Postgrad life 101 : Attending a Conference

by Chloe Cassaro

Amongst the many tasks, activities and opportunities that can arise during a postgraduate degree, or in academia in general, there is one that I had not been confronted to before: a scientific conference. And not any conference in my case but the annual Microbiology Society Conference, an event that gathers thousands of scientists, a generalist (as opposed to focused) meeting, over a few days, happening this year in Belfast.

This conference was also marking the return to in person gatherings. Of course, since it was a meeting of microbiologists, protective measures against infections – namely COVID-19, were taken, with daily testing and compulsory masks, but I did return to Oxford with a bit of a flu.

What made this conference even more special to me, other than the fact it was the first conference in person I attended during my DPhil, was that I was offered to give an oral presentation on my work during one of the very well attended sessions. I was very surprised and ecstatic when I received the email with the details of this, and the whole process was a brand new experience.

Thankfully so far in my degree, I have had multiple opportunities to present my work to diverse audiences – group meetings, rotation project presentations for my program, a proposal viva, or a transfer of status viva, so I have been trained to the exercise. However, the audience on the day comprised hundreds of scientists, and that was pretty nerve wracking, although exhilarating. In the end, I got really good feedback and comments, with a lot of people approaching me, and that was a very interesting opportunity.

Aside from that, the conference was an amazing opportunity to network – including with people from Oxford, funnily enough. The Society in addition to the conference itself and sponsor stalls, had organised multiple networking events in the evenings, including a Quiz Night (everyone pretty much crashed on the microbiology questions – typical), a cultural night with Irish dancing and typical Irish food, and even a cocktail night. Overall, that allowed a pretty introverted me to meet with dozens of new people, from a range of different institutions, in Scotland, Romania or England, with a lot of varying interests, and that was superbly enriching!

Another important aspect of the conference was to get funding to attend and present there. Luckily, there are a lot of diverse sources of funding we can get access to as a postgraduate student. Whilst the national societies such as the Microbiology Society, can give a nice funding for the conference, Oxford colleges are also a great source of funding for that. Another option can come from the different doctoral training partnerships’ funding directly, which tend to representa nice sum for conferences, or even departmental funding in some cases.

Overall, that was a great experience for me, and I am looking forward to the opportunity of attending another conference in the future, to spread the word about my research and the work we do!