by Melina Benson, MS4, University of Connecticut School of Medicine

Many medical students, especially those interested in IR, make time during their medical school education to attend professional conferences. Conferences offer us the opportunity to find out about cutting edge research, network with peers and leaders in the field, and explore a new city. With our own SIR 40th Annual Scientific Meeting fast approaching, we would like to extend advice as to how to make the most of this experience. Whether you are joining us in Atlanta in February, or attending one of several outstanding regional conferences, you are making an investment of time (and likely some money!) that should be well worth what you glean during the proceedings.

First, organize your priorities to maximize the educational experience. Prior to attending the conference, perhaps in the week before travelling, flip through the event schedule and make a note of those presentations that pique your interest, align with your own research endeavors, or are on work performed at a residency program you are considering. You may not understand all of the abstract titles, but that is why you are there! Don’t be afraid to attend a talk outside of your comfort zone as fodder for learning about new and promising techniques. Many conferences, SIR included, offer an app that allows one to make a daily schedule so you don’t forget your plan. At each talk, jot down notes to help you remember what was discussed, should it come up in a later conversation with a fellow attendee, or should you want to contact the author for follow-up questions after you return home.

Second, take advantage of this prime networking opportunity. Even if you don’t consider yourself an expert in this department, it is expected in the conference environment and will almost never hurt you. SIR, and often other conferences, makes a list of attendees and their origins available online prior to the conference. Use this information to check and see which residents and attendings are signed up from the residency programs you are interested in. You should also look for possible research collaborators or mentors. If you feel comfortable, reach out to them via a polite and concise email to explain your interests and ask if the attendee would be willing to meet briefly to answer some questions. Be sure to attach an updated CV to this email, and include your year and medical school. Should this contact pan out, be sure to have 2-3 specific questions to ask, and thank them in person and later by email. Beyond networking with those senior to you, take time to meet fellow students. Your peers are one of the best sources of information, which is especially important now—residency programs will soon be transitioning to the new IR residency pathway, and it will be good to know which departments are supportive of and eager to adopt the change. In addition, you will be grateful you made friends when it comes time to explore the nightlife of whatever city you find yourself in!

Finally, don’t forget to be professional. Dress more conservatively than you think you should, and bring a nice pad or portfolio on which to take notes. Be seated before your talk of interest starts, and stay seated until the end. Be polite in all interactions, but of course you already know that!

Safe travels to all of you joining us in Atlanta or one of our free regional conferences. Enjoy yourself, commit yourself to learning, and try to leave with new friends and useful contacts.