My personal opinion of a professional dilemma Calculations show that only 2–4 % of the global population are flying. Academics from all over…
Along with doing experiments and interpreting data, postgraduate and early career researchers (PGR/ECR) may want to communicate their results with a wider scientific community. Hence, attending conferences will become more important at certain stages of your career pathway. This is not just an opportunity to present your own research, but also to make those important connections that will benefit a future research career. That was why the Covid-19-pandemic was so detrimental for many of us, since it made those important encounters impossible. Sure, virtual conferences were held instead, but this is not the same. Hence, I would like to share my experience of attending a conference in person through three main points: 1) Find potential travel grants-awards; 2) Maximise your capabilities; and 3) Stay positive and maintain your involvement (especially if something is out of your control)
1. Find potential travel grants-awards for covering costs when attending in-person event(s) in another country
There are different funding or prizes that can support a PGR-ECR to attend in-person events, including national/international conferences, training, summer schools, etc. After discussing events you would like to attend with your supervisors, you can check necessary requirements and deadlines for specific travel grants/prizes. By becoming a member of different public organizations (like the Royal Society of Chemistry or Institute of Physics) or through your university you can get access to a range of great resources, such as funding, travel grants, etc. Moreover, to become a committee member at specific groups in these public organization, you can get more responsibilities and do more relevant tasks, leading to more opportunities for networking, hosting events, or even running your own projects. Therefore, I would like to encourage you to consider supporting one internal group and/or joining one external organization for learning, networking, and facilitating opportunities.
One example of an internal funder that helped me is Travel Prize from Researcher Academy-University of Nottingham to support the continuing development of postgraduate and early career researchers. Here, applications must be made in advance and once approved the fund will reimburse for conference registration fees and other eligible costs. This also include online attendance. You should seek available grants from your current department/school/institution as it may be more accessible and faster. Also, as a PGR-ECR you can also apply for external funders including national and international Royal Societies, institutions, and organizations that can help to boost up your participation in the future events (as in Figure 1).You can save relevant information from different sources to make your own lists of potential travel grants, which can be shared with other PGR-ECR colleagues.
2. Maximise your capabilities of learning new knowledge/skills as well as exploring new cultures.
It is important to make preparations for an event or conference in another country by applying for different grants since international events tend to be a lot more expensive compared to a national or local event. For example, European Association on Applications of Surface and Interface Analysis Conference 2022 (ECASIA 22) would take place for a week in Limerick, Ireland so I needed to apply for different internal and external funders for covering all cost (including registration fee, accommodation fee, transportation fee, etc). Fortunately, I was awarded several travel prizes from my University of Nottingham and external organisation like the United Kingdom Surface Analysis Forum (UKSAF) to support my participation at ECASIA 22. My PhD sponsor – Programme Grant Next Generation of Additive Manufacturing – also helped to cover the remaining cost as it took place over one week outside the UK.
At the conference, I had a chance to talk with a range of PhD students, academic and industrial staff from different countries like France, Belgium, etc in the registration – welcome reception and workshop session “Reviewer Training for Early Career Researchers”. Thanks to the workshop leaders – Prof. John F. Watts and Dr. Marie-Laure Abel, I could learn about the whole pathways of publication and how to become a potential journal reviewer in the future, which I really appreciated.
Besides research training, I also wanted to understand more about the Irish culture and people by exploring the city centre. I was lucky to participate in the live festival “Africa Day 22” and to get to view the traditional galleries at the Hunt Museum Garden that day (quick tip: in some countries buses only accept cash so it’s good if you exchange to the local currency in advance!) I was also able to visit the Glucksman Library on campus later and I loved their smart arrangement of diverse resources, particularly the shelves New Arrivals and Popular Reading, and my favourite “Study and Life Skills” (as in Figure 2).
3. Stay positive and maintain your involvement in the event despite self-isolation
Sometimes, there will be unexpected things happening before, during, and after your events, and you may need to calm down and figure out the ways to stay positive and maintain your involvement in the event. Following up the example of my first in-person international conference – ECASIA 22, I got a positive Covid-19 which caught me with surprise (because I was fully vaccinated with two doses plus a booster dose in 2021). I started to notice symptoms including severe sore throat and light fever on the third day, so I asked another delegate to let the university accommodation and event organiser know my situation. Following Irish guidance, they gave me a Covid-19 test kit and they advised me to do 7-days self-isolation & 3-days follow-up for my positive result.
Along with drinking more water, eating soft food, and having sufficient sleep, Ibuprofen and Strepsils tablets were helpful for my recovery. I emailed the conference organisers to seek support and asked how I could still make a presentation in some form. Unfortunately, they couldn’t arrange for me to do a remote or recorded presentation, but they agreed for me have poster instead. Whilst I wouldn’t be able to be in attendance for this poster session, my work would be presented with my contact details to allow for further discussion after the conference. I didn’t have much time to prepare and submit the poster, but they helped me get it done in time. The event organiser also agreed refund partially for the portion of the catering that I wasn’t available, and the accommodation staff at Cappavilla Village were kind not to charge for my extra night stays and assisted my home delivery food during my self-isolation (Figure 3). I also managed to change return flight tickets (after I tested negative) without paying any extra fees from checking the direct airplane website.
In conclusion, I want to encourage more and more PGR-ECR to be inspired to apply for travel grants-awards to attend the conferences, trainings, workshops, summer schools that they are interested in. I believe “sharing is receiving” so please feel free to leave your comments and/or share your own experiences!
Featured image: Photo by author