By Matthew Bond, SEB At-large Student Committee Member, Botany PhD from the University of Hawai’i.
If you enjoy learning about people and the environment, you’re in for a treat- registration for the Society for Economic Botany (SEB) annual conference is now open! Here are some suggestions for making the most of this special opportunity, especially for students who are new to SEB or academic conferences in general:
1- Do get help to attend
Most conferences, including SEB, offer scholarships to pay for registration and travel costs for students, especially if you are presenting your research. Apply for this year’s scholarships before the deadline, March 18th!
Most conferences have networking events just for students, like this student social at SEB 2018. These events are a great way to meet students in a casual environment and relax after a long day
2- Do find allies
One of the best things to do at a conference is meet new people. Because ethno-scientists are interdisciplinary, it’s common to feel alone or separated by departments/institutions, so conferences are the best time to find like-minded scholars to talk with about exciting ideas, frustrating challenges, or scholarship opportunities. Sign up for the student social (for free!) during your registration, look for Student Representatives of SEB (like me!), and visit the Student Table to sign up for special student networking and social events.
3- Don’t go to every event
Academic meetings have many opportunities- actually too many opportunities! I like to look at the conference schedule each night to pick out which events in the next day are most important, then plan the rest of my day around them. If you still feel like you’re missing out, look for presentation videos online after the conference (check out the SEB YouTube channel).
4- Do walk in and out of the room at any time
At my first conference, I thought I had to stay in a room for the entire set of talks. But it’s actually fine to move in and out of sessions- everyone will understand. I still like to wait until the presentation is over, but as long as the exit isn’t right next to the presenter I’ll leave any time I need to. It’s also fine to work on your laptop during sessions- just make sure your speakers are off!
5- Don’t be afraid of the giants!
Well-known scientists will be at this meeting- if the thought of talking to them makes you feel scared, you’re not alone! If you’d like to find a mentor, collaborate with someone, or just ask a few questions about your favorite paper, but are afraid that they might be too busy or not interested, come to the Mentorship Lunch! We’ve rounded up a group of respected scientists who are excited to share their experiences with you and answer your questions- all you have to do is sign up (for free!) in your registration form and bring your questions!
6- Do prepare your “elevator pitch”
You never know who might be sitting next to you in a talk, at lunch, or on one of the field trips! I’ve gotten important career advice from famous scientists just because we were making conversation between events. Be ready for these moments by practicing an “elevator pitch” (a 2 minute summary of your research interests) and your chance encounter could lead to an internship opportunity or solving a problem that you’ve been having with your research. If you have business cards, now is the time to use them!
7- Do be comfortable
Attending too many events can leave you exhausted and unable to absorb more information, especially if you’re coming from a different time zone! Try to be as physically comfortable as possible by bringing a favorite snack, taking a nap, or packing a scarf/jacket for rooms with air conditioning.
8- Definitely enjoy the ride!
Remember that we’re all passionate people- at any point in time someone may approach you with a specimen, explain how it’s used, and even ask you to sample it! On one field trip, a new acquaintance picked stinging nettles and started smacking them on her legs. When I asked what she was doing, she explained that it helps with arthritis and then picked more for us to cook and eat for dinner that night. Yes, we ethno-scientists love to learn, explore, and even play with what we study!
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