Attending conferences – two perspectives

Conferences are where scientists come together and exchange about their latest results. Autumn ist the most important conference season, when many scientists spend some time together. Building on my experience in visiting conferences, I want to offer my opinion here on conferences. Since this is an extremely normative topic to me, I divide this text into two parts, the first being focussed on more general points, and the second offering more strongly my own personal opinion on conferences.
1) There are large conferences, and small conferences. Larger ones are often more general, or represent the meeting of some large branch of science. Smaller ones are often more focussed, and may offer a more specific focus. While some conferences may host more than a thousand people, smaller ones may be nor more than a few dozen people.
Also, some conferences are very interactive, while other conferences have more passive attendees. Most conferences have the largest amount of people talk, often for 10-15 minutes. This may demand many parallel sessions, where people often rush from session to session.
Ideally, one would look for a conference with a high specificity to one’s own focus, may it be a focussed small one, or a large one where you find your own sub-community. Conferences are hence great to engage with like minded people, and to learn to present your results, and get feedback. Also, you may meet your future boss at such conferences, which can be especially important for early career researchers. It is good to go to conferences to gain some experience, and draw your own conclusions.

2) Now coming to my conclusion. Personally, I perceive conferences as a severe waste of resources, energy and time. I for myself get more from a paper, which I can read at the most suitable speed for my brain. Also, listening for a whole day is super exhausting to me, which adds to the typical jet-lag of travel fatigue I have. While exchange with people is generally very nice, conferences offer mostly shallow exchanges to me due to time constraints. Also, I have trouble concentrating when too many people talk at the same time, which during the breaks just happens. Still, getting to conferences always costs a lot of time and resources. I will become more committed to this end once my term as a dean ends. Right now I decided to focus, and need to cut back on certain things. Due to my personal perception of conferences, they were and easy choice. I look forward to an increasingly changed landscape of conferences, with more interactivity, time for exchange, and focus if at all possible. Regarding the last item, I am unsure.

Taken together, conferences are a nice space to get feedback, interact with colleagues, network, see what is happening, and be energised. Ultimately it depends on each and every single one what we make of this. I am still searching for my niche, to this end.