conferences

#STEMSaturdays: Your Guide to Conferences

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WHY GO AND HOW TO MAKE THE MOST OF THEM

 

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!

 

 

EXTRA EVENTS: WORTH THE MONEY OR NAH?

 

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)!

 

 

HOW TO EASE THE FINANCIAL BURDEN

 

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!

 

 

ONCE THERE

 

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

#STEMSaturdays: Presentation Tips For Posters

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I strongly suggest going to a conference as many times as possible during your academic career. Not only will this allow you to work on those networking skills, but you can also show off your latest research via poster or oral presentation. In this post, we’ll give you tips to help you nail your poster presentation. 

 

Before we delve into what makes a poster great, we first need to get your poster to the conference! While some decide to print their poster at the location, many students can print theirs for a reduced fee or for free at their university. If that’s the case, take advantage of that as posters are pretty expensive (I had to pay $58 for mine, once). Here are some tips to transporting your poster from Point A to Point B:

 

  • The poster case. This is usually a white colored, hard cardboard roll with plastic ends that you can put your poster in for safe keeping. Your advisor/university might have one that they would be happy to loan to you. If not, invest in one. I travelled from the US to the UK without a poster case and I was a bit embarrassed by how wrinkled mine ended up being. 

 

  • Protect the poster case. A step further is a case around the cardboard poster case to protect it from the elements. I’ve seen these be mostly of leather or some synthetic fabric with a strap so you can easily fling it around your shoulder. If you’re going somewhere where there is rain, wind, etc. it’s well worth the investment!

 

 

You’ve made it to the conference with your poster intact, hooray! So what should this poster have had on it? Essentials include your name, your university/affiliations, a way to contact you (always put your e-mail; feel free to put your twitter handle as well), and the title of your project. With a poster you want to focus on just one aspect of your research and expand on that.

 

The next question I get a lot is, “What should my poster look like?”

 

There’s no cookie cutter formula that all academics follow (trust me, I’ve looked and asked around) because everyone presents data in a different way. Much like how your oral presentation shows your personality via PowerPoint, this poster allows your “design personality” to come through. Here are some tips I’ve seen replicated by many posters:

 

  • Background. This varies person to person, but the majority seem to go for a plain background of either white or a dark blue/black. Some put a picture that is almost transparent but doesn’t detract from the important bit of the poster — the WORDS. 

 

  • Font. I was taught that font size should be minimum size 14 for a poster. Stick to traditional and easy-to-read fonts such as Verdana, Times New Roman, Arial, and Garamond as a few examples. Try not to use more than three different fonts on a PPT; think of one as a “title” font, another as a “subtitle” font, and a “body” font.

 

  • Pictures. With pictures, make sure the resolution is big enough that it doesn’t get extremely blurry when blown up on the poster (dimensions vary by conference). Don’t forget to give credit to whoever took the picture!

 

  • Tables and graphs. Make sure they are easy to read- may or may not have background depending the overall poster background.

 

These are a few “templates” that you can follow for your poster from previous conferences I’ve been to:

 

 
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Once you have given your pitch (tips for creating your own pitch can be found here), encourage your audience to ask you questions! If you don’t know the answer, don’t make something up. Instead, admit you don’t know the answer to their question (which is perfectly okay) and that you’ll look into the subject more in detail and would be happy to get back to them at a later time. 

 

Make sure you exchange contact information (e.g. give them your business card) to keep in touch! Include a stack of business cards by your poster so you can be contacted if not by your poster. Follow up with people you’ve met either during the conference or shortly after.

 

With all eyes already on you, you also want to make sure you are following the professional dress code. I usually go for either a simple dress (the attention should be on your poster, not you) or nice pants and a shirt. Flats or heels work; remember, you will be on your feet a lot during these conferences so comfort is key!

 

Practice your pitch in front of family and friends and see if they can give you any constructive criticism about it.  I usually get my group to also look at my poster and rate it on a scale of 1-10 (10 being the highest) by how easy it is to read, how attractive it looks, and if it is a memorable poster. This helps me tailor my poster to not only professionals, but also those who are outside of my field and may happen to come across my work; be prepared and be confident! You’ve got this!

 

Do you have any tips on poster presentations that I haven’t mentioned? Share them with us in the comments below or tweet us at @mcmsharksxx or @OfficialFemSTEM!

 
 

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

#STEMSaturdays: Live Tweeting at a Conference

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Conferences are a great way to impart a lot of knowledge on those who are attending. Yet, what if you want the greater community to know what you now know? Enter Twitter. With it being easily accessible on phones, tablets, and computers it allows you to share presentations live-time with only one catch: you have to say what you want to say in 140 characters or less.

 

I’d like to say I’m pretty good at live-tweeting presentations while at conferences. At a recent conference in Tasmania, I was known as “that twitter girl” when I was introduced to new people because the hashtag (we’ll talk about what this is below) was basically just me. Oops. #sorrynotsorry


In my defense, live-tweeting allows me to write down the information shared, serving as notes for me to refer to later on… it just happens to be notes on a public platform so others can learn as well!

