Heading to your first scientific or conservation conference or symposium can be both intimidating and exciting. Networking with your peers and with those in higher positions than you, proving your worth and absorbing heaps of information isn’t easy but it is rewarding. We highly recommend grabbing any opportunity to join these events and start creating your network within the conservation industry!
Some of you may know that Zoox staff not only conduct training for our volunteers, but work professionally in conservation through our sister charity The Reef-World Foundation. Recently Reef-World were invited to conduct a day’s workshop about the Green Fins initiative to 70+ participants at the 5th International Tropical Marine Ecosystem Management Symposium (ITMEMS 5). This symposium, run by the International Coral Reef Initiative (ICRI) invites conservation managers, government officials and NGO staff to learn from facilitators at the top of their game teaching cutting-edge approaches to conservation management.
The conversations that go on by the coffee machine, at dinner and during session breaks are just as valuable as the content of the sessions themselves. We were the youngest team there, and whilst we had a lot to give through running our Green Fins session, we also took every opportunity to network – building relationships, asking advice and perspectives – and absorbing all that we could to become more effective conservation practitioners and bring lessons back to our Zoox courses.
Here’s some advice that we’ve picked up over the years for making the most of your conference experience:
Dress to impress
First impressions matter! It’s been said that in order to be taken seriously, you need to look serious. You’re a marine conservation professional, not a beach bum and when the occasion calls for it put on your best. If you aren’t sure which end of the smart-casual spectrum to plant yourself, err on the side of caution and go smart. You can always dress more casually the next day.
The Reef-World Foundation (and Zoox) team at ITMEMS 5
At ITMEMS our team debated what to wear. A jacket can help dress up any outfit, even jeans. I can’t tell you how many times I was thankful for the decision to go smartest on the first day. Whilst it was a bit more informal than expected, we needed people to see us as the experienced professionals that we were, despite our ages. Until you can have conversations to prove that, your outfit is what’s people have to judge you on.
Do your homework
Try to find out who the speakers and participants are – what are they working on, what their backgrounds are…otherwise known as what can you use to start a conversation? Think about your own priorities – who would be best to approach in terms of your work. Who could benefit from learning your lessons? What opportunities are there for collaboration? Asking these questions ahead of time can help guide you at the conference.
Don’t be a passive sponge – absorbing knowledge from a distance. Get involved in workshops, discussion groups, corridor conversations. The more you do it, people will better understand who you are and what you’re doing, and the more they’ll seek you out during, and after, the conference.
Conservation is like any other industry – the bottom line might be conservation impact rather than dollar signs and profit – but it is as much about who you know as what you know or what you can do. So dive in – ask questions, give opinions – even if you feel inexperienced. Even your conservation heroes had to start from somewhere and no one has gotten far standing in the side lines.
If you say you’re going to contact someone make sure you do it. No one wants to work with disorganised, unreliable people. If you come across a resource useful for someone else’s work – share it. Maintain those channels of communication that you worked so hard to form during the conference. You never know when you’ll cross paths again. It might be just when you need it!
During my ZEP, JJ hammered home the old army adage “7P’s” and it has always stuck with me. Proper Planning and Preparation Prevents Piss Poor Performance. Getting into a conference or a symposium is a unique opportunity – don’t waste it!