Six things I learned at my first conference

Last month I had the opportunity, together with some of my MSc classmates, to attend the annual meeting of Monogram, a network of UK-based researchers and breeders of small grain cereals and grasses. The 2015 event took place at Rothamsted Research, a leading research centre in plant and soil science.

First, I should say that this wasn’t really my first conference. When I was an undergraduate I went to a plant physiology conference in Argentina. But that was only vaguely related to what I did, so I didn’t really feel like I was an active part of the meeting. The good thing was that I saw a lecture from Cathie Martin and her purple tomatoes. Who would have guessed I would now be working at the same institute as her? A small world, I guess.

So here are six things I found out at Monogram this year.

1 Presenting a poster is a great way of meeting new people

When my supervisor suggested that I present a poster, he said this would be a great way of meeting new people – and he was right.

 

Gabi and her poster at Monogram 2015.

Gabi and her poster at Monogram 2015.

I got the chance to meet several scientists from Rothamsted, many of whom remembered presentations from members of my research group at previous conferences. This meant they were familiar with our research and had very good questions about my project.

I even met fellow Brazilian researchers who were working there, which was a great way to feel closer to home (most of our conversations were about how we missed the sunny weather though, so not very academic!).

I also got to do some networking with breeders and researchers from the private sector. I’m very interested in going into industry after my master’s, so this was this was a great opportunity. Everyone was really approachable and I was able to ask a lot of questions about their work. It was definitely worth getting over my shyness for this!

2 People are actually interested in your research

This probably sounds very naive, but as I had never presented a poster in a conference before, I half-expected nobody to show up to hear about it during the poster session. But I was pleasantly surprised. Several people came to talk to me about it – both researchers and breeders. I even met a breeder who had been involved in the development of one of the lines I was using!

3 Bringing research and industry together is a great idea

One of the things that sets Monogram apart, I think, is the involvement of different stakeholders interested in wheat. The conference was attended by scientists working in fundamental and applied research, biostatisticians, molecular breeders, industry scientists, pre-breeders and breeders. And because everyone had a common interest, the conversations were really engaging – at the presentations and especially during the breaks.

Several projects presented in the conference were actually a result of joint efforts from cereal researchers and industry players, which really impressed me. Plants form such an important part of our diet, and it’s great to see how work in academia can have an impact on people’s lives through links with industry. This is what appeals to me so much in crop science.

4 Early career scientists are getting more attention

As well as two presentations from the winners of the Early Career Excellence Awards, several other PhD students presented their work at Monogram. This meant they could get feedback from experienced researchers, interact with industry workers and inspire other early career scientists.

Seeing fellow students presenting so well in such an important meeting was definitely an incentive. I don’t expect they knew they were acting as role models, but they definitely were. I think this is one of the reasons why including early career scientists and giving them a chance to present is so important in a conference.

5 I knew half the people there.

Maybe not quite half, but there were a lot of people from the John Innes Centre at Monogram this year. It was great to socialise with people I see in work every day but never really get the chance to talk to. I got to know many people from my department better, and this has had a good impact on my social interactions here. Conferences are great places to learn new things, but they are also an opportunity to form ties with your colleagues.

6 You shouldn’t wait too long to go to one!

Going to Monogram was one of the highlights of my year. We were the only master’s students there – and that brings me to my final point: don’t wait until you’re a PhD student before going to a conference! Going as an undergraduate or MSc student is really useful. You learn a lot and get to know many people who share your interests. It can help you decide what you want to study in your PhD – and you may even meet project leaders you later end up working with.

Gabi is a master’s student at the John Innes Centre. She tweets as @gabiieverett.

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