This time, the conference was in Michigan, and it was chemistry-focused instead of biology-focused. I also wasn’t alone for this one. My roommate and a scientist in her lab came with me. I decided to write a little bit about this experience because I tend to travel different when I’m with other people.
I woke up at 5:30am on Wednesday to pack, get a shower, and have coffee. I also had time to sneak in a power nap before Mitch picked us up at 8. It was another short conference, but I was taking my usual carry-on, so I ended up way over-packing. For a 1.5-day conference, I brought 5 shirts, 4 pairs of pants, and a dress. Whenever I have the space for it, I like to pack extra clothing in case there’s a wardrobe malfunction or the original outfit isn’t comfortable when I put it on. I coincidentally did end up having a wardrobe malfunction on day 2 when I found a hole in the crotch of my dress pants. I don’t think it was noticeable, though, so I kept wearing them because they were comfy.
The drive down wasn’t too bad. I didn’t know Mitch very well, so it was nice getting acquainted with him. It was really awkward, though, because he has such a deep voice that it was difficult to hear from where I was sitting in the backseat. The trip went pretty fast, though, and to help pass the time, Linds and I took turns reading horror stories out loud from a Daphne du Maurier collection. We stopped halfway through the trip for lunch at a Mediterranean place, which was nice because it was fast, but not heavy and greasy like typical fast food.
When we arrived at the hotel, Linds and I sprawled out on our beds watching TLC for a few hours, which was nice for both a physical and mental break. We went to a local brewery for dinner, which had okay food and fantastic beer. We only stayed for 2 beers, and then we went back to the hotel. Linds fell asleep and I watched Food Network (my favorite thing to do when I’m in a hotel).
The next morning, Linds and Mitch had to meet with a collaborator for training, so I hung out at a local Starbucks, getting some work down and acquainting myself with the undergrad scene. I would have preferred to sleep in, but we were switching hotels, so I had to clear out of the room. I met up with Mitch, Linds, and a big-name professor in my field for lunch, which was great because I have a huge professional crush on that professor. It was a great networking opportunity, and we went to a fantastic Chinese restaurant where we shared 4 entrees, so it was great food as well. Afterwards, we went back to the hotel and Linds power-napped while I watched more Food Network.
The conference started that evening with a social hour before the talks, which was probably the most awkward part of the conference. I’m so socially awkward, and it was incredibly hard breaking out of my shell when Linds was there as a safety net. The two of us mostly just parked at a table and let people come to us. One of the people that stopped by was the most famous professor at the conference, which was a shock to me, so of course we both sounded like bumbling idiots. It was an excruciating conversation that I’m hoping he doesn’t remember, but it was enough to give me a jolt back into my professional networking mindset. We mingled a little bit with another professor and some grad students, and stood around awkwardly for a while, but then the talks started, so we could safely take a seat and just absorb.
The social hour had some light appetizers, but that was it, so Linds and I went out for pizza after the last talk, around 9:00pm. It was a cute place that was kind of like a Subway for pizza, where you choose your own ingredients as you’re led down a line. After that, we had planned to get drinks somewhere, but we both were crashing, so we just headed back to the hotel. Here’s a nice picture of some snow from on the way back to our hotel. It’s the only picture I took because I felt awkward taking pictures in front of groups of people. I definitely didn’t want to tell anyone I was documenting this for my blog.
Here’s also a nice blurry picture of Linds (as proof that I’m not just making these people up).
The next morning, I woke up super early 6:30am, took a shower and got ready to go, then went back to sleep (wearing my dress clothes and all) while Linds got ready. We went down for breakfast, which was seated, so not many networking opportunities, but that was for the best because I need coffee before I can exchange pleasantries with anyone. The talks continued, and they were all fantastic, and it was nice being in such a casual setting.
There were a few breaks, and I dreaded every single one because it meant I had to get out of my comfort zone and force myself to talk to people. This is difficult when you’re one of very few grad students surrounded by high-profile professors. My strategy was to watch like a hawk for a professor to be alone, then run over to them and “casually bump into them” and say something like “I really enjoyed your talk,” or “it’s great seeing you again after we met at blah blah conference last year.” It worked surprisingly well, and I ended up talking to a lot of different professors. I even got offered a post-doc position, which is very exciting for job security.
I won’t bore you with the rest of the conference, but let’s just say that after talking nonstop to chemistry professors all day, I was burnt out, mentally exhausted, and feeling very self-conscious. After the final poster session at 9:00pm, Linds and I went back to the room and spent the rest of the night talking about all the dumb stuff we said at the conference. It was so nice having her there so that I didn’t feel like such a fucking idiot. We vented about how little we knew, reassured each other that we were doing okay, patted ourselves on the back for being so good at networking, made fun of ourselves and each other for some of the dumb stuff we said and did. I was laughing so hard my stomach hurt. We ended up talking until 1am, then we both fell asleep.
We left the next morning at 8am, headed for home, with a quick stop at one of America’s finest breakfast establishments, IHOP. On the way home, none of us felt like talking, so we listened to NPR’s This American Life. When we finally got home, I took a nice 2-hour nap, then Linds and I ordered take-out and watched Burn After Reading and Fight Club. Neither of us were able to stay awake though Fight Club, but it’s okay because I watch that movie at least every 2 months, so I didn’t miss anything.
And that, friends, is another example of how I travel for conferences.