Conference networking and self-care

I’m at COSPAR 2018 in Pasadena, CA this week! COSPAR is a giant meeting with 3,500+ attendees from all around the world spanning all aspects of astronomy, astro-particle physics, space physics, solar physics, astrobiology, and any other science from low-Earth-orbit to the edge of the universe. COSPAR 2018 is Pasadena’s largest-ever scientific conference! It can be a bit overwhelming, so here are some tips for networking at and navigating such a meeting.

Networking

“Networking” means making friends/acquaintances with nice people who do interesting science! That’s really all it is. Quick conversation starters: ask them what their latest paper was on, students are working on, and/or side projects are. It’s ok to ask simpler/broader subject questions!

  • Email people you’d like to meet and ask to meet them for lunch or coffee, and tell them when your poster/talk is.
  • If it’s your first time at a very large meeting, attach yourself to someone a little more senior than you who you know well (senior grad student, postdoc) and ask them to introduce you to people at coffee breaks and bring you along for meals the first day.
  • Get dinner with colleagues on the majority of the evenings. Mix it up: sometimes with grad students, sometimes some postdocs and profs in the mix. Take evenings for yourself when you need them, but don’t miss out on this part of networking.
  • Try going to a session block that sounds really interesting and is totally out of your wheelhouse. Also go to a session block or two in a related topic to broaden your understanding of your own subtopic. This is one of those great things you can only do at very large, broad meetings like COSPAR!

Self-care

Giant 9-day-long conferences can be exhausting, even for the most extroverted among us. Try not to skimp on your usual basic self-care like eating regular healthy meals, getting plenty of sleep at night, and exercising once or twice a week (even just 20 minutes of youtube yoga in your hotel room).

  • Don’t feel bad about skipping sessions. Acknowledge now that you won’t see All The Talks.
  • Spend time making new conference buddies and seeing old ones.
  • Take a nap if you need to! At one of the AAS meetings, I took a nap every day.
  • Eat a vegetable every day. Your body needs it.
  • Drink plenty of water.
  • Try to not go over your usual caffeine & sugar intake. I know, I know, that’s what coffee breaks are for…but try not to go overboard. Doing this helps me manage anxiety better and sleep reasonably well with the jetlag.
  • Struggling with your mental health at a conference can be more taxing than usual. Reach out to friends (at the conference and at home), and take time to do whatever helps you when you’re at home. Generally people don’t pry and we all know everyone else is busy, but if you need an excuse to get out of something, you’re “not feeling great, but will catch up tomorrow/the next day/after my talk.”

What would you add to the lists?

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