Having an fun and productive time at SFN



SFN is only a few days away!

SFN is only a few days away! I have been attending SFN for the past several years, and I went for the first time as an undergraduate senior. My primary impression from that first trip was “wow, this is overwhelming but amazing.” Six years later, I have learned to navigate the meeting and embrace the chaos and avalanche of information. These are my strategies, and I hope you find them useful.

Before the meeting:
First, set your goal and/or intention for the meeting. For example, the first year I attended the meeting I was applying to PhD programs. Therefore, my goal was to talk to at least 2 faculty members at each university I applied to. My intention was to improve my chances of getting into my top choice graduate program. Last year, as a fifth year PhD candidate about to publish part of my research, my goal was to get feedback on my project. My intention was to improve the manuscript to publish it in a more prestigious journal.

Second, use the Neuroscience Meeting Planner! I start by searching for the last authors of papers I am very interested in and Principle Investigators of labs I’m interested in. By using the last author and PI names, you catch graduate students and post docs presenting the research from those labs. Then browse the lectures and professional development workshops. At the end of this, you have an overwhelming number of events, posters and lectures. That’s ok! Don’t worry about it. Star the ones that are your highest priority to help you decide at the meeting. I usually use the desktop website version to make my initial searches, and then download the app to my phone a day or two before the meeting so my itinerary is easy to access on site.

Third, think about anyone you would like to meet at the conference. Contact them before the start of the conference to set up meetings. For undergraduates, this is a great time to network with faculty at places you’re thinking about for graduate school. For graduate students and post docs, it’s a great time to network for your next step – postdocs and non-academic careers are represented.

Fourth, pack strategically. Comfortable shoes and weather appropriate outerwear is crucial.

At the meeting:

First, use your itinerary in the Neuroscience Meeting Planner to figure out what you’re doing each day. Check the night before to know how early you want to be at the conference the next day. However, you will often have to decide to attend an event at the expense of another event. That’s ok! Prioritize based on your goal and intention first, then on your energy level. Don’t forget to eat, and not just whatever is available inside the convention center (but save those receipts for reimbursement!). Take time to wander the exhibit hall and posters. Take time to make notes as you go. Above all, don’t worry about missing events unless they are things you specifically scheduled or initiated. You’ll learn a ton as long as you pay attention to the events you do make it to.

Second, go to evening socials and talk to strangers. You never know who will be at a social, and you might be able to network with someone who will become your newest collaborator or mentor.

Third, if you’re thinking about leaving the traditional tenure track, talk to the exhibitors at the meeting about their jobs. Many of them are PhDs and are happy to talk about transitioning to the role they have now. You might even find a career option you didn’t know existed!

After the meeting:
Email the people you connected with to keep building the connection!
Consolidate your notes while they are still fresh.

Torrey Truszkowski
Annual Meeting Blogger
Twitter: @TorreyTruszko

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