Five easy* steps for a perfect conference experience

Conference season is on, with many exciting events - such as SB7.0 - already taking place. But how can you make the most of the conference experience? We asked Erica Brockmeier, theblogger of Science with Style, to tell us about how you can attend a conference with style.

Presenting at a conference is an exciting challenge for any early career researcher (ECR). Whether you’re just starting out in your research career or have attended the same conference for several years and counting, scientific meetings are a place to showcase your hard work and make connections with new colleagues. But attending conferences isn’t just another check mark to make on your ECR to do list: making the most from an annual event like a professional meeting requires time, planning, and initiative.

For the ECR in a hurry, I’ve developed an easy* five step plan to help you make the most of your conference experience:

*These steps won’t actually be easy, but because conferences are a once-in-a-year opportunity for you to enhance your work and propel you into the next steps of your career, they are well-worth the time and energy you’ll use to complete them!

Step 1: Set your conference goals

Before you choose what platform sessions or networking events you want to attend, come up with three to four concrete things you want to take away from the meeting. These should be specific and achievable during the time frame of the conference while also taking into consideration the scale of the meeting you’ll attend. These goals can include things like “Meet Professor Smith and discuss an experiment/project idea”, “Attend as many talks and posters possible in the My Relevant Sub-discipline session held on Tuesday afternoon”, or “Introduce myself to researchers in the Dream Job lab.”

Your conference goals should also take into account where you currently are in your research career. If you’re an early ECR, now is a good time to start meeting new people outside of the immediate networks of your lab so you can expand your own network independent of your boss or your lab mates. Those who are further along in their careers can start discussing project and grant ideas with collaborators or actively seeking out potential future employers. Learning about new research is also a crucial part of any scientific conference, so be sure to budget yourself some time to see presentations that are related to your current project or, alternatively, in the field you want to get into for your next job.

If you’re not sure where to start, or aren’t sure of where you want your career to go, you can do some soul-searching with one of the many career guides available. You can also start with some basic career preparation activities, especially if you’re still in the early phases of your research career.

Step 2: Do your homework

To make the most of your well-laid out conference plan, be sure to do the groundwork needed in advance to make it happen: even small or specialized conferences are busy, fast-paced event for delegates, especially ECRs trying to navigate a meeting for the first time. In order to make the most of the conference, contact people you want to connect with before the meeting itself and arrange a time to meet. If you’re adept at getting up early and are desperate to catch a busy researcher, one option is to meet before the conference sessions begin for the day. It’s a good way to talk to someone before they are swept up in the events of the day and there is less likely to be other conflicting social events or pre-planned meetings happening at that time.

Even if you’re not in the job market, take time to update your CV and make business cards if you don’t have any already. Another good exercise before you head off for the conference is to make an elevator speech. This should be a summary in less than a minute either of your work, your project, or your career goals. It’s perfect for meeting someone for the first time or getting a word in to a busy researcher in between meetings and sessions. And of course, don’t forget to give yourself ample time to prepare and practice your talk or poster presentation. This is especially important if the people you want to meet and impress are going to be there at your talk or poster!

If you’re not sure where to start in terms of reaching out to new people or are nervous about knowing how to approach someone at a conference, you can do some additional reading on the basics principles of networking  and how you can start on a path from initiating your professional network to landing your first job.

Step 3: Pack your bags

Scientists might not have a reputation of being a fashion-forward group of individuals, but style is a crucial aspect of making a good impression at a conference. Aim for outfits that make it clear that you take yourself (and your career) seriously—but keep in mind that if you dress uncomfortably, it will show in your body language. Your conference style should accurately reflect who you are as a researcher and as a person. In brief: when choosing what you’ll wear to a conference, aim to be a slightly upgraded version of your day-to-day self while remaining comfortable in what you wear.

While I can’t tell you precisely what types of trousers or shirts best reflect you and your style, I have a few short practical suggestions:

- Even small conferences will take a lot out on your feet, from standing and talking during social events to walking around the conference venue or to and from your hotel. Wear shoes that are comfortable and already broken in to prevent your feet from being sore or blistered after a long conference day.

- An easy conference outfit is to combine a blazer with trousers (you can keep it casual with denim or khaki) with a plain shirt or sweater. Then you can easily mix and match tops and trousers during the meeting as suits your style. Aim for a dressier outfit (such as more formal dress trousers, skirt, or a dress depending on what you’re comfortable in) if you’re giving a presentation or are meeting with someone for a job interview or to discuss a position in a setting that will be more formal than a networking chat.

