Pre-Conference Musings…

…by Sinéad / from Ireland  / PhD Psychiatry / 4th Year

On Friday my colleagues and I fly out to Baltimore for a scientific conference. This is the first major conference of my PhD, and the first time I will be presenting my preliminary findings in poster form. It’s also my first international conference and my first medical conference. Lots of firsts. Lots of feelings.

We’ve written about our experiences with conferences in the past, but I thought it may be worthwhile to write a post now-just before I leave, and one just after I’m back. Here is a rough list of things I’ve done to prepare, what I’m hoping to get out of the conference, and any expectations/fears/excitements that are currently swirling around my head.

In preparation

  1. Get your data together.

Obviously, as I’m presenting a poster at this conference, the big push was to get everything organised in time. I finished coding my data set, saw to it that my analyses were finished, and designed my poster. This was a bit stressful due to the time constraint but it’s also very exciting to see even the most preliminary of findings coming together.

Tip: If funds allow, getting your poster printed on canvas rather than paper allows it to be packed away in your suitcase and, out of your mind, so that you can get on with the journey and not worry about forgetting a poster tube in an airport. Also I’m traveling solely on hand luggage so I’m able to tuck it into my bag and not have to argue with airport staff as to whether or not a poster tube should count as a piece of hand luggage (spoiler alert-it does and I think that’s awful).

2. Get your trip together

I’m very lucky to be going to this conference with a few friends and colleagues which meant that the planning was spread out between us. We’re staying in an apartment near to the conference centre, and I spent a solid morning looking up nearby restaurants and cafes for when we need food and coffee and breaks. While on a holiday it’s always fun to wander and explore, but for a conference trip there’s a tendency towards smaller windows of time, and I’m hoping that having a list of nearby places will streamline the process.

Tip: I always make a point of looking up regional dishes before I visit a new place and just because this is for work rather than a holiday does not mean I won’t be doing this. I’ve found some suggestions for local dishes and where to find them, and I’m as excited as I always am about this aspect of traveling. I’m also excited to introduce my colleagues to their first IHOP experience.

3. Beating the jet lag

As someone who’s got family overseas and has done a fair number of transatlantic flights, I know first hand what a nuisance jet lag can be. With the conference starting at 7 am the day after we arrive there really isn’t a lot of time to recover, so my plan is to follow every tip in the book. Lots of water on the plane, stay up as late as possible when we arrive, exercise before you leave, all the regular advice that will hopefully not fail me now.

Tip: Long haul flights are a great time to get some work done. But, given that the following few days will be jam packed with science, networking, and work related activities, they’re also a great chance to sit and watch movies for 14 hours. I’m looking forward to being situationally forced into doing just that while eating a large quantity of snacks all day.

4. Knowing your limits

I’m one of those weirdos who actually doesn’t mind networking. I like meeting new people and I’ve no problems with going up to a stranger and striking up a conversation. That being said, I am human and this does get a bit exhausting after awhile. As the conference is a full day every day kind of thing, I’ve also scheduled in some time to take advantage of the wellness events they have on offer. This particular conference offers quick 15 minutes of “chair yoga” and guided meditation throughout the day, so I’ve made a note of where and when all of these sessions are happening. Even if I don’t actually attend them, it’s nice to know where to go if I need a break.

Tip: Get outside. I’ve been to smaller conferences in the past and even then I found that a quick walk outside or even five minutes of fresh air can do wonders. It doesn’t seem like sitting and listening would be a lot of work but it really is tiring after awhile, and taking the time to go outside and have a quick breather can help keep you going.

5. Snacks

I’ve got snacks for the plane, snacks for the layover, snacks for when we arrive and I don’t know where the nearest grocery store is, snacks for the conference and will pick up fun new snacks for the journey home. Nothing worse then being trapped in a lecture, stomach growing, and being unable to focus because all you can think about is the growing regret that you didn’t throw that granola bar into your purse that morning.

In anticipation

I’m arriving to this conference expecting to learn a lot and planning to leave exhausted. I’ve scheduled myself in for any talk that is relevant to my area of work, as well as a few that aren’t directly relevant but sounded really interesting. I hope to talk to a few people about my own work, and hopefully meet some other researchers and get their advice about the next steps of a PhD, planning for post docs, and all the other fun scary life stuff where it’s comforting to discuss with others in the same boat as yourself.

As this is an international conference, I’m looking forward to hearing from doctors from around the world, and learning about some of the international differences in the approaches to medicine.

Wish me luck!


  • Sinéad

P.S. If anyone happens to be from or have visited Baltimore Maryland and has any recommendations please let me know!

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