Center for Injury Research and Prevention

Make the Most of Scientific Conferences: Top 5 Tips

January 31, 2019

Today we welcome a guest blog post from Divya Jain, one of CIRP’s Bioengineering PhD students, who recently received a fellowship to continue her research as part of the Dwight David Eisenhower Transportation Fellowship Program (DDETFP), which supports pursuing degrees in transportation-related disciplines. Here she shares her experience presenting her research on concussion and driving at the recent Transportation Research Board (TRB) Annual Meeting in Washington, DC.

Divya Jain CIRP
Divya Jain with her poster at TRB.

Any scientist will tell you that conferences are one of the best ways to meet and catch up with other scientists studying interesting topics related to your field. As a graduate student, however, conferences can be daunting and exhausting yet very necessary to career development.

To help other graduate students make the most of scientific conferences, here are my top five tips from the 2019 Transportation Research Board (TRB) Annual Meeting in Washington, DC where I was invited to present my work related to concussed teens and their driving habits as a 2019 Dwight D. Eisenhower Transportation Fellow:

  1. Plan ahead. Most conferences have their entire program available either online or on an easily downloadable app. Take some time to pre-plan which sessions, talks, and posters you want to attend. You will be more engaged when you know where you’re going next. Try not to limit yourself to talks strictly within your research area. I attended a poster session related to social and economic impacts on young drivers, and it made me think about my own research from a very different perspective.
  2. Presenting a poster is really cool. Although many scientists shoot for the goal of a platform presentation, poster presentations bring many unique opportunities for networking and feedback.  Presenting a poster at TRB allowed me to have one-on-one, in-depth discussions with people who were truly interested in my research area.  I was also able to get valuable feedback not only on my research, but also on my intended career path from more seasoned scientists in my field.
  3. Notetaking is key. Conferences, especially large ones like TRB, can be really overwhelming. You could be on your way to your first talk at 7 AM and not make it back to your hotel room until 9 PM. Take some time throughout the day to jot down notes, presenter names, or any other information you think will be important later. Trust me: If you don’t do this, you’ll be too tired to remember at the end of the day.
  4. Set a goal to meet a certain number of people each day. Even for the most extroverted person, networking at a conference can be daunting. There are thousands of new faces and chances are, you won’t meet most of them. I set a goal of meeting two new people each day; this kept me on track with my networking and helped me remember to follow up with those people either during or after the conference. I was lucky to tap into my fellowship program’s networking opportunities, but your next conference may have speed networking sessions or graduate student specific sessions to help you hit your networking goal.
  5. Have fun! Even with the foot of snow that was still on the ground during the conference, I took some time to explore some of the museums and monuments in DC.

I’m so grateful to Dr. Kristy Arbogast, Dr. Catherine McDonald, Dr. Christina Master, and the rest of CIRP’s interdisciplinary concussion team for their help in making this fellowship and presentation on “Understanding the Effect of Cognitive Deficits on Driving Behavior Among Concussed Adolescent Drivers” possible. I would also like to thank the Dwight D. Eisenhower Fellowship Program for giving me the opportunity to present my work at TRB.

I look forward to tackling more graduate student milestones while continuing my career at CIRP.

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