- Avoid shorts, t-shirts with unprofessional text or graphic designs, and trendy clothing. Keep it clean, neat, plain, and simple!

Step 4: Strut your stuff!

The conference is your time to shine: you worked hard, you know your field and your topic, and you’re looking ahead to bigger and better things. You will inevitably get nervous, so try to maintain perspective by focusing on the conference experience as a whole and actively working to maintain your self-confidence. Greet people with a hearty handshake and tell them your practised elevator speech when they ask about who you are or what you’re doing. If you’re in the job market, keep in mind that you likely won’t be offered a job when you first meet someone. You should also be ready with an idea or two of what you can offer them instead of only asking them for their help or expertise.

Keep track of your meeting times, session schedules, and networking events with the conference itinerary planner if there is one available from the organizers. If there isn’t one, a simple diary or phone calendar reminders can keep you on track with your schedule. Just be sure to check that you have the correct time zones in your phone calendar if your conference is in a different place than your home institute!

Don’t forget that part of the fun of a conference is meeting people you didn’t plan on connecting with nor expected to meet. Leave room in your schedule to attend networking events without a plan in place. You can also follow conference hashtags on Twitter as a way to find and connect with other delegates.

Step 5: Say your thank you’s

One of the most important yet frequently forgotten parts of networking is to follow-up after the initial meeting. About a week or two after you get home from the conference, send a short email to the researchers who took the time to meet with you. If the meeting with the person was job-related, you can also send a CV or a short written overview of your career objectives. If you met with a person more casually, you can simply send a ‘Hello, it was great to meet you’ message and offer to chat over Skype or on the phone if there’s something concrete you’d like to work together on. Regardless of how formal your meeting was, be sure to thank the person for their time during the conference.

The best way to continue to grow your professional network is to foster and maintain your connections to people as you meet them. Follow-up on a regular basis by sending them new papers that you think might be relevant, sharing grant proposals that you think they might be interested in applying for (or that you could do together), or even just by keeping them updated with any big news related to your project or your career. Regular email contact, even if only 3-4 times per year, can help keep you on someone’s radar screen and might make them more likely to send relevant opportunities your way.

Making the most of your ECR conference experience

The prospect of a large scientific conference can seem daunting regardless of whether you’re a first-time attendee or are at a point in your career where you’re looking for your next opportunity. With a bit of career soul-searching, pre-conference planning, style selection, and practising the skills you need to be confident and self-assured, you can turn any conference into an opportunity not only to present and learn but also to further your career and develop your professional network.


Erica Brockmeier is an Associate Medical Writer based in Manchester, UK. Before that, she was a post-doc at the University of Liverpool, after earning a PhD in Toxicology in 2013 from the University of Florida. Her blog Science with Style focuses on professional development and science communication topics and is aimed at early career researchers. Connect with her on Twitter or visit her personal website for more of her writing. 

EUSynBioS Social at Synthetic Biology UK 2017

The Synthetic Biology UK 2017 conference, principally organised by the Biochemical Society, will be held in Manchester 27-28 November 2017. This event aims to showcase recent research and foster community-building across the UK synthetic biology community.


EUSynBioS will be there, with a surprise: in collaboration with the conference organizers, we will host a networking event right after the conclusion of the formal conference sessions.

This informal social event brings together early-career researchers with industry representatives and academics in synthetic biology.

Join us for a drink from 15:30 to 17:30 in the Atrium of the Manchester Institute of Biotechnology, next to the Manchester Conference Centre (1 min walk)!

Stay tuned for more updates!

EUSynBioS Symposium 2016: engineering biology for a better future

An event summary

The European Association of Synthetic Biology Students and Postdocs (EUSynBioS) is an initiative aiming to bring together the younger members of the synthetic biology community. This intercommunication can take various forms and happen across vast distances, however personal interaction is hard to replace. Hence, our first symposium took place in Imperial College, London, last week (April 9-10), with participants from eight countries and numerous institutions.

Dr. Tom Knight, Ginkgo bioworks

Dr. Tom Knight, Ginkgo bioworks

The Symposium kicked off with a keynote talk from Tom Knight, founder of Ginkgo Bioworks and one of the most prominent figures in synthetic biology. He narrated his early steps in the field, as well as his perspectives for the future, especially under the light of powerful computer simulations, cheap oligonucleotide synthesis, and high throughput analysis.

