My First Conference: a Student's Perspective

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Throughout the beginning of my Ph.D. program I had heard a lot about Experimental Biology. It is a large conference held every year where students and professors go to give talks and poster presentations. It was finally my turn to attend and I immediately went to the Experimental Biology website to see what I should expect. The home page was riddled with sayings such as, “EB is the largest and most prestigious interdisciplinary meeting of its kind”, “access to five society meetings”, “over 5,000 poster presentations” and “65 countries on average represented”.

I decided to room with another graduate student, Laura, to help split the cost of the hotel and she helped in finding which hotel to stay at that was close enough to the conference center but cheap enough to fit our Ph.D. student budget. Once that was booked, I needed to look into flights. We were told to stay away from Spirit Airlines as they were unpredictable and had a higher chance of cancellations. However, my cheap college student mind was thinking, but Spirit is $100 cheaper; I only ended up spending $175 on my round-trip flight from Detroit to Orlando, which I thought was a win.

Now was the time to start packing; it was the night before I left for Orlando. I was running around my house trying to decide what to bring to a trip to Florida on a business work-trip. I gathered all my business wear: dress pants, dress jackets, dress shirts and dress shoes and tried to decide if I had enough business casual attire to last 4 days. Okay, perfect, business wear is good to go, but now what about normal Florida clothes, such as shorts, tank tops and even swim suits. Me, being the over-packer I am brought 3 swim suits, 4 pairs of shorts, 5 tank tops and 2 pairs of flip flops/sandals. I also was prepared in case of a chilly night with 4 pairs of pants and 2 sweaters. So, let me recap for you, I packed 2 weeks of clothes for a 4-day trip, because you never know.

The next morning my flight was at 9:00am. I boarded the plane and the jet bridge was lined with strollers. It was at the moment I realized, oh yeah, we are going to Orlando, the happiest place in the world, Disney. Sure enough, there were just as many kids as there were adults on our plane. Luckily, all these children woke up early for the flight, so they ended up sleeping most of the time or drawn into their electronic devices. We were able to pick up our badges for the conference center at baggage claim which gave us something to do as we waited for our bags to arrive. From there, it was a 20-minute taxi ride to our hotel, the Rosen Plaza. Check-in was not until 3:00pm, but thankfully my room was ready early, and I was able to get into my hotel at 12:30pm.

The Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, Florida

The Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, Florida

My PI, Adam, had taken an earlier flight and had already gotten to his hotel, the Rosen Centre (and yes, it is different from the Rosen Plaza, my hotel). We met for lunch where the adventure began. We decided to meet at the restaurant in Adam’s hotel for lunch. In order to get to his hotel, I needed to walk through the conference center. Experimental Biology was being held in only half of the Orange County Conference Center, the half furthest from my hotel. It was incredible and very well organized. Each society was grouped together, and each room had schedules for the next four days on them. When I finally got to the Rosen Centre, I met Adam who was with two other professors from other universities. I knew that from now on I was in conference mode, lots of socializing and networking.

During lunch, I got a text from Laura saying she landed and had gotten to our hotel room. I went back to our hotel, a 20-minute walk, with just enough time to change into my business wear and walk back to the conference center, a 15-minute walk, for the ASPET business meeting that Adam and I were attending and where Adam would be receiving an award. The meeting had ended, awards were received, and we had a little over an hour to kill before the MSU alumni mixer.

A professor we knew very well from MSU suggested he would buy us a drink; you can’t argue with that so off to the bar for a drink we went. After that we headed to the MSU mixer. Laura was already there; we got a drink and found the air conditioner to stand by. Mind you, this was also the night of the final four basketball game and MSU was playing. Only about 25% of the people in the room were actually able to watch the game because it was so packed. There was free food, free drinks and good company; you can’t go wrong with that. We then headed to the UofM mixer, Adam and I are alumni; he received his Ph.D. from there and I my bachelors.

Laura with room service Sunday night while I was at the poster competition.

Laura with room service Sunday night while I was at the poster competition.

