As I am sitting in a session at the world’s largest conference in MyFieldOfScience, I am thinking about conferences. I am thinking about how important they are for your career in a lot of ways. For those of you who recently joined the blog (thanks for following!), you may have missed some previous posts about networking. I had one about general networking and another on networking on campus, which are both super important for getting tenure, getting jobs and just good for your career. Conferences are key for networking, being seen, and building your mentoring and scientific connections vertically and horizontally. I have come to the realization that networking is basically “professional flirting.” You can chat about science, but most convos are about family, travel, weather, grants, clothes, students, jobs, or whatever. Academic life has other aspects that we can talk about too. I had a great conversation about teaching and how to teach 400+ effectively with a colleague from another university.
Another thing conferences are great for is energizing your science. When I was young, and I think this is the case for my students, I loved going to conferences because it gave me confidence that people were actually *interested* in my science. I was able to talk about my work, have some people listen, and get validation that what I was doing was of worth. Further, seeing the work of other people that was similar to my own made me feel like I had a community of scientists who were interested in the science. Conferences re-energized me and made me look forward to working on more science and getting my work published.
Now, my science gets energized, but in a different way. Now, I look around and say, “Oh crap, we are more behind than I thought! Everyone is doing the cool experiments I thought of but haven’t gotten off the ground yet!” This is both bad and good. First the bad. It is scary to compete with your science against other groups that are better funded, have more students, and might be ahead on the same ideas you have. Also, I am so so crappy at hiding my science. I cannot keep secrets about the cool stuff we are doing. In some fields, telling people what you are doing helps to mark your territory. In others, it can be giving them the keys to all your best ideas. I have to be careful, but I can’t help but be communicative, open, and excited about our newest stuff. It might hurt me sometimes, but in the long run, I would rather collaborate than compete.
Now the good. Much like when I was young, seeing all the great stuff my colleagues are doing that is similar to my own work can be energizing and maybe even light a fire under your ass to get going. Further, it helps you to focus. If you had an idea to do X experiment and you see it done (probably slightly differently) at a conference, you can refocus your idea to probe the still open questions. Another good thing about people working on similar stuff – it shows your work is hot, important, and in fashion. As in other realms (like fashion) styles change, but if you are hitting hot you have a better chance of getting high profile publications and getting noticed.
So, those were my thoughts about conferences. What do you think? Post or comment here!