#STEMSaturdays: Your Guide to Conferences




Conferences are a great way to learn in a unique setting and take advantage of possible career building opportunities you just wouldn’t find outside of conferences. I always come back from conferences absolutely knackered because I take full advantage of these events, but also completely excited, rejuvenated and ready to tackle on some new collaborations. Conferences allow you to share ideas and conversations with many people you normally don’t get to interact with, making you think outside of the box. 


To really get the most out of conferences, I always encourage people to present their research—even if it’s “just” a poster—and to attend as many talks and events as possible. Take advantage of live tweeting the talks you attend and reading the tweets of other talks that you may have missed out on. Protip: I have found that the best place to sit at in a room during talk(s) is at the way back, by an aisle seat so you can enter/leave in between talks without causing too much of a distraction. You’ll also want to capitalize on networking during the tea breaks! I talk about how to network (May 20) in any setting (June 3) and what you should have with you (May 6) to make the most out of these interactions in previous #STEMSaturdays posts. Give them a read before you head out to your next conference or socializing event so you can be prepared for any situation!





Often times with conferences, you can opt for field trips, dinners, banquets, etc. Depending on your financial situation, you may be wondering if these extra events are worth the extra dollar signs. I’ve never been one to say no to a dinner party as I find it’s easier to connect with others when their “professional” side has been turned on and it’s just a room full of people who are passionate about [insert conference topic here]. It’s also just nice to let loose with people who are usually close friends or colleagues without having to worry about… well, much of anything else. Some of my favorite memories have been of trying to make my advisor dance (he didn’t—said he didn’t have enough wine), telling a whole crowd my most embarrassing field story (ask me about it some time), having delicious food on a British Harbour, watching a haka in the Te Papa museum to welcome us to the banquet, and riding the night away in a giant Tasmanian camouflaged boat while toasting to a good life with champagne. 


My personal rule is to not pay more than $200 on “extras,” unless the university/advisor is paying for me as a student and doesn’t mind me going on extra events. Otherwise, with my limited budget, I try to spend wisely. You’ll find some peers skip the extras and hold their own events that you can join (for free)!





Conferences are expensive and there’s no way around that. While the price tag is overwhelming for many, there are some ways to cut a few dollars here and there while not dampening the experience as a whole. As mentioned above, you could skip the pre-arranged extra events (which usually mean extra dollar signs) and instead invite peers for a dinner or drink later. That way you can still reconnect or network without going broke. 


Students, you’re in luck! Many organizations have reduced prices (membership, registration, hotel prices, etc.) for students. This also includes scholarships and travel reimbursement through either the organization holding the conference or your university itself to ease the financial burden a little bit (which can add up to a few hundred or a few thousand dollars). Check in with your school and the organizations involved in the conference to see what can be done!


For those who do not qualify for those types of price deals, think about cutting costs by sharing a room with other attendees. Many will post on Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter about seeking roommates—reach out to them and cut your lodge costs up to 75% if you share a room with three other attendees. Some conferences have group rates going for the hotel of their choice for attendees to reside in—check the conference website for these types of deals or inquire with an organizer. Or, instead of staying at the hotel the venue is at, look at cheaper options like a motel or a nearby AirBnB. 


Airfare deals can be hard to find when you’re constricted to a certain time frame! Here are some of my tips that help me land the cheapest flights:


  • Always compare airfare prices. No one airline service will have the best price every time so shop around!


  • Clear your cookies. Some airlines may track your searches and hike the prices up each time you look at a specific air path! Clear your internet browser cookies so this doesn’t happen to you.


  • Set airfare alerts. Some sites can alert you when flights to your designation are around or below the price limit you’ve set. 


  • Know the cheapest and most expensive days to fly. Many airlines release weekly sales late Monday or early Tuesday. Cheapest are Tuesdays, Wednesdays and sometimes Saturdays. The most expensive days tend to be Fridays and Sundays. 


  • Know the cheapest times to fly. Most people don’t want to fly at dawn, overnight (red-eyes), lunch or dinner time. Keep your eyes peeled for these flights for cheaper flight prices.


  • Know when to shop for your tickets. For domestic flights in the US, try to get your tickets anywhere from 90-30 days before you leave, otherwise you may get a price hike the closer your trip gets. For international fares, shop between six months to 2 months ahead of your departure date. 


  • Remember peak travel seasons. These include June, July, August and around the holidays. Try to purchase your tickets up to two months in advance so you don’t miss out on a seat and do miss out on a nasty price hike!





Check into your hotel (or motel, AirBnB, etc) and head towards the conference venue. Find out where registration is to pick up your name tag, any goodie bag you might receive, and the itinerary. ProTip: Put your twitter handle on your name tag so people can see you are on social media!


Conferences are a lot of fun to attend and I hope you get the opportunity to go to one (or more) this conference season!



About the Author:

Melissa C Marquez is a marine biologist and science communicator based in New Zealand. She is the founder of the Fins United Initiative.  You can find her twitter here, and support her on Patreon here