For many researchers, attending big science conferences is something that comes as part of the job. These events are the way that scientists catch up with their colleagues, find out about new research in their area or even look for new jobs. While this might come as second nature to seasoned researchers, what’s it like to go to your first conference? We caught up with Rachel Kettles, a PhD student at the University of Birmingham, to find out about her experiences at the Society’s Annual Conference last month.
I’m Rachel, a 1st year PhD student, studying the biology of bacterial chromosomes. Until recently, I had never been to a conference; fortunately, the Society for General Microbiology’s Annual Conference was just round the corner, so I hopped down the road to the ICC! I tweeted my experiences of the conference using the hashtag #myfirstsgm – you can see some of them embedded below.
My main concern before attending was that I wouldn’t be able to understand many of the talks. For some reason I expected a lot of very complicated, inaccessible science! Of course, with an audience from a range of fields the majority of speakers kept things quite broad, so I was pleasantly surprised to find that I was able to follow most of what was going on.
Previously I’ve only attended student symposiums and I quickly discovered I’d underestimated the difference in scale between them and a big conference. Who knew the UK had so many microbiologists?
What particularly amazed me was the hype and enthusiasm of the Twitter community throughout the conference. It was a useful way to keep up with what was going on in the other sessions and make new contacts. I heard from other conference newcomers and those reminiscing on their own first conference, which really helped me feel welcomed.
Obviously, at a conference of this size, there were a huge variety of talks and most sessions were outside of my immediate research interests. However this wasn’t a bad thing at all – I was able to explore other areas of microbiology that interest me. Highlights included the antibiotic resistance sessions and the Hot Topic lecture on the management of the Ebola crisis.
I think it’s really important for young researchers to attend these meetings. Making contacts and having access to high-quality talks is indispensable for further development – so having Society grants available to students is essential. Ultimately, the key thing I gained was a real sense of belonging to a wider microbiological community. It can be daunting going to these things as a newcomer but everyone was very welcoming – I’ll definitely be back next year!