A trifecta of conferences

Reflections on the obstacles and importance of science communication and networking.
A trifecta of conferences
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If I am honest, I find conferences to be an innately abnormal experience. They hold a space that runs on a separate, parallel timescale. The urgency to push yourself into unknowable conversation with strangers looms above each attendee. There is a palpable buzz of productive anxiety that shapes your experience depending on how it is wielded. 

 Taking home inspiration or connections from a conference is a skill that I have found must be honed through practise. Each conference I have attended has given me a glimpse into a new perspective on the nature of modern research and, more importantly, my own nature. Through reflecting on my experiences, I have found a way to marry the two concepts and shape the direction of my outlook as a young scientist. 

The British Ecological Society conference 🌿

A tentative Marni stands beside her research
for the very first time.

My very first time presenting research was a daunting experience. In the midst of my end of semester assessments, I flew to Belfast to present my crayfish research with my supervisor's team. I was the youngest, being the only undergraduate on the trip, and I was keen to present myself as mature and composed. 

 The venue, though beautifully presented, struck me as alien. Hundreds of busy minds darting around, greeting familiar faces and switching languages for ease of understanding. Here I stood like a fish out of water trying to decipher the presentation titles in the hopes there was something of interest to me to occupy myself for the next two days. 

I learnt two lessons on this trip. Firstly, arrive with some sense of what you would like to listen to and don't be afraid to attend talks that you feel under-qualified to attend. Secondly, sometimes it is good to acknowledge your lack of experience and knowledge. A conference is the perfect place to ask questions and seek advice from people who are working in the field you aspire to be a part of.

The British Conference for Undergraduate Research 🌈

Our trip to the London School of Economics was kindly arranged by the Laidlaw team at the University of

My lovely Laidlaw friends <3

Leeds, to which I am highly grateful for. This conference immediately struck me as different from my experience in Belfast. The building was full of eager and talented undergrads who were keen to make a start in their research journeys. As a result, I found it abundantly easier to strike up conversation and make meaningful connections that I still follow up a couple months down the line. 

 I put what I learned from BES into practise by attending talks on subjects I have no prior knowledge on. And what's more, I had the courage to stick my hand up and ask questions. This was a new lessons for me; mental preparation is key. You must enter these environments with a goal in mind, especially if you are prone to getting overwhelmed in such bustling environments. I had one clear focus for my conference experience; talk to people. About anything, about nothing - it doesn't matter! You simply have to get the momentum going. 

The Undergraduate Research Conference 🍫

Getting involved in workshops builds ideas and connections.

And finally, this summer I had the chance to attend a conference at the University of Leeds where I could put all my past experience into practise. This time I was intentional with what conversations I wanted to be a part of so that I could take the most from the experience and offer my own knowledge to others. I feel like I had the most authentic conversations at this conference as a result. 

Of particular note was practising how to communicate science with non-science researchers and in turn taking something away from non-science research. I have found that the best principle is to be honest and succinct - let curiosity drive the conversation in whatever direction it may flow. Each time I spoke with a new person, the jumping off point of our respective research led somewhere completely different. In my eyes, this is the true value of the conference. 

What I have learnt in summary 💡

To conclude, I would like to bullet point my key takeaways for anyone who might like some ideas, and more my future self. 

  • Asking a question during a presentation is a great way to start a dialogue with someone.
  • Be intentional about your conference experience; arrive with a focus/goal, such as making one new connection or attending a specific workshop.
  • Make yourself heard, because you have something of value to say. 
  • Conferences can be overwhelming, crammed and stuffy - don't forget to take a break if you need to. Take a short walk to get perspective and refocus your intentions. 
  • Finally, do not worry if you are not ready or in the mood to network and workshop. Enjoy the experience is whatever way is beneficial to YOU.

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Go to the profile of Sebastian Glasper
about 1 month ago

This is amazing Amarni!!  It's inspiring to see how you've grown from feeling daunted to having a more 'authentic' experience. Thanks for sharing these tips as well 😁