Conferences: get used to being uncomfortable

This is my fifth national conference since being in grad school, and my third week-long intensive conference. This one is the big boy that happens once a year that everyone in my field goes all out at. It’s been referred to as the “Wolf of Wall Street” of conferences.

Since this is my third year coming to this conference, I’m coming in with experience, and I have a better idea of what to do and not to do. My first year was awful. I was exhausted all the time, lost, in pain in my feet, head, shoulders, and every other body part, I felt fat, and I was super socially awkward the whole time.

They’re long days—breakfast meetings start at 7am, there are talks, posters, workshops, and lectures book solid until 7pm. Then there is an hour lunch break and then the corporate social hours until 11pm. My first year I was stupid and went to everything, meaning I wasn’t getting back to my hotel room until 11:30pm and waking up the next morning at 6:00am. Oh, and that’s a hotel room that I’m sharing with 2 or 3 other people.

Each year, I learned from my mistakes and made changes to try to improve. I switched from wearing khakis and dress pants to skirts and dresses because they’re more conformable and more slimming. I started going home right after dinner (which still ends up being around 9 or 9:30 because I’m a 25 minute walk from the hotel this year, but it’s an improvement). I started planning ahead of time the posters I would look at instead of blindly running around a sea of 500 posters each day. I stopped earing contacts. I brought multiple pairs of shoes so I could change them each day to alternate blister spots. I started carrying around a water bottle to drink lots and lots of water to reduce stomach bloating. (I don’t know why, but every time I’m at one of these conferences, I just feel so round.)

Still, with all of these changes, I feel so uncomfortable constantly. My feet are on fire right now, and the water isn’t helping with the bloating but instead giving me severe bladder cramps because I have to piss buckets constantly. My shoulders and neck are still killing me, I’m getting no sleep, and my face and hair feel super greasy and oily. I can’t network like this. I feel like I’ve been run over seven times. How could I possibly summon up the energy to network with royalty in the field?

On top of that, I can’t even get a fucking break while I’m here. I step out of the poster session for twenty fucking minutes to catch a breath and write this, and just now someone from my group comes up.

“Hey, Iris! Uh… what are you doing?”

“Oh, uh, just typing up my notes…”

“What notes? Why aren’t you at the poster session?”

“Oh yeah, I just stepped out for a quick break.”

“But the poster session is down there on the other side, isn’t it? Why are you all the way down here?”

How about you leave me the fuck alone. All of you. Ugh…

All of this makes me realize that, no matter what I try to do, I will always be uncomfortable at conferences. No matter how much alcohol or healthy food I consume, I’ll feel like garbage. It’s something I just have to accept. When it comes time to network for jobs, I’ll have to take care of that some other way because this won’t work. I can present my research because then I’m just riding an adrenaline high, and I can listen to talks because then I just sit there and listen and it’s pretty minimum requirement. Anything other than that can’t be done. Including enjoying the city.

I still like conferences because they’re a nice way to get new ideas and kickstart my research when I’m going through a dry path like I was this past month, but that’s all they’ll be for me.

It’s disappointing, but part of being successful is knowing your limits and capitalizing on your strengths. I’ll do what I do even better, and that will makeup for the rest.

But it’s only Wednesday and the conference isn’t even halfway over. This is going to be rough.

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