Some of the largest conferences in the world of chemical science are taking place in August on both sides of the Atlantic. Whether you’re a seasoned conference pack-mule or an inexperienced greenhorn, here are seven tips from my own experience to make your conference season that much more bearable.
1) Never eat breakfast at your hotel. Hotel breakfasts seem attractive – they’re nearby, in a familiar place and there’s air conditioning all the way there. But it’s a trap. In reality it’ll be overpriced, under-catered and the wait times can be extraordinary. Find somewhere on the walk to the conference centre instead. Following one underwhelming, wallet-busting hotel breakfast I spotted a diner next door that had the same menu for half the price. The reason? The diner and hotel shared the same kitchen.
2) Take a multi-socket extension lead. I’ll have between eight to 80 separate devices that need power at some point while I’m away. Take a large multi-socket extension lead with you (using just one plug adapter if you’re heading abroad) and, bingo, you’ve turned your hotel room into a charging powerhouse. Pro tip: take an extension lead with surge protection. Extra pro tip: take a couple of portable chargers with you as well. Extra extra pro tip: don’t lend your cables to anyone.
Use your poster tube to defend yourself if things get ugly
3) Set your phone to automatically connect to free Wi-Fi. You may or may not have free data roaming in your location. If you don’t, then the habitual check of a map or a restaurant review while on the hoof can be a costly and amateur mistake. In the same way that people navigate across London using tube stations as landmarks, you should navigate using free Wi-Fi spots as your compass. Coffee shops are particularly good bets, but these days even carpet warehouses and laundrettes can be hotspot havens. And remember, it’s best not to do any mobile banking or password-related stuff while you’re Wi-Fi surfing.
4) If you get lost, follow the poster tubes. Science conferences attract people with posters, and posters need tubes. If you lose your way at any point in your trip, find somewhere to stand where you’ll be elevated above the crowd and look for gangs of people carrying poster tubes. They’re almost certainly going where you want to go. The only exception being if they’re in your hotel lobby and heading towards the smell of an overpriced breakfast.
5) If a reception is catered, get there early. If you’re looking to minimise your costs by maximising your freeloading, then you’ll need to be one of the first through the door at any catered event. The truth is: hundreds if not thousands of people have had the same idea. Expect crowds around any form of meat-on-a-stick but you might get lucky around the seafood and soup stations. Extra pro tip: most buffets let you queue around both sides of the table, and at both ends. Don’t be afraid to start a new queue. Use your poster tube to defend yourself if things get ugly.
6) Slap on a smile and network. This is easy to say and perhaps difficult to do. But how often will you have hundreds if not thousands of people in one place that share your interests, understand your career challenges and, frankly, have nowhere better to go. If you’re not comfortable striking up a conversation perhaps get in touch with some interesting people in advance of the conference and arrange a meeting (I’d suggest messaging them on Twitter). Or wear something outrageous and let the crowd come to you.
7) If you don’t have a question, sit down. This is a pet peeve of mine when I’m presenting. The talk has come to an end, there’s time for questions. Someone stands up, takes the roving mic and says ‘this is more of an observation than a question’. Don’t be that person. Don’t mansplain or he-peat. Just stay quiet. It’s a Q&A, not an O&A. If you’re overwhelmed with the need to make an observation, either resist it or approach the speaker afterwards. But mostly resist it.