There’s a point in every postgraduate’s life when a supervisor says: “I think it’s time you presented at a conference!” These words can induce horror and excitement, all at once.
The MPA spoke with three Monash postgraduates at different stages of their studies who shared their recent experiences and offered some sound advice about how to prepare for the conference circuit.
These are 4 tips they all agreed would help you on your conference journey:
Attend student-led conferences
Most postgraduates have probably been to a student-led conference. Think of these as your best resource. They are informal settings where you can test-run your ideas, trial your public-speaking skills and build your confidence asking pertinent questions of postdocs and professors whom you already know.
“It can be so daunting getting up and asking questions at an international conference,” says Tess, a PhD student in Microbiology. “A student-led conference is a level playing-field and will make you more familiar with the processes of a big conference setting”.
Be strategic when choosing
There are so many conferences, it’s hard to narrow them down. Ask lecturers, lab heads and other students or researchers in your field which conferences they recommend. Look through programs to see if there are any ‘big names’ or interesting papers that pique your interest.
Subscribe to as many student newsletters as you can and look at conference websites to see if they have postgraduate travel and conference funds, in addition to the conference travel funds available through Monash University.
“Apply for everything!” says Amy, a PhD student in cardiovascular research. “Even if you don’t think you’ll get it, apply anyway. Once you have an abstract, it’s easy to copy, paste and amend for a range of different travel and conference grants”.
Prepare, practice and back it up!
When it comes to writing a presentation, less is more. “Don’t feel like you need to present all your data,” says Amy. “Tell a story rather than give every last detail”.
Edward finds it helpful to ask yourself, “How is your work new, novel or relevant? You might be asked critical questions at a conference, so spend some time justifying your research”.
Once written, present it to anyone who will listen. Academic peers will offer excellent feedback about your area of expertise. A friend or colleague in a slightly different field will let you know if anything needs clarification. Then if you can keep your partner, parent or cat interested in your presentation, you know you are on the right track!
Oh, and back up your presentation on a USB and carry it with you. Just in case!
Get out of your comfort zone
It’s normal to feel intimidated and nervous at a big conference, but it’s just as important to get out of your comfort zone and network. Why? Because it will give you insights into work options, ideas to explore and opportunities to collaborate.
Walk up and introduce yourself to someone who gave a great paper. Ask them lots of questions. Go to the social events, the big conference dinner and the informal catch-ups. They will all lead to new connections with researchers from other institutions all over the world.
When you get home, follow up with emails or social media connections and keep those conversations going.
“These kinds of connections will help you at every point in your PhD,” says Edward. “You just never know where it might lead”.
By Maggie Scott, MPA Copywriter
A special thanks to Tess Malcolm, PhD student in Microbiology, McGowan Lab Group, School of Biomedical Sciences, Faculty of Medicine, Nursing and Health Sciences; Amy Searle, PhD student with the Atherothrombosis and Vascular Biology laboratory through the Central Clinical School at Monash University; and Edward Henderson, PhD student in Chemical Engineering at Monash, in Dr Simon Corrie’s research group at the ARC Centre of Excellence in Bio-Nano Science and Technology (CBNS) for their contribution in this article.