Wednesday, 19 September 2012

As it happened - HB2012 conference in Beijing - Day 3

It is actually now the morning of Day 4, at 5am. Jet-lag has woken me up an hour earlier than my alarm, so what better way to use it than to write about yesterday? Photos at the bottom!

Day 3 is always the day of the conference that my enthusiasm starts to be challenged a little. We're all in a state of over-tiredness coping with jetlag, long days and going out socialising every night. Seriously, I'm tired! But, the show must go on.

There were some interesting talks today, one of which I missed but at least 3 people told me was very interesting. Darn! It's always bound to happen that I miss something I wish I'd seen, but the best thing is not to be disappointed, read the paper and get on with life!

It got me thinking about how I approach conferences so I thought for today's blog I'd share a few thoughts and tips on how to approach conferences for people new to them or perhaps for people who don't feel they get a lot out of them. So, in no particular order:

  1. Firstly and most importantly, while in the conference venue WEAR the conference badge. If it's not a lanyard one around your neck, make sure you pin it high up on your lapel so when you meet people they can learn your name. It is SO important for people to know who you are. (Yes, just a few years ago I thought they were uncool too and either left it off or wore it at my hip. I have learned my lesson. People don't want to have to visually scan your entire body to find your wayward badge.)
  2. People have different approaches to science. Some love nothing more than a heated argument about the intricacies of mathematics, others (often more senior scientists) can be very stuck-in-their-way with their "views" on certain topics. Don't be personally offended if someone comes up and calls your conclusions crap - it is just their way of doing science & initiating scientific debate. (OK if they are really forceful and you can't cope just politely tell them you respect their opinion and find a diversion!)
  3. Conferences are as much about cultural exchange as about scientific exchange. Try not to get stuck in the conference centre the whole time - or at least try to see some of the place you are in at night time and on weekends. It is important in the international world of science to have a cultural understanding of the people you work with. It can make all the difference to a working relationship.
  4. It's OK not to go to every session!! This is something a lot of new PhD students don't get. They sit through hours of talks they don't understand because they feel they have to. It's healthy to watch some talks on other topics than your own, but sometimes you need some time to assimilate information, look up a paper on a topic you found interesting, catch up on work you absolutely must do from home, sleep or whatever.
  5. Be enthusiastic! Meet people. Take business cards. Make your own business cards if your uni/work won't give you them. Take copies of your proceedings paper or poster to hand out. Tell people about your work. But mostly, be enthusiastic! I thought this went without saying but I have learned it's not true. If you're naturally shy you will have to put on a brave face or ask someone you know well to introduce you to people - this, my friends, is where having social skills in the world of science comes in handy!
  6. Some of the presentations will be awful. As a science communicator & scientist this one is hard for me to cope with. The AV won't work properly, you won't be able to see the bottom of the slide where the speaker has put their main point. The speaker will face the slides instead of the audience and in doing so turn away from the microphone so you can't hear and for some reason no-one will let the speaker know and it will go on for 20 minutes like that. People from other countries will talk through the whole thing (in China it is normal to have a conversation in an opera or ballet, so why not in a talk?). That talk you were really looking forward to will be incomprehensible because the speaker isn't very good at explaining things. At least one speaker will be so nervous they will struggle to talk at all and wave the laser pointer around in such a way that makes you glad for the rules about Class II lasers. There will be people talking outside the room so loudly it makes it hard to hear the talk in the room. All of these things have happened here and if you go to conferences regularly you realise they will happen a lot. Good organisation can only help so much. It always makes me a little bit angry! Try to accept it. Anger will get us nowhere.
  7. Finally, don't overdo it! OK this is me giving myself advice here - I tend to be on the go from about 6am (running, gym) to midnight (socialising) and sometimes you need a night off! (Given I've woken up so early I think tonight will be an early one for me).
Ben, Stephen and Rob enjoying the banquet
Last night was the conference banquet - in a nice restaurant just down the road from our hotel. The food was plentiful and very good and the entertainment was amazing! We experienced what I can only assume is the whole gamut of Chinese entertainment - from a musical trio, a theatrical mask performance, a singer, kung-fu demonstrations, a magician (with a real dove!), acrobatics... I have to congratulate the HB2012 conference organisers - it was amazing how much they had arranged!

The first performance - a chinese musical trio
Well it's now almost time for me to be awake to go for a run. Let's see what Day 4, the last day of talks, has in store.

Bit hard to see - acrobat twirling a big pot!?


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