The Top Six Ways to Get the Most Out of an Academic Conference
Professional conferences are an important part of fellowship and continuing education for physicians at all stages in their careers. They provide an opportunity to keep up to date with innovations and research, and are a great opportunity for networking with people who have shared interests.
Below are some ideas for making the most out of an academic conference.
Find the Right Conference
We all know that it can be hard to break away from clinical responsibilities; there is a limit to how many conferences one can attend in a year. It is important to find a conference that fits best with your career interests. Large conferences are a chance for exposure to variety of topics and experts in the field, but do not discount smaller conferences like local chapter meetings. Be aware of registration dates – most conferences increase registration fees as the conference date approaches.
It is tempting to show up and wing it, but planning ahead helps make the most of your time away. As most of us are aware, adult learners have limited attention spans (think 10 – 20 minutes, on average). Keeping this in mind, you can strategize which sessions are a priority and then plan for breaks between those sessions. Make sure to get an itinerary before you go and take advantage of online applications when available. Do not neglect exercise and sleep, as they are both important for memory retention. Try to arrive before the conference starts and leave after it ends, if possible, to make the most of the travel time.
While it is nice to spend time with coworkers outside of work, conferences can be a time to make new connections. Be on the lookout for organized events with people in your area of interest. If crowds are not your thing, seek out smaller group settings with a mix of people you know and do not know. Also, be on the lookout for career fairs or recruitment opportunities taking place within the conference. It is always a good idea to have a few business cards with updated contact information to give to new contacts. If you are actively looking for a job, think about updating your CV prior to the conference so that you can send it to any prospective employers.
Conferences are an ideal place for early career physicians to get comfortable with presenting their own work in an academic setting. Trainee presentations are typically smaller in scale and provide a great venue for honing presentation skills. Try to keep track of submission dates for conferences you are interested in attending. An additional perk is that conference fees are often waived or discounted for presenters. Also, be on the lookout for available scholarship opportunities for trainees to attend meetings.
There can be a temptation to cram as much new information as possible into a small amount of time. Be intentional about what to take notes on, and be realistic about what you will revisit after the conference is over. Keep track of sessions that might change your practice or create new ideas for research pathways. Make sure to keep notes in a place that you can easily access for reference when you return.
Most importantly, try to enjoy a change in the daily routine. If the conference is in a place you have never visited, choose one or two things that you would like to see while you are there. Explore something other than the convention center while you are away, even if for a short time.
This article was authored by Sarah Studyvin, DO, MPH, pediatric cardiology Fellow in Training (FIT) at Children's Mercy Hospital in Kansas City, MO.