…by Bérengère / from France / PhD Psychiatry / 5th Year
Last year I attended my 1st big international conference, INSAR, and it left me ever-so-slightly traumatised (read more about it here).
Now brace yourself for INSAR 2, the return of INSAR, INSAR strikes back.
Well the good news is, it gets better! Overall, I found the whole experience much less overwhelming this time, even though (or because?) I was jet-lagged for most of it. As a result, I didn’t feel the need to go and hide in a corner as much as last year, and I got to attend more talks. I like to think this is due to the fact that this year I knew what I was stepping into, and I reckon nothing prepares more you for a conference attended by a couple thousands of people than a conference attended by a couple thousands of people!
Now that I “got the hang of it” (look at me, speaking like I’m a wise academic who’s seen it all…), I am able to reflect a wee bit more on the positive and negative sides of these big conferences (other than “it’s nice to get positive comments from fellow young researchers and more senior researchers alike” and “there’s too many people and too much to do and the whole thing is quite unpleasant”.)
This year I started to understand my supervisor, who goes to conferences to see her pals. I was so happy to see the people I had met during my data collection trip to Cambridge, the researchers who have visited our lab over the last year, and the researchers I had exchanged many emails with but had never properly met. Being less anxious about the conference in itself allowed me to be more able to chat away with them.
As I was less anxious, I was also able to be more critical when listening to the talks (something harder to achieve when not at the top of my game). There were several keynote speakers who presented extremely complex biological concepts to an audience gathering both biologists and non-biologists. Some speakers did it marvellously well, others, less so. This year I was able to reflect upon these very different talks and what makes, or breaks, a talk. I reckon this is a useful thing to know (Not that I’d be able to give a good talk).
This year (again) there was quite a lot of debate around the INSAR program. Autism research goes from genetics to sociology, and the program didn’t quite reflect this diversity, and/or what the autistic community is actually interested in. The least one could say is that not everybody was pleased with the program, and there was some debate. Being less traumatised by the overall experience meant that I didn’t have to shield myself from the debate that was on everybody’s mouth. Like Brexit, but for a conference program. My position being as it is, somewhere stuck in the middle (see my previous post as a testimony of my devotion to interdisciplinary research), it wasn’t always a pleasant situation.
And the bonus
I’m self-funded, meaning that, apart from a day-trip to Glasgow, the only holiday I can afford is wherever my lab sends me on a conference. 3 days of overwhelming conference in exchange a paid flight to Montréal? Sure, I’ll attend all the conferences you like! Yes, I go to conference also to get paid flights to places. And I’m fine with it, as the next one is in New York.