Ten simple rules on how to mingle at a scientific conference (featuring BioSb, ICCS 2018 and MacsBio Science Day.


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Introduction:
Since I just attended two conferences in May (and one the first day of June), I wanted to write something up about my experiences there. However, all my last blogs where related to science, and I don’t want to repeat myself over and over (#openscience). So, I thought it would be nice to tell you about how I try to get to know new people at a conference (a.k.a. mingling, networking etc.). I’m not claiming to be an expert on this topic, but I always like to meet new people and chat about anything that pops to mind (which can be a whole lot of stuff not related to science). And since I really like the 10 simple rules articles from PLoS (check out this link how to write on yourself [1]), I will construct my text in this format. So, here we go!

RULE 1: Be yourself.
The best thing about being at a scientific conference is that you are surrounded with likeminded people. Finally, you can tell people all about your work, how much fun it is, how many awesome things you have discovered, and which challenges you would like to address in the future. And you can get free advice on your project, from people that understand what you are doing (try to get that from your family/friends/neighbour or whomever you have tried to explain about SP3-hybridization). But there is more to discuss then science. You can talk about your travels, your own country, what you think about the place the conference is held, about the food, the weather, your personal life, politics, the gay-pride parade etc. (and I talked about all of this to several people). When you talk about something other than science, you get to know someone on a more personal level, which deepens your bond further (chemical pun intended here). If you are interested in which key elements (another pun) I learned during ICCS 2018, scroll down to the end of this blog ;).

RULE 2: Don’t believe that you HAVE to network.
This one might sound a bit counterintuitive, but you shouldn’t feel obliged to network. If you are forcing yourself to talk to people, it could come across insincere. You could start with setting a goal for yourself (e.g. every day I want to talk to a person I didn’t talk to before, or today I’m going to ask a question after a talk I’m interested in), but don’t overdo it. I also believe you do not have to have a business card with you; if you want to have someone’s info, you can just ask for their e-mail address/ORCID-ID/Twitter account/LinkedIn/last paper (which probably contains the email from someone in their group). You could also ask for their Facebook (which I don’t have, so for me this doesn’t apply), but this is not to way to connect in a professional manner I believe (but I could be biased in this case).

RULE 3: Introduce yourself (or ask to be introduced... or introduce someone else).
Don’t stand around when other people are talking, and hope that they will see that you want to participate. You could wait until there is an (awkward) silence, or just cut in somewhere (the best time to do so is between 0.5 and 2 minutes I believe). You could start off with: “Hi, I just quickly wanted to introduce myself, I am [name].” or “Hi, I didn’t talk to you guys before; I’m [name].”. And then hopefully you can talk about the same topic as people were discussing before. Also, when you are present at a conference with some people that you know (especially the ones “higher up the food chain”), ask them to introduce you to some other people. Check this helpful tool from Scholia, to see how authors from a paper are connect via one another through other papers (with the co-author graph). It could help you to find the "friend of a friend". But, another nice way to help your fellow scientist, is introducing them to someone you just met (or have known for quite some time); you can use a phrase like: "Hi, I don't know you yet, but if I'm correct you are doing X and Y. I was just talking about this with Z, whom I have brought along. Z, what do you think about ....".

RULE 4: Get involved!
Whether it is by presenting a poster or a talk (or show your data/expertise/own experience with data during a “Bring Your Own Data” Session (BYOD)), it is the perfect way for people to see you, and see what you do. (Check this paper on how to create a scientific poster [2]). You could also ask the organisers if they need any additional help during the event (or a cup of coffee or something). Even if you do not get any questions after your talk, several participants now know who you are, and can approach you with a bit more ease.

RULE 5:  Ask questions.
Ask questions to people presenting a poster/after their talk. Even if it is about something you don’t understand completely (which happened to me a few times during the ICCS conference, thank god for Wikipedia); it will give the presenter an idea that you are interested in what they talked about. And it can be a bit awkward when no-one asks a question after the talk (and then the chair probably has to invent something to ask). You can also approach someone after they have given their talk, during the coffee break/lunch/dinner/social event/after party (see also rule 9); especially if you feel uncomfortable asking a question in front of a (big) audience). You also have some more time to prepare your question, find a link to your own research etc. Also ask questions when you are in a conversation (I tend to just talk about myself, sorry about that, it is on my to-do list to work on this)… this will give people the chance to talk about themselves, and you will get to know them better (also see rule 1 for potential topics outside of science to talk about).

RULE 6: Give compliments.
Nothing is as nice as getting a compliment, especially if you just gave a talk (and you are a bit nervous presenting). You can give a compliment about the content of the talk, but also about the presentation style, or the great level of detail that the presenter used to finally let you understand what you see in one of the many figures people are using nowadays to visualise their data. But you can also compliment on someone’s nice hat during the social event (#11thICCS).

