed by those invited speakers (whose thoughts you cannot hear on a daily basis), and you could peep from a hole to see the desired chemistry in industries. A scientific breakthrough is what we pursue, but pragmatic methods to use in the daily life is one important aspect of our scientific research that we should not forget. For me, it is also exciting that when you see your colleague students be able to implement wonderful ideas and support their logics with data, no matter it was a success or a failure. Therefore, you could find role models, but also encouragement and real-time research feedbacks from your peers who are the people you are standing with, and literally putting their hands in the field at the moment.

I have to admit that I am not the best person to talk about socializing, but I do have a story to tell during the conference. The organizer of the conference invited a group of professionals to have a one-on-one talk with students at one night, and I registered. To my surprise, I only had myself on that table (the other tables had at least two students), and was lucky enough to meet people from different research areas, talking about both working experience and life choices face-to-face. This is a quite good example about how you start building up your professional network as a graduate student. I won’t be on the job market in another few years, but I got to know more about what you are facing, either in academia or industry. It is also reunion time: during a national conference, you have much higher chance to encounter your ex-colleagues, so did I. I met people that I haven’t seen for 5 years, and reconnected with them again. You can always have them on Facebook, but seeing a real person in front of you, drinking some beer and hugging each other still made a difference for me.

Having so much more details that I would like to share (but having no space), I think the most important things I learned from this conference is listening, sharing, and participating. It is people you are dealing with everyday, so a conference is an occasion that you can both improve your scientific knowledge base and your social skills! If I’m on Yelp commenting on the option for ‘going to a conference’, I will give a five star.

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