Travel Tips for the Conferencing Undergraduate: Part I
This post is intended for undergraduate students who get opportunities to go abroad to conferences. There are of course, technical issues about attending conferences, presenting yourself and otherwise. As I am too inexperienced in these issues, I usually refer to various sources, such as websites of Professor etc. However, more than that, this blog entry is just a reflection on my own travel and how you can use my experience to enhance yours.
This article only has as much scope as its title. It is restricted to undergraduates, so if you are not an undergraduate, you may continue to read, but this post may not wholly be relevant to you. Bricks and bouquets are always welcome, but be ready to a get return gifts too.
Introduction and About me:
The research scenario for undergraduates in India is pretty different now than what it was 4-5 years ago. We get to go abroad for internships, work on cutting edge problems and even get a publication or two. By gosh, I know a few undergraduate seniors who have had more than 10 conference and journal publications in reputed proceedings and papers. A few years ago, we would have been content with getting industrial training in Jamshedpur or Bangalore (if we are good enough). With this scene in mind, undergraduates do get to travel a lot in general, and for most of us its strange lands and weird foods. This article is just about how one may do this better.
About me; I am an undergraduate who has just finished 4 wonderful years at IIT Kharagpur. Besides having the infinite amount of fun one has during his undergrad days, I am lucky to have published 2 conference papers and I have 1 journal paper in preparation. To present the papers I have traveled to Budapest, Hungary to IEEE WCNC 2009 (a large, more general conference) and to Muroran, Japan to IEEE SMCia 2008 (a small, more specialized conference). I have been to Los Angeles for a 2 month internship and to Palo Alto and Stanford on an invited business tour. Besides the USA, Japan and Hungary, I have also traveled to Kenya, Mauritius, Singapore, UAE and Malaysia with family. So, this article isnt exactly coming from someone who had a revelation of some kind.
Get more of me on my website (check out the My Home Page link on the side panel).
About Attending Conferences and Publishing:
There are in general many a philosophy about publishing papers and attending conferences. One golden rule that I always follow was told to me by my mentor at USC, Dr. Urbashi Mitra, which goes like this: “… it is important to do research in a measured way and not hurried way to make sure we do everything properly”. However, I do think that it means we should publish often, but give priority to correctness. Therefore, if we have a lot of time in hand, its best we don’t waste it, thinking we may not contribute correctly.
Being an undergraduate, I am not really experienced at how to publish and write papers. To be frank, I was not very happy with the conference papers I wrote (both of them as first author), and am pretty sure I did it with a subconscious intention to pad my resume. However, I remember, having a fun time discussing the problems with coauthors and friends. So publishing and research is fun and we do get to travel . Hence, it becomes my duty to refer you to some articles before you embark on a journey as an undergraduate researcher and a conference attendee:
1) Prof. Kris Pister’s article on how to do good research: http://www-bsac.eecs.berkeley.edu/~pister/guidelines
2) Prof. Terence Tao’s career advice on research: http://terrytao.wordpress.com/career-advice/
3) Cornell University’s FAQ on undergraduate research: http://www.research.cornell.edu/undergrad/FAQs.html
1) Prof. Mark Hill’s Oral Presentation Advice: http://pages.cs.wisc.edu/~markhill/conference-talk.html
2) Prof. Jennifer Widom’s Conference Talk Tips: http://infolab.stanford.edu/~widom/conference-talks.html
3) Neil Patel’s 10 Tips for a Killer Presentation: http://www.quicksprout.com/2007/09/01/10-tips-for-a-killer-presentation/
More if you just search for them on Google. Else you can also email me for inputs that I got from seniors and Profs. Now to start looking at more original stuff from me.
You are an Undegraduate:
Yes, you are an undergraduate. So, you are better off spending time in the city rather than attending all the sessions in the conference. It may seem that your travel is not worth all its money if you don’t religiously attend all the sessions, but, most often you will find them absolutely uniteresting and worse, you will have no clue as to what is going on. Honestly, in the 7 days I spent at Budapest, I attended only 2 sessions other than my own, because I had a deep interest in those subjects. All the other time, I was speaking with people in general or photographing medieval buildings and going on cruises. If you attend all the sessions you will only end up doing two things: open Facebook (or Orkut) on your laptop or looking at the watch and the door waiting for the last speaker to end his chattering.
So, first tip, choose your sessions and make sure you attend them. On the other hand, you will find PhD students and Profs. talking with people and attending many sessions. For them attending a conference is a high business priority but if you are the youngest person in the conference (like I was in both my conferences), it generally isn’t. It is important to network in general and learn to learn, besides just speaking about your specific areas of research. Trust me, when you speak with people, you will learn more about the subtle things at this stage than just your topic of research and how to convert the conference paper into a journal one. An interesting incident in Budapest was when a Prof. walked up to me and just started talking to me in general. He seemed a big shot and later, when I checked him out on the internet, I found out that he was. On the other days of the conference, I realized that he felt it was important to talk to young students rather than his old friends and I saw him moving around more with kids. Try to catch some treasure chests like him at your conference too… you will have a lot to learn.
The moral of the story is: be shameless when you meet people (like one of my friends at Kharagpur said: “Whore yourself out”), attend specific sessions and learn more outside your research. Also, spend equal or more time outside your conference venue than inside. This is of course, besides doing good research and presenting well (which was covered in the previous section).
(This is Part I of this series of posts as I didn’t want the posts to be long. Watch out for Part II soon)