Wanted: academic conference about inflammation in Europe
November 26, 2008 4:35 PM   Subscribe

As a senior-level science PhD student, how do I find an academic conference to go to? And how do I know if a conference is going to be suitable, both it for me and vice versa?

Going to an international conference is considered an important part of doing a PhD in NZ, particularly for those of us looking to do a post doc in a different country. I'm near the end of my third year (PhDs generally take four years here) and next year is the best time for me to go. However, I'm based in a research organisation well outside my field and the research collaboration I'm part of tends to only go to specific specialised conferences, so getting advice from higher up has proved somewhat difficult.

I have an idea of which field I'd like to target (inflammation, I work with models of IBD) as well as a general location (Europe, where I'll be looking for that post doc). So far I've done some extensive googling but it's only getting me so far. The big conference in this field is in Japan next year and I'm not convinced it's going to give me exposure to those European researchers I need to be networking with. My research project isn't squarely in the field I'm interested in so a hard-core immunology conference may be a hard sell. I have been looking at previous abstracts for conferences I'm interested in so can probably figure out the fit aspects, just need to find them in the first place.

Funding isn't an issue as long as I can get an abstract accepted but ideally I'd like a shot at getting an oral presentation too (I'm an excellent public speaker). I could go to a big general conference but that probably won't help me make connections in the right field.

So how do other researchers and students find conferences to go to? Is there somewhere better to be looking than just Google? How well does my project need to fit with their stated aim to have an abstract accepted? If a conference is listed as a meeting of (for example) a bunch of European Societies do outsiders go? Or does it need to be more explicitly an international conference for me to apply? And lastly how do you know if a conference is a decent size or any good?

My supervisor with the travel money would prefer I focus on just one conference so I want to get this right!
posted by shelleycat to Science & Nature (9 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Are you certain that all those European researchers won't be at the Japanese conference, if it is indeed a big conference in their field? Surely it is pretty common to fly across the world for a conference when you are a top academic in your field?

I'm in the humanities, not the sciences, but the best source of conference information is generally professional associations. These are usually guaranteed to be of decent quality and have good networking opportunities. Or what about www.conferencealerts.com? Another good source of conference opportunities can be found in the blogs of top personalities in the field, or on university homepages.

Sorry I couldn't be more helpful... But I think it's better to go to a big general conference and run the risk of not meeting specialists in your particular area, and at least make some good general contacts, than it is to not go to any conference at all.

Good luck!
posted by Weng at 4:55 PM on November 26, 2008

Response by poster: Are you certain that all those European researchers won't be at the Japanese conference, if it is indeed a big conference in their field?

I'm not and it's still top of my list. But there isn't a single European listed amongst either the (extensive list of) speakers or organisers which really does not bode well. Plus the abstract is due very early (mid Jan) so I have to make a decision soon. I want to be sure I've used all resources available to me for searching.
posted by shelleycat at 5:03 PM on November 26, 2008

Best answer: So how do other researchers and students find conferences to go to?

PhD students typically get this sort of advice from their advisors and peers (mostly senior grad students and postdocs). Looks like you don't have that option.

Here's the next best thing you can do. You say you know what field you want to get into. Have you read papers by some big names in that field? If not, search a database (like Web of Science or whatever is relevant to you) for keywords in your area and find European scientists who are heavily cited. Next google them and find their cv (usually linked somewhere from their web page). Researchers frequently list presentations (both conference and invited talks) in a section that usually follows publications. Look and see where they go. After you look through a few cv's, you'll get a sense of what conferences people in your future area most likely attend.

The big conference in this field is in Japan next year and I'm not convinced it's going to give me exposure to those European researchers I need to be networking with.

Do they provide a link to previous meetings? See if you can find last years program and look at who attended. That will give you a sense of who might attend next year. Most people are loyal to meetings (my boss for example goes to this one meeting every where no matter where it is held).

But there isn't a single European listed amongst either the (extensive list of) speakers or organisers

If abstracts are due in January, this list may just be invited or plenary speakers. Perhaps all the Europeans are also submitting abstracts in January just like you might be.
posted by special-k at 6:08 PM on November 26, 2008

Is your supervisor a big shot? If so, why hasn't he made this decision for you? Ideally based upon what conferences he's going to?