When cheap oligos are mentioned Twist Bioscience is one of the first brands that come to mind. The company's CEO and founder, Emily Leproust, presented her reasons for leaving academia for the industry and then starting a company. She compared the working conditions and the career perspectives in both environments, and ended her talk with motivational advice for succeeding in the corporate world.

Presentations by dr. Emily Leproust (Twist Bioscience) and prof. Luke Alphey (The Pirbright Institute)

Presentations by dr. Emily Leproust (Twist Bioscience) and prof. Luke Alphey (The Pirbright Institute)

Our last but not least industry speaker was Luke Alphey, Professor at Pirbright Institute and founder of Oxitec. His talk centered around the control of dengue fever-spreading mosquitoes in Brasil, the field trials, and the successful public engagement and involvement of the local population and authorities. The keynote talks concluded with Michele Garfinkel, working at the EMBO Science Policy Programme. Synthetic biology regulation is a topic that both interests and troubles researchers. Moreover, as Michele explained, efficient regulation and monitoring is a prerequisite for public acceptance of our emerging discipline.

But the theme of the Symposium was how you (the community members) engineer biology. Therefore, we featured six interesting talks and several poster presentations, with topics ranging from law and regulation to xenobiology and high-end computations. The presentations stimulated interesting questions, while the posters were swarming with people. All those created a nice atmosphere and the engagement of the participants was motivating.

Captions from the participants presentations and the poster and breakout sessions.

Captions from the participants presentations and the poster and breakout sessions.

The breakout sessions, where the participants had the chance to discuss synthetic biology topics with experts in the field, and the open discussion about gene drives (to be covered in more detail in a future post) proved to be the highlights of the day. Interesting - and sometimes conflicting - opinions were expressed, and discussions that started continued throughout the breaks and the small reception which terminated the first day. The second day was more relaxing, and included a visit to the London Biohackspace. 

Sometimes words are not enough, one has to employ their hands to get a message through..

Sometimes words are not enough, one has to employ their hands to get a message through..

Overall, I think our first EUSynBioS event was a success, and hopefully one of the many events that will follow throughout Europe. Me and the rest of the Steering Committee would like to kindly thank the keynote speakers and the leaders of the breakout sessions and all the people from Imperial College and SynBIC that worked hard for the event to take place. All photographs are courtesy of Ona Anilionyte.

Written by: Konstantinos Vavitsas

Edited by: Stefano Donati

Disclaimer: Views and opinions expressed in EUSynBioS Pulse articles belong solely to the writer(s). They do not reflect the opinion of the Community, the Advisory Board or the Steering Committee.



The European Conference for Artificial Life 2015

Towards Programmable Biology - Call for Participation

20th July, 2015, York, UK

A Satellite Workshop at the European Conference on Artificial Life, 2015

Synthetic Biology’s vision to repurpose living cells as substrates for general computation has manifested itself in genetic circuit designs that attempt to implement Boolean logic gates, digital memory, oscillators, and other circuits from electrical engineering. Yet, the various achievements in the realm of Synthetic Biology remain isolated and generally lack the modularity and scalability of their electronic counterparts.

This ECAL 2015 satellite workshop revisits cornerstone achievements in Synthetic Biology research that address general computability in biological substrates, in order to demarcate key in-vivo and in-silico challenges of this novel research area. Topics will deal with how paradigms borrowed from digital, electronic devices are best implemented in large-scale biological substrates, and whether unconventional computing paradigms, such as those developed in the research field of Artificial Life, might offer more promising routes toward full-fledged biological computation.


Invited Speakers:

        * Martyn Amos, Manchester Metropolitan University, UK

        * Friedrich Simmel, Technische Universität München, Germany


Call for Participation and Abstracts

This workshop welcomes participants and abstracts from any area of Synthetic Biology and related fields, including, but not limited to:

    * the design and engineering of molecular, cellular and population-based computation

    * domain-specific languages for the specification of biological computation

    * theories and applications of biological computation

We accept abstract submissions for oral and poster presentations.

Abstracts up to 2 pages in length following the formatting guidelines of the ECAL conference should be submitted to

For details, click here


Important Dates

    * Abstract submission deadline: 17th April 2015

    * Notification of acceptance:     15th May 2015

    * Workshop date :                     20th July 2015

    * Conference dates:                  20th-24th July 2015



Harold Fellermann, Omer Markovitch, Owen Gilfellon and Curtis Madsen

Interdisciplinary Computing and Complex Biosystems research group

School of Computing Science

Newcastle University

Newcastle upon Tyne, UK