Receiving Advice, Exercising, Tweeting, Chairing & Networking at Conferences

This post is by UT Austin graduate student Rayna Harris. Also posted on Medium.

Fig. 1. This image and the above quote were taken from Steal Like an Artist by Austin Kleon, my new favorite book.

This blog post is based upon my experience at the 2016 Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology Meeting. These are my thoughts about what works best with regards to giving/receiving advice, live tweeting, chairing symposia, networking with people who don’t know you, and prioritizing exercise.

Remember, all advice is autobiographical.

“…when people give you advice, they’re really just talking to themselves in the past.” — Austin Kleon

I hear people giving and receiving lots of advice at conferences. Most of the time it’s really good and given in good faith, but it’s not always the best advice. What works for me might or might not work for you or vice versa. Hopefully you will find some useful bits of information herein.

Fig. 2. Is including a handle, hyperlink and photo overkill? Maybe, but this was my most popular #SICB2016 tweet.

Tweets with handles, links, or photos are better.

Live tweeting has its pros and cons. I enjoying following the hashtag of a meeting, but I don’t enjoying having my normal Twitter feed bombarded by live tweets. I’m not the only one who thinks it’s wise take the time to find accompanying hyperlinks and twitter handles for your tweets, but here’s my rationale. 

When I use the speaker’s twitter handle, it lets the speaker know I liked the talk, and maybe she/he will be the first to retweet it. When I link to a paper, my tweet shows up on Altmetric (like this). When I add an image, it catches people’s eye and is more likely to be used in Storify (like this). 

I takes time to do these things, but I think your followers will appreciate the effort. 

Fig. 3. The audience has been staring at this title for 5 minutes already, so I like to say a little more about the speaker instead.

When chairing a session, provide details about the speaker.

Pretty much everyone in the audience has already read the title. To avoid redundancy, I prefer to introduce the speaker by providing some or all of the following details:

  1. Name, current institution, and current lab
  2. Their supervising PIs from grad school and postdocs
  3. A one sentence description of the research

These details provide a better picture of the speaker’s background and interests than when simply saying their name and talk title.

Networking = talking to people with shared interests that may /may not already know you. 

I’m not sure what networking means for most people, but I think networking means talking to people about share interests. At conferences, I think it’s important to strike a balance between talking with people you already know and talking with people you might like to know. My desired outcome could range from having a good conversation or meeting new people to strengthening relationship with colleagues or gaining the recognition of future employers. If talking to people you know is the easier option, how should one go about networking with people you don’t know?

A few ways I network with people who don’t know me yet

  1. I introduce myself to whoever my PI is talking to. I’ve met dozens of scientists and a few program officers this way. Bonus: It’s easier for this new acquaintance to remember what lab I’m from the next time we meet.
  2. When presenting my poster, I specifically ask 1) what caught his/her eye 2) if they know any of my co-authors and/or 3) are familiar with the places where I do my research. When we find common ground, we’re much more likely to converse later in the conference or in my career.
  3. When I find myself next to a speaker while in line for coffee/beer/food, I casually say that I enjoyed the talk (if I did) and why. For me, this is a much more natural way to engage with a speaker than approaching them immediately after a talk when others are eagerly waiting to ask questions. 
  4. I walk straight up to people and introduce myself. I usually do this when I have a question or want to say that I think they are awesome! This requires some confidence and grace, but I have managed to strike up some good conversations and made new colleagues this way.
  5. I participate in workshops. Workshops give you the chance to talk and listen to a diverse group of people on topics of shared interest. I actually get to know people this way and frequently chat with them later. Bonus: The setting can perk you up if you were falling asleep during a previous talk. 
  6. I chair a session. This is a great way to get people to see your name and hear you speak. It requires the confidence to speak in front of a large audience, but there is little one-on-one conversation.
  7. I co-organize social events, and it’s awesome! I’ve done this twice (in 2014 with Sarah Davies and 2016 with Suzy Renn). We used Evite to invite our colleagues and passed out printed invites to new acquaintances. Because two people were organizing, we were able to bring together a people from different circles to promote cross-disciplinary networking. 

Fig. 4. Left) Approaching people who know my PI. Middle) Finding common ground during a poster session. Right) Group discussion duing a student/postdoc workshop


Fig. 5. Left) Long-time colleagues reminisce. Middle) A bar filled with scientists with shared interests. Right) Intermingling of people from different labs.

Prioritize exercise.

It is really easy to let a conference disrupt one’s regular workout routine, but it’s important to not left the meeting consume your life or detract from your health.

Fig. 6. I’m doing #YogaCamp with Adriene Mishler this month. I borrowed a mat from the hotel fitness center for my yoga practice.

When I allocate 30 min or so to exercise, I have so much more energy than when I don’t. I was proud of working out for 4 of the 5 days in Portland, but I wish I had hit 5 for 5.

I find it’s easiest and best to knock it out early in the morning. Alternatively, I suggest turning happy hour into a workout hour… I know that reduced drink and food prices are enticing, but it’s really hard to exercise in the evening if the drinking started at 4 pm.


I’d like to hear your thoughts and perspectives, so feel free to make comments on the version of this blog posted on Medium. Thanks for reading!

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