I'm in Minnesota, oh ya!
Greetings from St. Paul, Minnesota! I have left the sweltering heat of south Florida for a few days to attend the American Fisheries Society Conference. Attending conferences is a must-do for graduate students. It's a chance to share your research with a large, scientific audience, get feedback from the top scientists in your field, and make connections (and new friends) along the way. These meetings can be a bit overwhelming so I've generated some tips to help you get through them:
1) If you're attending a national meeting, chances are there will be anywhere from 10 to 15 talks going on at once. Running from room to room to see all of them isn't necessarily the best approach. Stay in one session for a series of talks and sit near the front. If there are discussions after the talks, don't run off. Sit and listen and even participate if you have something worthwhile to add!
2) Network network network. This becomes more important as your graduation date nears but it's never too early to get your name (and your research) out there to the professionals. To be honest, this is the HARDEST thing to do, at least in my opinion. If you're lucky, you're adviser will introduce you to some colleagues, but you can't always count on that. So your best bet is to stalk the agencies or professors that you'd want to work for and attend their talks. Go up to them afterwards but be prepared to wait behind the 10 other people that also want to tell them how great their research is. This is another reason why sitting in the front gives you an advantage! Or, look for them at the social events and make your move then. Ask them to come to your talk (see point 3 below) or give them a CONCISE overview of your research interest or thesis/dissertation work. State where you're in school and who your adviser is as well, especially if you know s/he has a connection there. It could be just a brief encounter and you may walk away feeling that got you nowhere, but don't be discouraged! Email them a week or so after the conference (so it doesn't get buried under the 100s of emails s/he's likely not reading while s/he's traveling) and keep at it over the next several months. They may not have funding at that moment, but things can change pretty quickly and you want to make sure you aren't forgotten.
3) If you want people to attend your talk or poster, just ask. I was desperate for some feedback and wasn't sure if my title was catchy enough to attract a large audience. So, I went up to people whose research was similar to mine and simply asked them if they would attend my talk. Show them EXACTLY in the program when and where your talk or poster is so they'll remember. This worked surprisingly well for me this week.
4) Don't be afraid to go alone. There are numerous student social events and I can assure you, you aren't the only person there that doesn't know anybody. Yes, it can be a bit awkward arriving alone and then frantically searching the room for an empty chair so you aren't wandering aimlessly...but once you get over the initial uncomfortableness of it all, you end up meeting people along the way. Don't be afraid to introduce yourself to other attendees. If you saw their talk or sat in a session and noticed they were there as well, that can be an ice breaker.
That's about all the advice I have for now. I'll be posting at a later date tips and tricks for making successful PowerPoint presentations but if you questions in the meantime, leave a note below!