Luke Varner here –
This past fall I attended my first conference and concurrently presented my first research poster at the conference. The meeting attended was the AGU 2109 Fall Meeting in San Francisco where I presented research on the deadly pyroclastic currents of the June 3rd 2018 eruption at Fuego, Guatemala. During the course of this experience there are many things I learned along the way that I feel are important for a first-time meeting attendee or poster presenter/preparer to consider and plan for.
Abstract submissions for conferences are often due several months in advance of the conference. When you submit your abstract you may or may not have all of the data you plan on including in your final poster presentation. This is ok, but you definitely need to make sure the initial abstract you submit generally resembles the research you represent on your final poster presentation. In my case we only had a small fraction of the data we used on the final poster at time of the abstract submission.
The financial obligation that may come with conference attendance is also important to consider. The AGU registration alone for an undergrad was over $200, of which, I paid out of pocket for. However, if I were to have applied for a travel grant through the university, or with the American Geophysical Union themselves, I most likely would have been able to attend for free. If you are a first time attendee to the AGU meetings and apply for their travel grants you get special consideration. Registration and travel accommodation costs can add up quickly so be sure to explore all avenues of possible assistance. Ask colleagues if you are working under a grant as there may be funding available for you.
Plan Your Conference
It is very important to know what to expect when you get to the conference. The AGU Fall Meeting had over 40,000 attendees so you can quickly be overwhelmed if you don’t have a plan. Have a loose schedule of events and presentations you wish to attend while there.
One of the biggest advantages a conference offers is the ability to network with other researchers. Know what researches are involved in topics you have an interest in and be prepared to ask them questions. This is also a great time to represent yourself to potential researchers looking to take on a graduate student. You will be able to discuss in-person with these researchers where you normally would be restricted to email conversations.
For me the conference was the first large geology conference experience I ever had. I admittedly was initially hyper-focused on my poster presentation and learned to just enjoy the experience a little more over time. The presentation of yourself and your research in a professional manner is important. However, it is just as important to be excited by what it is you are doing at the conference and to have fun while doing it. Make sure to explore the city/area too while you’re visiting.