If you’re thinking about attending a science conference, a networking event, or anything similar, it can be difficult to know how to prepare for it. And if you’ve never attended one of these events before, they can be overwhelming. I recently attended the Canadian Conference for Undergraduate Women in Physics at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, and I had a blast! I have put together a list of tips to help you prepare for and make the most of conferences you attend in the future:

Rest up beforehand

It’s going to be a busy time and you won’t want to sleep much once you’re there, so be sure to stock up on sleep before you go.

Read through the schedule

Reading the schedule ahead of time will give you an idea of what to expect, what to bring, and what to get excited for! Some conferences will also give you options on what workshops or talks to attend, and it can be helpful to pick out your choices beforehand.

Take advantage of free time

Coffee and snack breaks are the perfect time to make connections! Keep talking to new people every chance you get. That’s why you’re here! Some conferences might make cards for everyone, but you might have to bring your own. Either way, don’t be afraid to hand out your card and ask for other people’s cards.   

Attend grad or career fairs

Many conferences will host grad fairs and/or career fairs. These are excellent opportunities to check out universities you might want to attend in the future, programs you could be interested in, or careers you’re considering. Ask questions! And hey, you might get free stuff at these fairs too (I got some David’s Tea last time).

Sit with speakers at meals

The speakers and workshop leaders are there to help you, they’d be more than happy to have a chat. Sitting with them at lunch or dinner is the perfect opportunity to learn more about their area of expertise in a more relaxed setting. This is exactly how I ended up chatting for three hours with the editor of the Canadian Journal of Physics, Dr. Michael Steinitz. Also, don’t be afraid to ask for their card!

Take notes

You never know when inspiration might strike. In the moment, you might think, “Oh, I’ll definitely remember this, no need to write it down.” But you never know! Bring a notepad and pen with you everywhere throughout the conference and jot down ideas, thoughts, websites to check out, and people to connect with.

Participate in the discussions

Don’t be shy! If you have a thought, share it. This is the place to do it. If you have a question, ask it. There are almost certainly other people wondering the same thing.

That’s it from me today! Hopefully, you’ll remember a few of these tips next time you find yourself at a conference. In short, it all boils down to this: plan ahead, take advantage of opportunities, and make friends!

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