3 reasons I attend scientific conferences. What are yours?

10 May 2016

By Keir Bailey, a PhD student at the University of York

What was the last conference you went to? Did you take time to think about what gained from it? Here are my top 3 things I took from attending UK Plant Science Federation (UKPSF) Conferences.

  1. Expose yourself to cutting-edge science

Exciting science from excited scientists.

Keir Bailey 2I remember my first UKPSF conference, in 2014, at York University, it was one of the first ever conferences I attended. The theme was ‘Sustaining Life on Earth’ and I was terribly eager to hear Cathie Martin, ‘the mother’ of the purple tomato, speak. Her lab had engineered tomatoes to make anthocyanins, the chemicals that make blueberries a super food, offering a promise of affordable health benefits. It had been in the news that these tomatoes were one step closer to reaching the UK supermarket shelves, so everyone was excited. Over the two days I heard not only Cathie’s talk but many others. I was in awe of the researchers who spoke so passionately and confidently about their work and how they aimed to help sustain life on Earth. This theme and passion continued in this years’ Molecules to Ecosystem’ conference.

Giles Olroyd, the opening keynote speaker, told of his work studying nitrogen fixation in legumes and his goal to introduce these capabilities to crop species to help farmers in Africa. Like Cathie, he aspired to use his research to change lives. He re-iterated many times that as researchers we should dream big, aim high and never underestimate ourselves. Such an enthusiastic talk set a tone for the rest of the conference, with his ambition resonating through many discussions, especially one focussed upon building a roadmap for UK plant science.

  1. Expand your network

Tea, coffee and mingling.

Exploring plant research, from ‘Molecules to Ecosystem’, meant there was a wealth of interesting talks at UKPSF 2016; from signal transduction and epigenetics to plant microbiomes and ecological resilience. However, there was not only the chance to hear from international academic leaders in plant science but also time to interact with a wide range of delegates from different universities, industry, organisations and journals such as the Gatsby Foundation and Nature Plants.

Conferences are a great chance to seek out collaborations and new horizons. It can be daunting talking to new people, but you’ve all chosen to attend the same conference so you’ve already got something in common to talk about. You never know who may give you that fresh idea, different perspective or opportunity. Don’t forget to follow up your networking after the conference, remember names, drop them an email or become connected on LinkedIn.

Keir Bailey 1

  1. Explore your potential

Present your work and yourself.

At most conferences there is the opportunity for PhD students to talk or present a poster – embrace it. It’s a great chance to boost your confidence, get noticed and think deeper about your work. At the UKPSF 2016 conference the Future Generations sessions allowed five PhD students to each give a 10-minute talk. Thanks to the UKPSF, I was chosen to be one of them.

As I wrote my talk I thought back to my first UKPSF conference, how inspiring and confident the speakers had been. Although I had spoken before at lab meetings and seminars, this would be the largest audience I had spoken in front of; I hoped I could battle the nerves and deliver a good presentation. Before I knew it, I was stood on the stage in front of everyone. I took a deep breath and tried to remember what I’d practised, it was like a rollercoaster ride: adrenaline filled, passed quickly and left me with a feeling of elation. Even though giving the talk was scary, and at first my laser pointer wobbled around the slides as my hand shook, I felt proud to have pushed myself. The most rewarding part of giving a talk was afterwards when I could relax and discuss my work further with those who were interested. I also feel less daunted by upcoming talks that I have to give.

I can only hope to be part of future UKPSF conferences; for the opportunity to hear about cutting edge science, make new friends and contacts, and foster the belief that UK plant scientists can help make the world a better, brighter place.

I wish you a summer of fun and fruitful conferences!

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