With so many conferences to choose from, which one will you attend, this year? None of you reading this will be attending all the conferences. Even the software companies in our industry have become selective regarding which conferences they attend, and no longer sponsor and attend every single opportunity that comes around.
Your Level of Understanding (and Size of Conference)
If you’re just starting out, you might benefit from one of the conferences that have lots of different talks with just a little information on each topic. None will be in-depth but by seeing a number of different topics, you’ll start to get an idea what issues you should be concerned about. Once you start to understand what topics you need to familiarize yourself with, you can spend your future seeking out those specific topics in greater depth.
I was looking at the Pittcon (http://www.pittcon.org/) (stands for “Pittsburgh Conference” but is no longer held in Pittsburgh) web-site. Look at “Technical Program/Technical Sessions/Oral Sessions/Laboratory Informatics…” Pittcon is one of the least expensive conferences to attend if you only consider the price of admission (of course, adding on travel and such and it’s not that cheap to attend anything, these days). As I look at the variety of topics presented, it’s not a complete list of all the topics a beginner would need in order to have a handle on all the things they’ll need, but it’s not a bad assortment. Of course, with the talks being just 20 minutes long, these talks really are meant ONLY to give listeners the most minimal exposure to each topic.
The biggest downside for a new attendee, though, is that Pittcon is huge. If an attendee gets to know some of the people in the sessions they attend, they have some chance of having a real discussion on the topics. But there’s no way to do that merely by walking the exhibition floor. However, depending on the year and what time of day and which day of the conference you’re in these sessions, they are sometimes extremely poorly attended. The ideal situation for someone new to laboratory informatics would be a smaller conference that is dedicated to the new person. That way, they could get exposed to lots of topics and have others to talk to about how to find out more on the topics and what direction to take. But I haven’t run into any such thing, these days.
As the Cost Goes Up…
As you rise up the experience ladder, there are more conferences to select from. There are conferences that aim at the somewhat more strategic problems in the industry or those that are even directed specifically at truly high-level people, such as the VPs and Directors in the industry.
Generally, these types of conferences tend to cost more. The higher the price of admission, the more pressure a conference has to deliver high quality speakers and information. Also, the more likely the event is to make sure people have good networking opportunities so that they return to their office with names and contact information for people they can discuss their problems with, whether that means others doing the same job they are, or the software and service providers that relate to their needs.
But cost is NOT a guarantee. I had a friend who had attended an event that was supposed to give a high-level overview of all the relevant items AND to be small-enough that great, personal networking would be the highlight of the event. It was small – so small that there wasn’t anyone relevant for this person to network with. AND it was rather expensive.
Whether events are for-profit or non-profit, they’ll be advertised as “really great” and “super-duper” and whatever it takes to get your eye. I’ve attended and heard of some shockingly bad events both in the for-profit and the non-profit sectors. Remember that the purpose of advertising is to get you to come to the event.
Once again, regardless whether it’s for-profit or non-profit and regardless the cost, you need to check into events rather carefully. If you have the money and time to try a couple different events and can put it behind you if one or both are terrible, go ahead. If you have to be more careful with your money than that and are really depending on an event, you need to ask around from people that have attended it, before. Ignore anyone whose answers are vague.