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A new approach to making the most out of a conference

Conferences are opportunities where you share your work, expand your knowledge, and importantly, network with people in your field. Networking is a neat buzzword and across all areas is inextricably tied moving your career forward. Academia is no exception. It often leads to productive research insights, collaborations, and future job opportunities. Importantly, meeting people makes conferences more enjoyable to attend. Also nepotism is a real thing so why not use it to your advantage?

Network is incredibly intimidating because:

a) in general, meeting new people in general tends to be challenging for most adults, and b) feelings of 1st year graduate school can come creeping in where you feel like an imposter. What do I have to say to other people in the field?

How do I know whether my question is relevant? We have all had these anxieties in other academic settings, but at first blush, conferences can feel like a different beast.

Comic on conference questions

I consider myself an outgoing individual but I was intimidated going into my first large conference. My supervisor anticipated the anxieties of my lab mates and myself and decided to use some friendly competition to push us to make the most of the conference. This was a great idea given that high achieving, anxious, top of their class in undergrad, graduate students are incapable of not engaging in an academic competition.


My supervisor created a Conference Bingo card and offered dinner with bragging rights for the one who collected the most squares.

Here was our academic bingo:

– Visit 10 posters and speak with the presenter

– Ask a question in 3 talks

– Speak with a presenter in your field

– Speaker with a presenter outside of your field

– Speak with a lead researcher in the field

– Find something outside your field that might relate to your research

– 1 point for each student you meet

– Skip out to explore the city

– What are the some of the new books written in your field?


cat bingoWith my card in hand, my perspective changed; instead of thinking what things I would say wrong while speaking to my research heroes or whether my question in a symposium would be stupid, I was focused on how to collect points and thus had to find ways to overcome that anxiety. Once my academic feet were wet, the things I was worried about were not as difficult or scary as I thought them to be, which I’m guessing was the thought process behind my supervisor making the bingo. I was able to make great connections with people  and through those conversation was able to further develop research ideas I had been stuck on. If you are feeling anxious about making those connections at conferences, why not give conference bingo a try?


What have you done to help move past that networking anxiety? Any other ideas to add other conference bingo list?

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One comment on “A new approach to making the most out of a conference
  1. Colette says:

    What a great idea Vanessa!

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