If you are a Health for America at MedStar Health fellow, traveling to different cities to attend national and international conferences is par for the course. And rightfully so. After all, conferences provide intellectual and networking spaces that advance healthcare innovation as we know it.
Since the beginning of our tenure, the 2016-17 HFA fellows have traveled from coast to coast and attended six conferences, with another one, SXSW 2017, just around the corner. This week, we traveled to Houston, Texas to attend the 2017 International Stroke Conference.
Here are our reflections on how to make conference attendance purposeful (and fun!):
Prepare to be social: Study the list of presenters well in advance. Conferences are a great place to make new professional connections.
Jot down important info: Bring a notebook…and use it! You might be done with academia (or on break from it), but diligent note taking can still save you a lot of potential frustration come crunch time.
Be a free bird: Don’t hesitate to split from the group. Different people have different interests. It’s more productive to treat conference sessions as an opportunity for individual growth, rather than learn about topics that may not be applicable to your end goals.
Go to a random talk that you know nothing about: A lot of times, it's natural to tend to attend talks/sessions that are in fields you're interested in, but also try to pick a random one just to learn something new.
Download the conference app: Seriously, do it. Even when it has a strange interface, a lot of times, you can get helpful real-time alerts about a big talk coming up (or free food), and also just program changes that aren't updated in the hard copy.
Food, food, food!: Make sure to sign up for all the free lunches possible—conference lunches are always good quality. And also, Yelp-ing your own places to eat local food is a must!
Take advantage of interactive conference offerings: At the International Stroke Conference in Houston, we had a chance to try our hands at a virtual reality simulation of aspiration thrombectomy to retrieve a blood clot from the brain. Speaking to tech and healthcare company representatives can help you get a good grasp on current technologies and get a feel for the landscape of the latest advances in the chronic health condition you’re investigating.
Sit near the front: Some conferences can be huge! Grabbing a seat near the front can help you engage with the speaker/panel and feel more connected.
Reflect on your takeaway points: Whether it’s through a blog post or conversation, hearing what each of the four fellows found most interesting from the conference can be a good way to crystallize your fluid learnings over the course of an immersive multi-day experience.
King John Pascual:
Take visual-notes: Instead of writing down notes in bullet form, try capturing your takeaways from the speakers using pictures, symbols, or other forms of illustrating information. Visual note-taking can help you stay engaged during conference presentations and render your notes more meaningfully.
Don’t be afraid to take a break: A typical day at a conference can seem long, which is why it’s important to hit the pause button when appropriate. For some this can be finding a space to meditate or, if the conference venue permits, taking a 10 minute nap. Walking to nearby attractions and taking photos for HFA social media channels can also energize you, if you feel like you are running out of fuel.
Network, network, network: Conferences are perfect for networking. Remember to ask for business cards (and bring your own) because doing so will save you time when reaching out to potential collaborators. If a speaker’s background and experiences align with your project goals, consider inviting them to connect on LinkedIn or sending a note expressing your appreciation for their presentation.
Stay tuned for the upcoming takeaways from the 2017 SXSW Interactive Festival!