Can you hit more than one European meeting by hanging out there for a week? You might find here are oodls of conferences back to back in the summer.

I'd suggest asking some form more linked to your field, maybe some email list. I'd say even the specific vs. general question depends on the field.
posted by jeffburdges at 6:13 PM on November 26, 2008

So how do other researchers and students find conferences to go to?

I identify conferences to go to in one of several ways:
  • My adviser/mentor identified the conference as one I ought to attend;
  • I know someone who is organizing or speaking at the conference; or
  • The conference is geographically convenient such that it does not require an overnight stay somewhere
I imagine that the same is true for most people. I don't think that selecting a conference other than by word of mouth is a good idea.

Probably many European researchers will come to the Japanese conference, but more would come to a conference in Europe. Also, how big is the "big conference?" If it is too big, like thousands of delegates, it can be a lot harder to network, or to get a speaking spot.

I think you are right to look for a smaller more focused conference in Europe.

Do you know anyone personally, even from Internet contact, who is a European researcher in this field? The best thing would be to ask them what the good conferences are.
posted by grouse at 7:36 PM on November 26, 2008

If you don't know anyone, you could always e-mail someone who you were thinking about postdocing with and say that you would like to meet them but you need a conference to get your considerable travel expenses covered, so where is a good conference for you to chat?
posted by grouse at 7:38 PM on November 26, 2008

Good advice already. Another hint might be to do some virtual networking by sending out a few emails to people in the field, which you've identified via your searches. Explain your situation and ask their opinion where to go to meet europe-based researchers of this particular topic. Sure, you're not their student and they dont NEED to give you advice, but it's definitely worth a shot. In the US, I'd say start by looking at the Keystone and Gordon conferences going on next year (is this the sort of topic you're looking for, btw? just an initial hit.)... and perhaps there are some EU contacts to identify via those speaker lists.

My current work involves A LOT of searching to ID people and conferences in biomed/disease research, so perhaps I'll come across something more specific in the future.

Good luck!
posted by NikitaNikita at 7:50 PM on November 26, 2008

Response by poster: The main issue is that the area I'm interested in isn't strictly the area I work in (although is tangential to), so I don't have contacts and my supervisors can't help. Also I'm in a totally different geographical area so professional organisations etc around here are no use (yes, I've looked). Geographically convenient or knowing people involved definitely won't happen, I'm actually trying to avoid that incestuous crap. Advice on finding professional organisations or mailing lists outside New Zealand, besides the obvious google searches, would be welcomed.

I'm technically being a bit cheeky, trying to go to a conference outside my small speciality (nutrigenomics btw) to find a post doc doing something kind of new (i.e. immunology), plus I have a wide background and a fairly broad area of interest within inflammation (although more specific techniques under my belt) so I don't have specific ideas about specific places or groups to look at for a post doc. That's what the conference is for, to let me know what's out there!

special-k's ideas about looking into CVs etc of authors I'm interested in is a great one, and something I'd never have thought of by myself. I'm going to start on that tomorrow. Professional networking is a great idea but I need something more specific given how isolated I am currently. I'm not your traditional bossed-around PhD student and in this particular case it's all up to me, and I'm still feeling a bit lost! So more ideas are welcomed.
posted by shelleycat at 1:02 AM on November 27, 2008

Considering you want to see talks and network with people that are involved with two different fields of research (nutrigenomics and immunology) it might be worthwhile to find a fairly general biological science conference.

I am a Biochemist and to that end, during my PhD I went to the combined FEBS-IUBMB conference in Budapest in 2005. I am Australian, so me being a non-european didn't cause any hassles. It was great. very well attended (>1500-2000 people) and made some good contacts and saw some great talks. There were a number of good immunology talks as well.

They also run a young scientist program which offers waivers for conference fees, accomodation (i think) and other benefits.

in 2009 the FEBS congress is in Prague. might be worthwhile checking it out. I think the dates are closing soon.
posted by TheOtherGuy at 3:52 AM on November 27, 2008

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