Overcoming Obstacles to Career Growth: Tackling Conferences

One to two times a year, your specialty has a major meeting with thousands of people gathering to discuss the latest findings and to disseminate emerging guidelines. A smaller meeting might have about 200 people. Either way, if you make it there — get the time off, budget for the travel — you’re surrounded by a sea of unfamiliar faces and it seems like everyone else already knows each other. If you lack financial resources, suffer from imposter syndrome, are an introvert, or have any combination of the qualities above, there are many continuous hurdles to attending a conference.

Reaping the Benefits of Going to Conferences

Attending conferences, however, provides an excellent environment to meet other professionals with similar interests, to learn about the latest research updates, and to acquire career-oriented skills. The benefits are extensive and enduring, but sometimes the perceived risks seem greater. Here are some questions to break down various parts of this process into smaller, more manageable and achievable actions.

Questions for Planning Your Conference Strategy

  1. How do you choose which conferences to go to and how do you budget for them?
  2. How do you prepare to go to a conference? (ie: battle imposter syndrome, review the session topics and map out which one to go to, list out which attendees and speakers you want to chat with, stake out local attractions and restaurants to try.)
  3. Conference attendance boosts authorship. What benefits have you reaped or hope to reap from attending a conference?
  4. Conferences can be very, very emotionally and mentally draining. How do you decompress?
  5. What are some must have's when you pack for conferences?
  6. Is there anything else you would like to share about conference attendance, advice you would have given your younger self or mental notes on what you will do differently next time?

Also, be sure to make check if there is adequate attention on minimizing any systemic barriers. Ask conference leaders if there are scholarship opportunities for underrepresented minorities and if child care services and pumping accommodations are available. If not, offer feedback so that the conferences can attract the best and brightest attendees. Looking forward to see how we can lift each other up with ideas to strategically participate in conferences and support each other as we grow in our careers.

Articles for Further Reading on Conference Attendance

1. Conference Attendance Boosts Publication Opportunities

This study gathered data on researchers who had planned to attend a conference that was later canceled due to a hurricane and on researchers who had attended a similar conference that same year. This design compares those who are equally likely to invest their time and resources to attending a conference, and the results show that those who attended a conference were published 16 percent more in the next four years.

2. Make the Most out of Medical Conferences

In this video (transcript is available), Dr. Kathleen McManus deconstructs conference attendance into three parts: before, during, and after, and she offers practical advice for each step to ensure a productive experience.

3. How to Get the Most Out of Attending Conferences

This article asks 10 scientists at various levels of experience about how they make the most out of going to conferences. See if there are any tips and tricks you can adopt from our research colleagues.

4. How to Tackle the Childcare-Conference Conundrum

Dr. Rebbeca Calisi Rodriguez, an avian neurobiologist and member of the Working Group of Mothers in Science, discusses how a lack of childcare resources prevent women from attending conferences, thereby excluding a large pool of potential talent and hindering women’s opportunities for career advancement. She also offers solutions with the acronym CARE: C (childcare options onsite); A (accommodate families by considering family-friendly dates, meeting times, venues, and offering flexibility); R (resources in finances and facilities, such as having suitable pumping rooms with access to refrigeration); and E(establish parent/caregiver social network to offer parents and caregivers some way to support one another before, during, and after the conference). Read the full article here.

5. Help! Someone Pointed Out My Conference Has Diversity Issues!

Ada Rose Canon is a Samsung Internet Developer who responds in this Medium article to people who ask her how to repair the lack of diversity in their conferences, a question triggered when she declines invitations to participate “if the line up is all white men or if there has been little to no effort … to ensure that attendees from diverse backgrounds are able to attend.” Samsung has a diversity and inclusion policy (as part of a broader project the Diversity Charter) that states “our team will not take part in panel discussions of two or more people unless there is at least one woman or non-binary person on the panel, not including the chair” and a few other points such as offering discounted or free tickets to underrepresented groups. Ada highlights the importance of an event to be diverse at all levels: the organizers, the speakers, the staff and volunteers, and the participants.

Dr. Joannie Yeh is a pediatrician as well as a 2018–2019 Doximity Author.

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