The next morning, Sunday, we woke up at 6:30am to get ready for the first set of talks at 8:00am. Talks went until 10:00am, followed by poster presentations until 12:00pm and then there was a little bit of free time for lunch. After lunch there were more talks, followed by a poster competition. I tried to get Laura to come to this poster competition with me, however she decided against it and wanted to relax in the hotel room; I couldn’t blame her. After the poster competition all I wanted to do was walk back to my hotel room and crawl into bed. I walk into the room and this is how I find Laura:

Yes, she is in bed, comfy, with room service. I had just grabbed my pajamas and was ready to get into bed when Laura received a phone call from a post-doc in her lab, Janice, who was with Terri, another post-doc. They were trying to get us to come to the Rosen Centre for drinks, you remember a 20-minute walk away; it was now 10:00pm. We gave in, headed to the pool bar and had margaritas waiting for us when we arrived. We sat there chatting until they started shutting down the bar and the lights were being turned off. After 15 minutes or so a security guard came by to tell us we needed to move inside the hotel as the pool was closed. We headed back to our hotel and went to bed.

Tuesday morning I presented my poster entitled, “Mechanistic Differences in the Antiplatelet Effects of DT-678 and Existing P2Y12 Antagonists.”

Tuesday morning I presented my poster entitled, “Mechanistic Differences in the Antiplatelet Effects of DT-678 and Existing P2Y12 Antagonists.”

            The next morning, Monday, we repeated the same thing. Talks, posters, lunch, talks and then mixers. Then the next day, Tuesday, I was presenting my poster. I went and set up my poster, went to talks and then stood by my poster from 10:00am to 12:00pm. During that time, I had only 2 people come and ask me about my research. It makes some sense as it was the last day, some people had already headed home, and I was in the back corner with not many other people presenting around me. I was a little disappointed that I had spent all this time putting together this poster for no one to really be interested in what I was doing. At least I got a good picture of me with my poster:

Kibrom and I during the ASPET division mixers with the dinner served.

Kibrom and I during the ASPET division mixers with the dinner served.

At this point I was exhausted. I had attended at least 30 talks that week and visited 15 posters; I needed a break. I went to lunch with Laura and Janice and we sat by the pool for 2 hours. This was a much-needed break that I should have taken in the middle of the trip. I then had to get ready and head back to the conference center for another business meeting, this time it was for the Translational and Clinical Pharmacology Division (TCP), followed by a lecture given by the awardee for the Lucchesi award; Benedict Lucchesi was Adam’s Ph.D. mentor. Following that was the division mixers. We headed to the TCP mixer followed by the Drug Discovery mixer. There were 3 different mixers on the same floor, and they all had this huge piece of meat. Towards the end of the mixer, only about 1/3 of the meat had been eaten in each of the rooms. Here is a picture for reference of Kibrom, another MSU graduate student, and I next to the meat just before it was taken away.

Nala, my puppy, was excited for me to be home.

Nala, my puppy, was excited for me to be home.

After those mixers I headed back to my hotel where I was packing and ready to go to bed early. My flight left at 12:30pm the next morning and I wanted to be able to wake up and have a relaxed morning. Luckily, we were able to get to bed at 10:30pm that night, which was the earliest we had gone to bed the whole trip. The next morning, Wednesday, I woke up around 8:00am, got ready and headed down to the lobby to get breakfast and sit by the pool. I wanted to get a little bit of the Florida weather before I headed home. It was cloudy, but you better believe I enjoyed every minute of it. I shared a taxi with Adam as his flight was at 12:00pm. The flight home was rowdier than the flight to Orlando. The children on the plane were not happy to be leaving the happiest place on earth; it was 2.5 hours of fussy children. I was so ready to be home, in my comfortable bed with reasonable bed times and minimal socialization. I am not sure who was more excited for me to be home, me or my puppy.

Reflecting back now, I fully enjoyed my first large conference. I gained a large amount of knowledge that helped spark ideas for my own project as well as giving the opportunity to learn about the good science other people are doing. I highly recommend that every graduate student should go to a large conference like Experimental Biology. It is the only place that you are able to create connections with scientists in all types of concentrations. After all, we even met a PI who was studying pain and by sitting in the lectures at Experimental Biology he came up with an idea to help treat cancer and so now he studies cancer. The opportunities Experimental Biology provide are immense and I am so grateful for the knowledge I gained that week.