How to Build a Professional Network, Part IVa: Scientific Meetings

Professional conferences and meetings are a great way to network with people, especially professionals in a similar discipline. Also, this platform provides opportunities to gain more experience with presentation skills (if giving a talk or displaying a poster), obtain invaluable feedback on your research project, discover what science is being done outside your specific pigeon-holed research area and to form collaborative relationships. As one colleague shared with me, he feels obligated to attend conferences to “show people he’s not selling cars at the local dealership.” I think this is a logical reason, since science professionals need to show they are active and productive to progress in their personal careers.

However, you don’t have to attend a professional conference or meeting to present your work, but just attending will provide a wealth of rewards, in the form of networking and information. In the days of budget crunches and GSA scandals, you may need to choose wisely which conferences and meetings to attend and be creative on securing funding sources. The following section is a list with resources on finding conferences. Next post, I will present a list of ideas for paying the expenses to attend such meetings.

Review the list of different types of conferences and meetings to identify at least one large conference or a few smaller meetings that you could attend in the next six months:

1.  National Conferences

a.  Professional societies – From the American Astronomical Society to the Zoological Association of America, professional science societies generally host a national meeting each year and several subspecialty meetings.

b.  Government agencies

c.  Technology conferences and expositions

2. Branch Meetings – Professional organizations often have subset chapters, which also host their own branch meetings. These meetings are geographically closer and much more affordable. When joining a professional society, consider paying the local branch fees to get added to the mailing list to receive information on chapter activities.

3. Local conferences and meetings

a.  Employer organized conferences

  • Example: The Committee For Women at Oak Ridge National Lab recently held a ‘Celebrate Women in Science’  poster session and seminar, which was open to all women researchers.

b.  Local technology council and economic business meetings – If you are interested in the technology deployment and business side of science, visit your local chamber of commerce website and see if there are any technology councils or related partnerships in the area that hold a monthly tech council meeting or conference.

c.  University research conferences – Many universities host a free, annual student research conference to give undergraduate and graduate students the chance to showcase their projects.

4. Online conferences – I have not attended an online conference but plan on registering for the following example to experience the format.

5. Job Clubs – I was recently introduced to the concept of a job club, where like-minded professionals form a support group to discuss relevant topics.

6. Plan your own meeting – If you belong to a professional group at work then consider organizing your own mini-conference, like a poster session or career development workshop.

Note: Some of these resources may be discipline-specific to my background and limited to the US, but think about your area of expertise and translate the ideas to fit your needs. Does anyone have any resources to add to this list? Please use the comments section to share these resources with other science professionals!


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