8 Tips to Rock Your First Academic Conference!

ICYMI, I attended my first national academic research conference in November! I presented some work that I did this past summer while I was interning in San Diego, CA. The conference itself was SO informative and helped me make a few last minute decisions regarding graduate school applications. I also got a ton of fee waivers which saved me a ton of money.

If you are interested in applying to graduate program in the biomedical sciences and have had some undergraduate research experience, you need to consider attending the Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students. You’ll have the chance to network with other undergrads, have some candid conversations with graduate school representatives, and get constructive critiques on your presentation skills. All of which comes as a once in a lifetime opportunity.

Anyway, there are a lot of conferences that undergrads can take advantage of in their 4 years and I’m going to give a few tips for things to avoid, things to make sure you absolutely do and share a little bit about my experience! Let’s get into it.

Apply for a travel award.

Conferences can be super expensive. Make sure you are cutting your costs down by as much as possible. The organizers usually have funds for travel that you can apply for. You can also try to connect with the major department at your college or university. They also have funds that can be used by undergraduates to attend conferences. Make sure to check all the resources on your campus.

If you’re presenting at the conference, practice with your PI.

They will be just brutal enough that you are prepared to kill it on presentation day.

The outfit you feel the most confident wearing has to be saved for presentation day.

I always wear my striped navy and white dress from J. Crew Factory when I present because it’s appropriate for the dress code while still being comfortable; it even has pockets. this is super nice for oral presentations with a mobile mic. It’s the perfect “get-up-in-front-of-a-lot-of-people-and-speak” dress.

Print out business cards and copies of your resume before the conference to have ready to give out to potential employers.

I had my resumes printed and ready to go but totally spaced on having personal business cards printed. I’m planning to get those done over winter break. I ordered some from Minted when we collaborated with them earlier this year for the blog and those are cute but definitely for blogging events and not academic conferences who need to know my year, major, and school email address. If anyone has tips on actually giving people your business card without being awkward, please let your girl know. I am horrible at human interaction, haha.

Attend as many of the professional development sessions and events that you can.

Simply put: you’ll get out of the conference, what you put in. I went through the entire schedule before attending to figure out where I needed to be and when. Anything pertaining to graduate school or industry jobs, I was there. It was nice having a plan and then being able to work in my own unofficial breaks where none of the sessions seemed interesting to me. I would usually find a nearby Starbucks and hammer out an assignment for one of my classes. Take advantage of all the special knowledge you can receive and attend sessions!!

Finish up your assignments before you head off to the conference and constantly communicate with your professors.

I was terrible at this one, but I highly recommend that you do as much work as you can before you get on your plane. As much as you think you’re going to be super productive at night, I was absolutely pooped from all the social interactions during the day and I consider myself to be an extrovert. The act of talking is just a lot when you’re expected to do it from 7 am to 7 pm for four days straight. Communicate with your instructors if you’ll be missing class. Try to figure out how you can best make up your assignments ahead of time if that will keep you accountable. Most professors will be really proud that you’re taking this career move.

If you can’t walk in heels, don’t feel pressured to wear them.

I feel like a ~queen~ when I’m wearing heels, so I almost always wear them. Regardless, make sure your nails are done and clean if you’ll be wearing open-toed shoes because that can be distracting if you have the same bright blue chipped polish from August on your toes.

Take time to explore the vendors and exhibits that are set up throughout the conference.

One of the most valuable parts of this conference for me was being able to speak with representatives from several graduate schools. I was on the fence about applying to some schools and it was nice getting some validation. There were some amazing conversations with some of the schools that are now my top choices! I am so excited to move on to the next step of the process and would love to write more about my experience with graduate school applications after I finish the process!

There you have it: all my tips and tricks for having a crazy successful first conference experience. Have you ever been to a conference? What was your favorite part? Did you make any long-lasting connections! Let’s chat in the comments!

keep on keepin’ on,