Job-hunting and making the most of attending large conferences

Job-hunting and making the most of attending large conferences

Australian PhD student Miro Astore from the University of Sydney recently attended the Biophysical Society meeting in San Fransisco on a mission to find postdoc opportunities. In this post, he shares his experience and has some tips for other students and early-career researchers.

By Miro Astore @miroastore

In February 2022, I was lucky enough to attend my first international conference after the pandemic. I flew to San Francisco to try and hunt down a postdoc opportunity at the Annual Meeting of the American Biophysical Society (the BPS, as it’s known).  The BPS meetings are the largest gathering of biophysicists with thousands of attendees from around the world. This was my second time attending the BPS in person and my third if you include the virtual meeting in 2021.

I had a great time showing off my research, and, best of all, I thoroughly enjoyed learning more about the latest findings in biophysics!

Coming to the end of my PhD degree and with a growing interest in working overseas, I was sure to use this opportunity to try and get potential employers interested in my research. I was pretty happy with my success; I was able to line up two job interviews by meeting with the heads of the lab and discussing their job postings. One was from Oxford University, and one was from a private research institute in New   York City. I also met many labs with open positions, which I will apply for in the next few weeks.

I am doing my PhD in a very small lab, and I did not meet many Australians at the meeting. So, I thought I would write down some advice for my fellow Australian PhD students who might find themselves at international conferences with few connections.

  1. Don’t be shy!

Australians are popular so make friends, and keep in contact with them. You’ll meet many smart people, and you will learn a lot even if you doze off in a talk or two.

Don’t be shy about approaching professors either; introduce yourself and have an elevator pitch about your research ready to go.

 

  1. Email the people to come and see your work.

The BPS meetings have several parallel sessions running and hundreds of posters displayed every day. Nobody has time for everything, and it is very easy for academics to get caught up speaking to colleagues rather than reading through the abstracts to find topics they are interested in.

Make sure you read through the conference program ahead of time to know who is attending. Email the people who seem to be in a research area similar to yours and invite them to come to your talk or poster.

By doing this, I have been invited to give two seminars.

You can easily find contact information for academics online, and they often have staff photos on university websites, so you recognize them at the conference.

 

  1. Get Twitter.

We are lucky that there is a large international Biophysics community on Twitter where I find lots of interesting papers and the latest
biophysics news.

Twitter is also a great place to find job ads! One of the job interviews I lined up I only heard of from Twitter, and now it is my top preference (I have my fingers crossed).

It’s also a great place to make friends! During the conference, people posted about meetups with the hashtag #bps2022. This is how I found out about a 10k morning run with 2 professors in my field and two other grad students. Kind of random, but it was great fun.

 

  1. Don’t ignore the poster session.

    The poster sessions at the BPS meetings are where I have learned the most about biophysics. The format is much more intimate and less intimidating than a talk. It allows for in-depth discussions.

These sessions are also an excellent opportunity for feedback on your results. The person you show your poster to might be the one to review your paper when you publish your work.

Sometimes I spent too much time talking to somebody whose poster was not very relevant to me, but I stayed there to be polite. Be strategic. Make sure you use your time wisely.

  1. Plan your day.

There is so much science that happens in these meetings that it is impossible to see it all. Use the schedule app that the Biophysical Society releases to plan your schedule, so you do not miss too much. Remember there is never Wi-Fi at the conference centres so make sure you buy a mobile sim before leaving home.

Australian universities increasingly value international collaborations, so if you can get the funding, attending meetings like these are great ways to learn how to form those connections to start collaborations.

 

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