An important lesson for a burgeoning graduate student is treat it like a job. That means getting there at nine and leaving at five during the work week. So when a conference falls on possibly the last nice Saturday of the year, you may find yourself conflicted. It can be difficult to pay attention, despite how interesting the talks may be. The free food and coffee always help but there are other strategies to employ to get the most out of your experience. First, don’t try to absorb every detail. You’ll burn out very quickly. Second, bring a notebook or pad of paper. For notes or to doodle your favorite doodle. Be mindful that not every talk will be relevant to you, but they may use concepts you’re familiar with. If a speaker says something confusing, try to think how it’s connected to what you know. On your pad, write down a question that tries to address where you got confused. If you’re extremely brave, you can ask it at the end! I always find it helpful to write down exactly what I want to say, in case I forget as a soon as I’m called on.
Some conferences are lecture after lecture. Others will have more interactive components. Most recently, the Soft Matter Theory group went to the Greater Boston Area Statistical Mechanics Meeting at MIT a few stops down the Red Line from Tufts. Their conference tried a format they dubbed Table Talks. Essentially, they’re poster sessions, except with Power Points. You wander about till you find an abstract you like, then the presenter gives you a quick presentation and you move on. It’s easier to prepare and easier to follow than you standard poster session. Andrew DeBenedictis and Zhaoyu Xie both presented on their current work Variable Shape Problems in Liquid Crystal Systems and Sphere Packing on Arrested Coalescence, respectively. My personal favorite discussed Boston MBTA traffic patterns, Using Real-Time Tracking Data to Better Understand Public Transit (pdf link). Something we’d all like to know more about. All in all a fun conference, but I may have left a little early to enjoy the rest of my Saturday.
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