Any advice or comments on jobhunting at science conferences?
October 6, 2011 5:19 AM   Subscribe

Do any of you have experience with postdoc recruitment at academic conferences (Specifically, BSGT/ESGCT)?

I'm trying to decide whether I should pay €600 (plus accommodation and travel) out of my own pocket to attend an academic conference, with the primary aim of job hunting. It's a big chunk of money, but finding a good job would easily be worth it. So I'm looking for information to help work out whether spending the cash is a gamble worth taking.

I think it basically comes down to a question of how useful the job board system is going to be. Does anyone out there have experience using the boards at this conference or a similar one? Do you tend to get lots of positions posted and/or PIs looking at posted CVs? I'm a little concerned, because the societies' websites currently have exactly one job listing, which is interesting but not worth €600 on its own.

More fuzzily, I know people who can probably introduce me to a lot of other lab heads in my field. I only have a poster, which will make it hard to get attention for my work, but it's cool stuff (already presented it orally at another prestigious conference, just got accepted in a good journal) so I should do OK when a conversation gets going. I know networking is useful for collaborations and ideas, but how common is actually getting hired by -- or hiring -- someone met at a conference?

For background, there's a chance that my lab will pay for the conference, in which case I'll definitely go. I'm just trying to settle my thoughts about Plan B in advance.
posted by metaBugs to Work & Money (11 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I am not anywhere near a post doc in my academic career at this point (still an undergrad!), so I can't advise you on the post doc aspect of your question. But, would there be the possibility of travel funding for your conference? All of the ones I've been to have been partially or fully funded by travel grants from the conference. Perhaps there some funds available might be able to offset some of your costs if your lab does not end up paying for your expenses?
posted by snowysoul at 5:58 AM on October 6, 2011

I don't know how big the meetings you're referring to are, but I got my postdoc in math at the relevant national conference. The job board there didn't help me at all, but networking and meeting people got me an interview and a job I otherwise wouldn't have gotten.
posted by yeolcoatl at 6:01 AM on October 6, 2011

I got both of my postdocs as a result of networking (read: drinking) at (neuroscience) conferences. Posters are *better* for meeting people because you can both chat and talk about the research at the same time. Also, if people start congregating around your poster, you get introductions made, etc. etc.
posted by gaspode at 6:05 AM on October 6, 2011

It's been about a decade and the place was the U.S., but I also got my postdoc by networking (the investigator gave an interesting talk and I spoke with him after). This was in the biological sciences. There were plenty of other opportunities out there if I wanted to pursue them, and my peers enjoyed the same situation.

I think the funding situation in Europe may be sufficiently different that postdoc positions are harder to come by, but personally I would not have considered laying out that kind of money to pay my own way to a conference to go job hunting.
posted by exogenous at 6:21 AM on October 6, 2011

As mentioned above by snowysoul: is there a chance that conference fee can be waived? Most organisations and conferences have budget for PhDs and postdocs that could otherwise not afford to visit (travel and/or conference fee reduction). It's worth sending out an e-mail, at least.

If the conference has people that you are interested to work with (and who you do not know well enough) I would definitely go. The postdoc job market is very informal.
posted by swordfishtrombones at 7:26 AM on October 6, 2011

I don't know this conference, but I regularly look at the job posting boards at some biology conferences - not because I'm looking or recruiting for jobs, but because I manage a website where people can post similar ads to a similar audience as those meetings, and I use the job board to put up a flyer for that. So I've visited job boards at several conferences over the past year, and I've even photographed some of them to show my boss where I put our flyers. From my photos: a big conference with 4000 delegates had about 50 job postings on the board on the last day of the meeting, and fewer than 10 CVs of people looking for jobs. A smaller meeting of about 1000 people had 10 job postings on the board on the second-to last day.

So that scales to about 1 job posting for every 100 participants, and some of the ads were not for postdoc jobs.

In other words, I don't think the job boards are worth paying the conference attendance fee for, but as others above have said, meetings are incredibly useful for *networking*. Just get to know lots of people - it's really useful! When I was just a teeny-tiny grad student I got a very high-profile PI to send me a proof of his not yet accepted article because we realized over breakfast that I needed a protocol he was going to be publishing soon. "I'll send it when I'm back!" he said, and of course forgot, but as soon as I emailed him he remembered me and sent it. There are all kinds of useful things you get out of networking, as long as you're genuinely interested in people's work and not just out on a job hunt and looking for *anyone* to hire you.
posted by easternblot at 9:20 AM on October 6, 2011

If your lab pays, go. Why not? But my experience of these conferences is that every PI and Big Name is continually followed by a contrail of prospective postdocs or students, hoping to gain the attention of said Great Man. If you were talking, it might be different. (Then again, none of the conferences I attended had job boards.) So, if you go, you may have to work hard to get someone to notice you.
posted by outlier at 9:46 AM on October 6, 2011

Here is the AskMe for academia, give us a try over there.
posted by LarryC at 9:55 AM on October 6, 2011

Yes, go, if you've got something good on a poster or talk. If you've a good idea to run past someone, that's good too.
posted by cromagnon at 4:05 PM on October 6, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks very much for your advice, all. I will go along to the conference, although I might get a couple of day passes instead of the whole week. Even though the job board doesn't sound like it'd be great, I agree that the opportunity for networking is too good to pass up, especially with my current PI and a few friendly group heads looking out for me. Since posting the question, I've actually heard that a PI who'll only be in the country for the conference is interested in meeting me, which is another vote in favour. I'll look into travel bursaries, thanks for the suggestion.

exogenous - Normally I'd agree that there are opportunities to be found through meeting people at seminars, chatting to people at lab-funded conferences, etc. Unfortunately, the job offer I got through those channels has unexpectedly disappeared at the last moment, so I'm now re-starting my job hunt with very little time for that sort of thing left.

I got both of my postdocs as a result of networking (read: drinking) at (neuroscience) conferences.
Hah, I know a girl who got her first postdoc that way. Spilled a PI's pint, spent the rest of the evening gossiping, talking shop and swapping dirty jokes with him, and proceeded to drink him under the table. When he crawled out into the real world late the next morning, he offered her a job. I don't have the alcohol tolerance for that exact interview technique, but I do have a lot of respect for the conference bar as a meeting place.
posted by metaBugs at 3:22 AM on October 7, 2011

Response by poster: Update: in the end I went to (and paid for!) the whole thing and I'm satisfied that it was worth it.

The job board turned out not to exist at all and my poster was at the most distant, darkest end of a long, dark corridor. A tiny handful of people stopped to chat about it, which was fun but not fruitful.

Luckily, the networking -- with a little bit of help from a busy but gregarious PI-level collaborator -- went much better. The scorecard includes: one follow-up to an email conversation that resulted in an invitation to formally interview for what's basically my dream job (with generous funding to fly me out there and park me in a hotel for a couple of nights); three chats that ended with requests that I send my CV along after the conference; a smattering of rumours about jobs and funding that might be coming up soon; and some informal information about a lab that had already invited me to an interview.

With that plus some great academic and social stuff, I think that it was worth the money. Of course I can't say that the conference got me a job (yet?) but, at worst, I've updated my education, met some interesting people and got some very solid leads.
posted by metaBugs at 8:36 AM on November 2, 2011

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