 

Some things of live tweeting just can’t be learned or controlled. For example, I type very fast, allowing me to simultaneously type as the person speaks. Other times the venue doesn’t have internet, or has slow internet, practically eliminating your ability to live-tweet. And maybe it’s neither of those things and some presenters just aren’t comfortable with you live-tweeting their work (which is 100% okay), meaning you should put your phone away and just enjoy the presentation (or take notes via notebook). 

 

Here are some tricks I have that help me efficiently live-tweet:

 

  • Learn the hashtag of the conference. Save it to your phone. Whenever you go to a conference nowadays, they usually have a hashtag. A hashtag (#) is used on social media sites (especially Twitter) to identify messages pertaining to a specific topic. For example, if you look up the hashtag #sharks on Twitter, you 95% of the time will see tweets about the animal while the other 5% will be about the NHL team. Once the hashtag of the conference has been learned, use it on EVERY tweet that pertains to the conference- this includes any social functions, talks, tea times where you meet people, poster events, etc. I tend to save it on my phone so I can just “paste” it at the beginning or end of the tweet.

 

  • Be on the lookout for Twitter users. Some presenters will showcase their twitter handle at the beginning, end, or throughout their presentation. If so, add their username (for example, @mcmsharksxx) to your tweets pertaining to their presentation. Before the presentation starts, try to fit their presentation title in a tweet and who is the presenter (e.g. “Adrienne Cruz is next in room C: “The debate between coffee v tea” #FAKECONF17”). Say I was the one giving the presentation—your tweets should begin or end with “#FAKECONF17 @mcmsharksxx” so not only can you connect with me, but I can retweet (RT) your tweets and people can see that I was the only talking about x topic. If they don’t have a twitter (which does happen), add the last name of the presenter (e.g. “#FAKECONF17 Marquez”) to your tweets. I sometimes include what room of the conference I’m at because it lets people know I’m in a specific area (if they want to meet up) and what the ‘theme’ of the room will be for the time being.

 

  • Be mindful of those presenters who DO NOT want their presentation live-tweeted. Not everyone is keen on having their presentation –or part of it—aired on Twitter. Please be mindful of that and respect their wishes. Some will declare their presentations as twitter-friendly or not, and may even have “no photos” or “no tweets” signs on key slides that may have raw data and they do not want publicised just yet. If you have live tweeted a presentation and the presenter asks you to delete the tweets, please be respectful of their wishes and take it down immediately.

 

 
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  • Turn your phone noises down. Nothing more annoying than hearing your keyboard going “tick-tack” the whole time or hearing any other distractions coming from your direction. Be courteous of those presenting and silence your phone so those around you can enjoy the talk as well. On that vein of thought, if you happen to get a phone call during the presentation, excuse yourself and leave the room to take it. 

 

  • Make sure you are connected to WiFi (if available). Twitter takes up a lot of data. See if your conference venue has WiFi (usually conferences will tell you this ahead of time) and then find out the password. This is especially important if you are abroad—roaming charges are quite awful (and expensive). 

 

  • Make sure you have an extra battery. Twitter also takes up quite a bit of your battery power. I have a portable battery that I charge every night so that I can use it all up when I’m in a pinch. I always bring two charging cords (you never know when one might go missing) as well as a wall charger in case there are any working outlets (it helps preserve my portable battery’s power, too). These can be relatively cheap and found easily enough on Amazon or your local electronic store.  

 

  • Know the ways to conserve your phone/device battery. Every phone is different, so my tips may not work for you. However, putting my brightness level at its lowest setting, on night mode and with no other applications running in the background helps my battery last a wee bit longer. My phone also allows me to put it in “low battery mode” which “temporarily reduces power consumption… mail fetch, Hey Siri, background app refresh, automatic downloads and some visual effects are reduced or turned off.” My battery also allows me to see percentage so I know when to start to charge again. There’s also the option of not tweeting as much—and for some topics that I don’t feel qualified to speak on, or quote the person on, I don’t tweet. 

 

  • Reduce the jargon. You’ve got 140 characters to work with, and some of those are dedicated to the hashtag and the presenter’s last name or Twitter handle. Your followers may all not be ‘experts’ in this area, either, so make it easy enough so people of all background can understand. If there is jargon that cannot be avoided, define it to the best of your ability.

 

  • Take pictures of the slides. This is not always recommended (see “Be mindful of those presenters who DO NOT want their presentation live-tweeted” tip) but proves useful when taking pictures of diagrams, photos of set ups, graphs, etc. For those who have a hard time seeing images, make sure you describe the picture so they are not left out. Again, always make sure that taking pictures of the slides is okay with the presenter.

 

  • Live-tweet your own presentation. Want to make sure your audience has specific information as a take-away message? Tweet your own presentation! Presenters now have the opportunity to live-tweet their own talk—we’ll discuss this in the next #STEMSaturdays post.

 

And that’s that! Hopefully you can put these live-tweeting tips to good use in your next conference.

 

Do you live tweet at conferences? Do you find it useful?

 
 

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