Lab Notes

Short stories and links shared by the scientists in our community

Turn the burden of inter-departmental conferences into an opportunity

Shared by

Rebecca Dzombak

Biogeochemistry

University of Michigan

As a graduate student, I'll take any chance I can to practice communicating my science, whether it's writing a blog post or giving a professional talk. One opportunity that I think is often underutilized or viewed as a burden is inter-departmental conferences. At times, they can feel like another annoyance to add to the pile, another abstract to throw together last-minute. If participation is lukewarm, the experience isn't at useful as it could be.

On the other hand, if you have good turnout (for both students and faculty), it can be a great experience - especially for younger students who have had fewer opportunities to practice presenting. Yesterday, our geology and climate departments held our 15th annual joint conference. With over 80 student presentations and a science advocacy panel, it was a productive and scientifically motivating day. Older students got feedback from faculty members they don't often see, first-year students realized just how difficult talking about your own research can be, and undergrads proudly displayed their first research projects. It's a much smaller conference than most, so you can spend more one-on-one time with people to really learn something new or get an idea from someone else's work.

It's one thing to know vaguely what your friends do; it's another to dedicate an entire day solely to learning more about what your colleagues are passionate about, as well as learning what people in other departments are working on. Too often, there isn't enough communication between departments, and collaborations that could be never come to fruition. Inter-departmental conferences are a great way to promote new collaborations, new ideas, and to support students at all levels.

(A tip to motivate participation: offer cash prizes if you can!)