I'm on my fourth (and thankfully last) day of my conference in Montreal, and I am way past ready to go home. The talks that excited me on day one are now barely interesting enough to keep me awake, and my stomach is unhappy from too many unhealthy meals out. I have 25 minutes until my next (and last) talk, so I thought I'd share a few of my thoughts on how to optimize a conference experience. While they may not be interesting to anyone reading this, at the very least they might help me do better next time.
1) Be selective: Attention spans (especially mine) are limited. Not even the calmest and least ADD person can be engaged for over 8 hours a day of lectures and poster sessions. Pick only the sessions that are most interesting and useful, and use the remaining time to nap or exercise or explore a new city (if it isn't fricking cold, like it is here now).
2) Consider going for only part of the conference: As a lifelong keener, it's hard for me to not participate in something from the opening until the bitter end. And as someone who is trying to live somewhat frugally, it feels like I'm only getting my money's worth if I stay for the entire conference. But the reality is that the best talks are rarely on the first or last day. In the end, I will have gone to only about two hours of talks on each of the first and last days, because there simply isn't that much of interest to me. I could've saved two nights away from home (and two nights of hotel/food costs) if I'd come only for the most useful days. (Not to mention the fact that I could've avoided cancelling three half days of clinic.)
3) Don't go to every conference: Again, this is difficult for me, because I want to stay knowledgeable and current, and conferences are generally a good way of doing that. But, being in a small field, the research doesn't change all that much in the 3-4 months between conferences. I think I'd actually be better off skipping some of the conferences and just dedicating a day to reading all the articles that are piling up in my "To Read" folder.
If you attend conferences, what other advice would you give?