RULE 7: Don’t cluster.
This is something that probably al humans do; they find the people that they already know to feel safe and comfortable with, and then huddle together (also known as “clustering”). Of course it is nice to talk to some-one you haven’t seen in a while, and you only see at the symposium you are attending, but it can be really hard for other people to then approach you (see also rule 3). And when you attend a conference with your own group, you will try to find each other during lunch, or dinner, or drinks (or all of the above). But, you already known the people from your group; and you will see them again after the symposium is finished. So, don’t cling to what you know, and just find new people. Easiest way to do that (according to me): sit down at a different table with breakfast. Lunch and dinner (and do this every day). You will meet such a diverse group of people, see new faces all the time, and have some time to chat (the time reserved for lunch and dinner is mostly longer than all coffee breaks combined).

RULE 8: Remember faces and learn accompanying names.
People feel much more appreciated, if you remember that you talked to them the day before and say “Hi” when you walk past them. After you remember their face, next step is to learn their name (which can be quite challenging if there are more than ~30 people that you have never seen before…. One of the reasons I believe classrooms shouldn’t contain more than that amount of scholars/students; but that’s a different discussion). And how great that someone invented the name tag! I also really liked the conference book from #11thICCS, which had the list of participants in the back (name, affiliation, country), and all the abstracts. I used this to check whom I again talked to the day before (and I will use it later this week to add everyone I can find on LinkedIn).

RULE 9: Go to the after party.
It is THE time not to talk about science (see also rule 1), talk to people in a very relaxed atmosphere (adhering to rule 2), find more (new) people to talk to (rule 3, 5, 6 and 8 apply here) and so on. And even if you don’t drink, the after party can be still quite fun ;). And you don’t have to be at the after party every night; just go there once and see how you like it (and sleep in the next day, go to bed earlier the next night, or go to the in-house spa from the hotel J.)

 RULE 10: Have fun!
Best reason also to attend a conference I think: to have fun with likeminded people. You have an interested audience, you just have to entertain them (make a few bad science jokes when applicable; see also this link for examples) and your “network” builds itself.
  
And now the final part of this blog, the “conclusions”. These will not be related to science, but are related to other thing I learned during #11thICCS (BioSb is a bit long ago to remember all the fun I had there, and the MaCSBio Science day is still progressing). I tried to anonymise the names of the people involved, to comply too the new European Privacy Law. Whether you made it on the list below or not is probably depending on how much I had to drink the day I met you. And I also want to include this disclaimer:The story, all names, characters, and incidents portrayed in this production are fictitious. No identification with actual persons (living or deceased), places, buildings, and products is intended or should be inferred”.

Conclusions: Unscientific things Key elements I learned during #11thICCS:
1. Dr. W.W. is awesome: very British, very funny, very active on Twitter, and is very knowledgeable. It was a pleasure meeting you; hope to see you again at #ICCS2021.
2. I was honoured to be crowned as “The beer queen” by dr. M.F., dr. A.S. and dr. F.R. Hopefully you will make the right choices next time (in terms of beer), and keep your academic mind-set in the companies where you work.
3.  Dr.F.K., thank you for all your hard work at the desk, explanation of the history of ICCS, and giving us all “the locals’ perspective”. You stayed relaxed and polite, no matter what; a true gentlemen!
4. You can combine working in academia with having kids (e.g. dr.HGdT 2 and 1 on the way, and dr. G.v.W. has 3!). I have quite a way to go still to get to those numbers, but am very happy with the support I get from my group and supervisor being a mother of 1. Hope that everyone will see that man and woman alike can still perform at the requested level, and have a personal life at the same time.
5. The city of K has the best lab in the nation of R, according to my roommate M. and her supervisor dr. T.M.. And yes, I will gladly visit you guys sometime soon!
6. Mr.W.J. doesn’t have a dr. title yet, but is capable of I. Drinking massive amounts of beer; II. Win one of the three poster prizes; III. Stand in for his sick supervisor to give a talk; IV. Work in Sweden, but also travel to his wife every 2 weeks in the Netherlands. Keep up your high quality work; it was fun drinking with talking to you.
7. A shout out to Dr. H.W., for understanding that having an accent from the south of the Netherlands biases other people in their conversation with you… and great to hear that this doesn’t play a role when you speak English (I want to learn the posh Cambridge accent too).
8. If you want to see (yes he is still alive) or touch the (in-)famous dr. T.E., you have to make an appointment (or get him a beer at the next ICCS, he responds quite well to that J).

[1]:Dashnow, H., Lonsdale, A., & Bourne, P. E. (2014). Ten simple rules for writing a PLOS ten simple rules article. PLoS computational biology10(10), e1003858.
[2]:Erren, T. C., & Bourne, P. E. (2007). Ten simple rules for a good poster presentation. PLoS computational biology3(5), e102.



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