Advice to get you ready for your next conference (UPDATED)

Summer conference season is here! Whether you’re going to the CSEE Meeting, the ESA Meeting, or somewhere else, we’ve got you covered with plenty of advice on how to prepare, and how to get the most of the conference once you’re there. Most of it’s from us, some of it’s from others, and most have excellent comment threads with additional advice. Share your own tips in the comments!

Choosing a conference

How to decide whether to attend conference X

Why students shouldn’t bother with “student friendly” conferences

How often do you travel?

Submitting your abstract

You don’t need to have your data in hand and analyzed before submitting your abstract


Traveling to meetings while breastfeeding

Meeting people and networking

Why network at conferences?

How to network at conferences

More on how to network at conferences (from social sciences, but it generalizes)

On wandering alone at conferences

Conferencing as an introvert

Giving a good talk or poster

Poster or talk?

Better posters

Tips for giving a good talk or poster

How not to start your next ecology or evolution talk

The biggest mistake every poster makes

Asking and answering questions

How to ask tough questions

How to answer to tough questions

Perfecting the elevator pitch

8 thoughts on “Advice to get you ready for your next conference (UPDATED)

      • Agree with the tone bit, but it IS a very interesting and important point.

        As someone who prefers not to travel by air whenever possible, it seems as though frequent air travel is an essential part of being a scientist. As a young scientist, presenting at conferences directly translates into stronger and more competitive scholarship applications. It’s also especially useful to meet other scientists because we haven’t yet had time to build a name for ourselves through years of publication. The academic benefits of attending conferences are also quite important, especially when trying to establish a thesis topic.

        I am going to the CSEE meeting in St. John’s, Evolution in Austin TX, and a workshop in Knoxville this summer. I am aware of the environmental (and financial) cost of this travel, but it seems as though this sort of thing is necessary to succeed in my career. I’d be interested to hear more about what those who’ve served on hiring committees think when applicants have not presented at international (or even national) conferences.

  1. @Ken Thompson –

    It is a very valid concern ethically. And I think about it often (and my wife and kids ribbed me about it last week). But I haven’t stopped traveling. I think it is innate to being a scientist. And while jetsetting is not measured directly in hiring and promotion committees, I do think it is important careerwise. To expand:
    1) As a scientist you become very specialized and the people working on what you are become very few and dispersed (often less than a dozen in the whole world working on the exact same questions). And you need to interact with those people. Science is a social process ( and And more broadly for a field it is important to have some collective assessment of what has been accomplished and what is next. I do not believe this is at all possible entirely through journal articles. Too many nuances to miss. Too slow to have a dialogue. Virtual (video) conferences are closer, but still nowhere close to 100% adequate in my opinion. I know somebody who tried to give a one hour departmental seminar remotely and it was a disaster (aside from missing all the interactions outside the seminar slot). Since the very beginning of modern science in the 1500s, scientists traveled to meetings at scientific societies and even other countries to cross-pollinate ideas.
    2) Given #1 it is probably reasonable that evaluators expect to see signs of being part of the scientific community. Or more careerist, the standard criteria at many institutions for tenure is to have a “national” reputation and for full professor to have an “international” reputation. The best way to demonstrate this is to be giving talks at international conferences, getting international speaking invitations, going to international working groups. But even if you have “made it” or don’t care about your career, #1 still applies.

    So to my mind, it is not possible to do away with travel and be an effective member of the scientific community. Quite aside from carbon footprint this is regrettable because of its impact on family life, it is exhausting and time inefficient etc. And it quickly loses any glamour it had.

    I am sure this answer will open me to scorn, maybe deserved. But it is what I believe and what I have practiced. And I would not feel honest advising an early career person that they can avoid travel with no impact on their career.

    I wish I could say otherwise. I am quite definite in my opinion that video conferencing is not a complete substitute (although it certainly can and should eliminate some travel). Although I know people I respect who disagree with me. Maybe someday when we have holographs it will be different. And quite explicitly and intentionally, this is a major reason I blog ( But they are only partial, not full substitutes.

    My 2 cents. Opinions will vary!

    • What Brian said. There are good reasons for scientists to travel by air, including to conferences, for which there are no even close to adequate substitutes. Ecologists do vary a lot in how often they travel, though ( So definitely don’t feel that you’re hurting your career or failing to participate properly in the collective activity that is science if you don’t travel a lot. My own modal number of conferences/year is and always has been one: ESA.

      More broadly, my own view is that the ethical issues here are real but hard, and that lots of people (including Bobo, apparently, unless Bobo was being sarcastic…) take inappropriately aggressive stances. Yes, for any one individual, air travel is a very big part of their C emissions, though to say precisely how much, you have to make a lot of contestable assumptions about the counterfactuals–what would’ve happened instead had you not taken that flight? But in aggregate, aircraft emissions are about 5% of global C emissions, though that fraction is growing slowly. A drop in the bucket, in other words. Do I think that means nobody should ever bother to consider C emissions as a factor in deciding whether to fly? No. As I said, there’s a real issue here. But it’s a hard issue. As soon as you’re prepared to countenance any air travel at all, then deciding whether to take flight X immediately faces you with complicated questions of costs, benefits, trade-offs, and substitutions, on which no definitive answer is possible. I think such questions are fine to debate, but in the end are best left to individual conscience, and that trying to publicly shame anyone who answers those questions differently than you is out of line. No individual causes enough harm to anyone else (or to any species or ecosystem or whatever) through the airplane C emissions they create to justify trying to shame them for flying.

      Just my two cents.

  2. @Ken Thompson –

    I agree that (i) this is an important discussion to have, (ii) we should keep a professional tone (as in all discussions), and (iii) that there is often no good substitute for actually meeting your peers in person, as Jeremy and Brian pointed out.

    But, having said that, most of us scientists are well aware of climate change. And I fear the world we will hand over to our kids and grandchildren. What I am missing from the discussion is how we, as scientists, could be good role models. Set examples. Here we are, doing research on all kinds of aspects of environmental change and the effects on nature. Shouldn’t we then also think more than twice before we book that next distant vacation (which for sure includes air travel)? If even the people that do research on the climate and environmental issues don’t take action, how can we expect the general public to do so? We have the Paris (COP21) global climate deal, so no one can say we do not know that action is sorely needed.

    In combination with how we choose our food, local travel, housing, etc… that is the elephant in the room kind of.

    Of course, I have myself travelled and made poor decisions in the past when it comes to these things. But it’s now time we all think harder about the examples we can set.


    Lars Gamfeldt

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