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Headed to your first genomics conference? Here’s what to expect

Practice your pitch, bring a stealth notebook and, oh yeah, dress the part
Headed to your first genomics conference? Here’s what to expect hero image

After a long hiatus, in-person and hybrid virtual-live events are once again on the horizon. The post-COVID world, of course, has its own set of rules that conference attendees will have to follow, but for those ready to jump into in-person socializing again, there is a lot to look forward to.

Your first conference, whether it is genomics or any other science, can be incredibly exciting and incredibly stressful. Besides the logistics—getting there from the airport, navigating an unfamiliar city, and being on time—there are a host of other questions to ponder: What do I wear? How do I know if people are even remotely interested in my project? What should I bring with me—business cards? Resumes?

Here are some tips for those looking forward to attending their first genomics conference.

Plan Ahead

What you get out of a conference may depend to a large extent on how well you set yourself up before heading in. The savvy conference-goer will:

* Define your goals ahead of time.

* Know the events schedule and what the top priorities are.

* Plan wisely—everything from what hotel you book to where you will park. Handling these small details ahead of time will make your day that much better.

* Plan ahead if you want to seek funding—many schools and societies will offer travel grants, but this kind of work can take weeks to sort through.

* Use social media to your advantage.

Networking

This is what it’s all about, right? The parties are fun and the posters are educational but meeting people who can help you move career forward is what this is all about. Here are some pointers:

* The conference starts before you even leave home. You may never know who you could meet at your departure gate.

* Have an elevator pitch ready. Better yet, have a few, depending on the audience. Be prepared to pitch you, your research, your grad school ambitions, or your career goals in as little as 30 seconds—knowing that the first 5 seconds count the most.

* Will your version of a rock star be at the conference? Be ready—show that you have done your homework and that you just might make a good future employee.

* Business cards can be helpful, but if you are new to these events it’s more likely you’ll be writing down other people’s contact info, so be armed with a discrete pen and pad, or be ready to type into your phone.

* Many people will remember how you made them feel, not what you said. Most people like to talk about themselves, so don’t be afraid to ask people about their work, their goals, and their accomplishments.

Etiquette

* Business casual will rule, but in some circles, anything above a fancy lab coat counts as high fashion. Remember that your appearance needs to impress, but comfort is key—some of these events are LONG and you may be on the go from before the sun is up until last call. This is not the time to break in that new pair of shoes or to experiment to see if you like your collars starched.

* Treat everyone with respect. As often happens at these events, the people most easily overlooked may be those who wield the most power and prestige.

* Follow through. If you say you will contact someone, do so. It may be that little ping in someone’s inbox that opens doors for you down the road.

Presentations

 * Big conferences can have presentations going on simultaneously. Plan your day before it starts to make the most of it—but at the same time, stay loose in case you get invited to something exciting or intel gleaned during the day makes a particular event look less cool.

* Take notes. These can help you frame questions during the Q&A—which may help you stand out in a crowd (literally)—and will help you pass on beta from the presentation at your next lab meeting.

* If you are the presenter (😊), practice presenting beforehand. Do so for two types of audiences—one that wants every single detail, and one that wants a 30,000-foot-level overview. Arrive at the session early, ask observers if they have any questions, and have a notebook on hand to jot down the contact information of anyone you may want to follow up with. Speak slowly—some in your audience may use English as a second (or even third) language. If you are a student, say that up front—that will let other researchers know where you stand. Finally, make sure to take notes from the presentation so you can bring that information back to your lab at home.

Take Time to Take in the Sights

Is the conference in a city you haven’t been to before? Better yet, is it in a country you haven’t been to before? Make sure to take a day or two both before and after the conference to take in the sights and culture, whether that’s sacred monuments, white sandy beaches, or famous foot-long hot dogs. After all, you’ll want some memories to keep you alert through the long lab days sure to follow.