This past week, I attended the State Energy Conference in Raleigh, NC. Not your typical scientific conference, but I would suggest looking for more of these types of events to all graduate students. Look for something that’s related to your field but is not catered solely to the academic community. It will really broaden your horizons, and introduce you to ways your interests and skills might be applied outside of a purely research-based field, whether that be in government, industry, or non-profits. So, without further ado, here are the Top 5 things I learned at the North Carolina State Energy Conference:
You can volunteer at a conference and get in free??
While I knew you could volunteer to be on the clean-up crew at Bonnaroo and get free admission, somehow I never imagined this would be a thing at an academic or industry conference. (Does this say more about me, or about how academia is perceived…) The Bonnaroo ticket is arguably a better deal, but it’s still pretty cool to volunteer an hour of your time and get to attend a day’s worth of seminars and panels. If you’re not presenting or would otherwise have to go on your own dime, this could be a nice option. Check it out for your next prospective conference.
When a NC House Utilities Bill reducing renewable energy requirements fails during a land-based wind energy panel, the entire room erupts in cheers.
It’s really cool when issues in your field are in the news. It’s even cooler when you’re in a building full of people who also care as much as you do. I guess this is the closest some academics will ever come to knowing what it’s like to enjoy the Super Bowl.
It’s really hard to pick which talks to attend!
Even at the State Energy Conference, with only three separate session tracks, it was difficult at times to choose which is most relevant to your skills and/or interests. This even might not be so cut and dry – a specific panel, say discussing the oceanic metaphors in Douglas Adams literature might be super interesting, but is it really relevant to your academic interests? For big conferences, I would suggest planning your tentative schedule at the start, but assessing your level of engagement throughout the day. Maybe you really just need to go to that LUE talk and decompress.
Lunch might be the best time for meeting new people.
Who’s got two thumbs and hates the word “networking?” This girl. Put me in a room full of people I don’t know in suits and I’ve got my nose in a book. But it’s really not that awkward to talk to people you’re eating with. Even if it’s just a few other students (who are also volunteering!), you’ve made new connections with peers who might even be tangentially involved in what you do.
Don’t skip the keynote.
Believe me, I’ve sat through my fair share of terrible keynotes. But in my opinion, the good ones provide an insane payoff for the pain and boredom of the bad ones. In addition, the keynotes in the morning really set the tone for the rest of the day. If you skip it, you’ll be totally out of the loop for all of the inside jokes when people reference the CEO of EnegyCorp’s talk a few hours before. Plus there’s usually coffee.