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Tomorrow we are off to a conference, the European Congress of Immunology (ECI) in Vienna. Sounds like fun, right? A paid holiday? Not quite. So what do scientists do at conferences?
- They learn about science. Obvious right? Conferences are the ideal places to hear about the latest research. Yes we read scientific papers. But let’s be honest – during busy lab days most scientists only have time to read the most relevant research for their topic. So a conference, especially a broad one like ECI, allows us to look at different things, and get up to speed in a few days, where lab distractions are far way.
- They talk about their science. Researchers will always try to present their research at meetings to demonstrate the interesting things they do but also to get input on their work. Sometimes an outsider’s look makes all the difference. Established researchers (lab heads) get invited to speak and present their work. Young career scientists (PhD students and post docs) have to submit an abstract which summarizes their work. The conference organizers then decide which abstracts are the most interesting and should be presented at the meeting as a talk or poster. The abstract-selected talks are normally very short – for Vienna they are 12 minutes long including time for questions. Just enough to show the most important results. At the same time this structure allows a lot data to be presented. If chosen for a poster, you don’t get time with a microphone but stand next to A1 print-out of you work and discuss it with interested other scientists. I personally have gotten better input for my work from posters then from talks.
- They network. Yes scientist socialize over beer (most of us anyway). We meet friends and old colleagues who may work on the other side of the world and we make new friends.
- They look for new jobs. Especially PhD students use conferences to look for new labs. It’s the ideal environment to learn about labs which conduct exciting research and also to approach lab members or lab head for an informal chat.
- They are tourists. Quite a few of the scientists go to the conference city early or stay a few days longer to take in the culture of the country they visit.
- They write about it. Not all of them, but we will – so watch this space.