10 Things I learned to Do Right at a Conference

Originally posted October 2016

Well technically things to both rock out and to not look like an ass.

I went to a conference this week! I really like going to them, I think everyone should go to at least one! It’s not my first one, which makes me think maybe I have some inkling of how to be successful at one? But I’ve also seen something that are…questionable… So for all those who want some useful tips, have a read!

Remember these are based on my own experiences and opinions, so things may be different for you. I just want to share what I’ve learned.

1. Pack heavy

Basically the inverse of pack light. Even if you’re flying. As long as you don’t exceed weight limits and such, pack extra everything. You never know what will happen when you aren’t near home and the last thing you want is to be freaking out because the shampoo exploded and now you only have one usable outfit. And pack in different styles, some conferences are business cas, while others are FORMAL. You can check ahead, but you never really know until you get there.

2. Come prepared 

That means business cards, little notebook, pens, a place to carry handouts, a place for all your free swag from vendors, stuff like that. Some conferences are into bringing CVs but really only bring that if it’s suggested. You probably won’t be passing out a ton of cards, but if someone asks, it’s kind of embarrassing to not have one so get some!

3. You are still the bottom rung 

Medical students right? We’ll never catch a break. You should be able to spot a med student at a conference because we should be the best dressed, the most invested, the most bright eyes and in awe. That’s because we’re technically invading an event for residents and attendings. This means our needs, wants, and opinions are not the priority. You aren’t there to challenge the system, or change the world. You are there to learn from those with MUCH MORE experience than you. Stay humble.

And for life’s sake, DO NOT ARGUE WITH THE PHYSICIANS.

4. Don’t be afraid to climb!

Even if you are the just the med student, don’t be afraid to approach residents and the attendings! Let them get to know you, show your face, be engaged! Answers questions if you can! Just because you should be humble, doesn’t mean you should be meek! Most conference attendees are happy to talk to you and give you advice. And the worst anyone can do is say they don’t want to talk.

5. Have many well thought out questions

Having good, solid questions will do two things for you. 1) you’ll have your very important questions answered and 2) you’ll really look like you’ve been taking the time to be invested, which impresses basically everyone. We did a speed dating thing with residents from different programs with a group a students asking one or two residents questions, and most people had great questions…but some of the things that got asked were…weird. Not bad, but they were confusing, poorly worded, or flat out irrelevant. We only had 20 minutes per resident, so it seems like a waste of time. This also happened, though to a much less extent in the program director panel. It would just behoove you to know what is important to you, and what you want to ask before hand. Write them down if you need. It just lets you learn A LOT more in these rare chances.

6. If you go alone, you represent your school

Yep. Just you, holding the entire weight of your school’s name. And don’t get me wrong, people understand a single person is not completely representative of a class population but its kind of an initial though everyone has. It can also be intimidating to go alone, especially when some schools bring pretty substantial groups. At the conference I was at, everyone was friendly so no single riders got left out.

7. If you go in a group, all of you represent your school

I hate to have to say it, but you might end up babysitting. The thing with conferences is that you get to know your classmates on a weird new level, some being great, and some being completely awful. Most people will remember features of a group rather than each individual, so you want to make sure everyone makes everyone else look good. And individual can still ruin everything, and it can be a huge pain to literally have to watch over a freaking adult. Other times it will be completely fantastic, and you end up being the cool kids group. Just try your best to have a good group dynamic.

8. Don’t obsess over studying

Yes, I understand that even when you aren’t at school, med school never takes a break. And there will be time to get some studying in. Maybe not as much as you normally would, but some here and there. Just don’t make it constant thing you’re “reminding” everyone of. They know. And if you were so worried about studying, then going to a conference maybe wasn’t the best option. Know your limits.

9. Take notes!

Really? Yes really! I mean, you don’t have to take notes on any special lectures you attend (it’s probably still over your head anyways), but if you have a student section they are most likely giving you new tools to make yourself a better candidate for residency programs. And chances are, you won’t remember all of it, especially when the time comes that you actually need it!

10. Share!

A lot of the things you learn at a conference is the most up to date information currently available, which most likely means your school hasn’t gone into great detail for it, because a lot the info seems “far off”. That’s not really the case, so if you can, share what you learned with your classmates. I actually hope that after the info session is done at my school, I can share ours with you guys!

As long as I get permission, look forward to the written version of the conference information session from my school! I hope you guys enjoy!

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