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Adelaide9216

Talks, Conferences, etc. in Academia

5 posts in this topic

There are all these really important talks, guess lectures, conferences, etc at university and I feel guilty because I have zero time nor the energy to attend most of them. I would brun out if I did because I'm already sitting on so many commitees, but I still feel guilty. Anyone feeling the same?

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Yep. Although I think having too many things to do and being forced to prioritize is actually a good thing in academia, because it means you have access to all these great things and you get to pick and choose what you like. I was at a school where it was the opposite and that was not great at all.

No need to feel guilty though. You only have so much time and energy and you must prioritize. If you are concerned about missing out on things, I would recommend taking a step back and look at the big picture. Determine what your goals are for the program you are in. Determine how you can reach these goals. Then, assess the way you are spending your time and figure out if what your career development goals are reflected in the way you spend your time.

I think this is an important skill as a graduate student! Your time is a resource and you need to use it wisely to get what you want. I can potentially attend 6 hours of seminars per week but that would not be very helpful for me. This year, my goal was to attend my department's weekly seminar every week no matter the topic (in order to have some breadth outside of my subfield) and then the other seminars only when the topic is related to my research/interests in some way. In my earlier years of grad school, I was more liberal in defining what was "related" because 1) my interests were broader and 2) I wanted to expose myself to more subfields. So, your priorities can and should change over time!

However, since I know I am making choices that advance my career and my goals, I no longer feel guilty saying "no" to things that could potentially help me but won't be as helpful as something else I could be doing instead. It also works the other way---I do a bunch of volunteering and committee work outside of research (e.g. grad student government) and I used to feel guilty about the time I was spending away from research. But with my time budget and a clear list of goals, I know I am making satisfactory research towards my career goals and can pursue other passions (hobbies, committee work, etc.) with minimal guilt :)

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Just say "NO!"  I suck at this. But really: a) do I need to go to this to advance my career? b ) is the work that I will have to put off more or less important than the opportunity? 

For example: I was invited to participate in several events this semester in my field; I picked two, one that is actually required of me, and one that was a prime opportunity to network with folk who I hope to be my bosses in a couple of years.

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A couple things I have learned from going to conferences:

1. Have a buddy system. What I mean by that is have someone who is interested in going to the thing and can just fill you in on the juicy details. They might ask you for the same favor later on. I've done that so many times when I wanted to go to many lectures, panels, presentations, but I just couldn't for some reason. Have them take comprehensive notes.

2. Email them. If there is something interesting you wanted to attend or you felt like you needed to attend but couldn't, email the person you want to chat with. More often than not, they will chat with you over what they went over. I do that at conferences when I don't have a buddy going with me and let me tell ya, it's also a great way to network.

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There will often be more things going on than time you want to spend at these events. It's okay -- even encouraged -- to triage and only do some things. You shouldn't feel bad about it! Time management is an important skill to learn. You pick the events that help you most, and skip some of the others; you might choose the ones that could help your research or that are most related to it (that's the most obvious), but that's not the only consideration. Think about big vs small event: the small ones might get into more interesting and in-depth discussions, and might be a good way to meet and interact with people in your subfield. Bigger events will give you more of an opportunity to be visible and network, but might be less relevant to your interests*. Also consider the speaker and your progress in your program; earlier on, general purpose talks by invited specialists might be a good way to get exposed to new subfields, even if you don't think they interest you -- you never know. Later on, more specialized talks might make more sense, but I still think it's important to stay connected with what's going on in other subfields, to learn about new methodologies, etc, even if they're not relevant to my own work in any way. For things you miss, I often find that writing the speaker a personalized email to apologize for having had to skip their talk is a good way to stay visible (to them) and not feel as bad about not going to something I would have wanted to (and might have been expected to) go to. (Also to some extent, the buddy system mentioned above, but I think you can only rely on others so much).

* the myth of only attending talks in one's area! sigh. I think it creates narrow-minded scientists and should be abolished from people's minds. After all, you want to be able to converse with colleagues in other subfields and have a general sense of what's going on there. I'm not saying you should know the most cutting edge new developments, but attending a colloquium talk by a famous invited speaker once every few weeks won't kill you! 

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