Frerik van Beijnum Frerik van Beijnum 26 July 2012

Effectiveness of large scale conferences

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Posted in Conferences, Speaking in public

Last May I visited the first large scale international conference (CLEO) during my PhD. I was shocked about the enormous contrast with smaller scale (more specialized) conferences. In this post, I will discuss some of the advantages and disadvantages that struck me during this conference.

The most positive aspect was the large variety of subjects I learned about, these big conferences certainly broaden your general knowledge. This may be important to put your work in perspective, and it may give inspiration for future research topics or positions. Secondly, despite the broad scope of the conference, there are typically a few sessions that are closely related to your subject. Hence you also get a good update on the most recent results within your field. Last, these big conferences often have big technical exposition, where you can learn about the latest equipment for your research. Also, chances are big that you meet some people from companies where you have equipment from. These people may have good suggestions to get the most out of your equipment.

One of the more disappointing parts of this conference was giving a talk there. Albeit the conference is huge, there are many parallel sessions, and hence your audience may be small. Second, people often leave during the session, hence it is hard to get into touch with people who liked your talk or had questions. Last, the actual number of “big shots” in the field was rather small at the talk, partially because they picked another talk, but also the number of big shots seemed small compared to small scale conferences. A reason may be that these big shots all get invited to small scale conferences.

In general, opportunities to meet people seemed limited. A nice way to deal with this issue may be to make some appointments with people that you (vaguely) know, or want to get into touch with. This requires some preparation, but may result in some nice contacts for collaborations or future jobs.

To conclude, I think the large scale conference are occasionally nice, and for PhD students they serve the specific purpose of broadening your knowledge and get inspiration for future jobs or new subjects. To get your work well known, get easy contacts and good discussion about your work, small scale conference seem more suitable.

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