I’ve been attending the American Society of Plant Biology’s annual meeting since I was an undergrad researcher. It was my first “big” (though our ~1000 attendees comes nowhere close to other big meetings) meeting, though every year it seems to get a bit smaller – I recognize people, know their research, and already have an idea of what to expect from the conference. So what do I get out of it?

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Gathering crowd at #plantbiology15 #plantscience #plantsrule

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Networking

When I first starting going to this meeting, I was intimidated by the sheer number of researchers, their familiarity with one-another, and their “star status.” The more I went to the meeting, the more I started to see everyone as a colleague, and not someone by whom I should be intimidated. I started walking up to people, introducing myself, and building connections. I started to reconnect with people I had met at smaller meetings and discover that there are fewer than six degrees of separation in the plant biology community.

Plant science career survey results

A few years ago, I joined a team of attendees who assumed the responsibility of sharing our meeting via social media. My connections grew, both virtually and in real life, with researchers from industry and academia, as well as with those who have left the bench to run outreach, communication, and education programs.  I was initially not into using twitter, or other social media, to promote science, but it’s proved to be an invaluable tool. If you’re not sure about it either, check out these posts to see how science, specifically scientific conferences, and twitter can play nice.

I’ve networked with other researchers at these meetings and built fruitful collaborations, but I try to focus on more that just the science at this meeting. This year, I spent a good bit of time learning about different education initiatives that our society is embracing, including the use of Wikiedu in the classroom and the publication of interesting course materials in a new journal, CourseSource. I talked to quite a few people about open data, open access, and the use of pre-prints on bioRxiv. I spent some time going to workshops that covered topics outside of my main field, including bioinformatics and biotechnology, and getting to know the people in these areas.

Opportunity

My networking at the plant biology conferences has led to opportunities that have really enhanced my grad school experience away from the bench. Getting to know the education and outreach arm of my society provided me the opportunity to attend the White House Easter Egg Roll this past spring and teach thousands of kids about how plants grow.

When I started to wonder about the careers that those with degrees in plant biology pursue, I reached out to people who I had met at previous conferences to put together a survey to collect this information. On the first day of this year’s meeting, we unveiled the results (summarized in the infographic to the right) in conjunction with a career and networking workshop with Sarah Blackford, who runs Bioscience Careers.

Fun

I enjoy this meeting more and more every year. Maybe it’s because I know more people and see it as a reunion of sorts, maybe it’s because I’m becoming increasingly interested in the science that’s presented each year, or maybe it’s something else. Regardless of the reason, I see the meeting as a chance to travel to a fun city (hey-yo, Minneapolis) and see what it has to offer. In 2014, the meeting was in Portland, OR, which meant lots of interesting food-truck eats and micro-brews. Minneapolis offered up interesting art and plentiful outdoor activities. Next year, we go to Austin, TX, which I’m already looking forward to.

My tips for a successful conference

I really enjoy this and all the conferences that I attend. Other than just getting over initial networking hiccups, here are four tips I have on how to get the most out of your conference experience:

  1. Don’t just hang out with the people from your lab or institution.
  2. Go to a talk, workshop, or event that you wouldn’t normally attend.
  3. Carry business cards, share your twitter handle, or provide some easy way for people to connect with you after the meeting.
  4. Print your poster on fabric, both to eliminate having to carry a poster tube around and so that you can wear it as a cape!
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