First Conference Experience – Kristine Tells All

From Kristine Hammill, a MSc Candidate in the WilsonToxLab, about her first conference experience at SETAC 2015!

DSCF4006As a Master’s student in the Wilson Lab I’ve been experiencing many of my graduate school firsts. Most recently, this month I attended my first large-scale conference, the Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry’s North America 36th Annual Meeting, otherwise known as SETAC Salt Lake City.

Having completed my undergraduate degree in environmental science, SETAC was an acronym I heard a lot, but yet knew very little about. Needless to say, I was stoked to have the opportunity to attend my first SETAC, but extremely nervous for my first significant platform presentation that awaited me in Salt Lake City.

My nerves were quickly calmed upon my arrival as I received a warm welcome into the SETAC family. Throughout the course of the week, I couldn’t help but think of the event as a “Toxicologist’s Christmas” or a “Contiki Tour for Environmental Scientists”. By day you were nerding out with some great environmental tox talks, and by night you were rocking out on the dance floor with your new found friends and the scientists you admire. There was even time in there to explore the city.

I greatly appreciated the opportunity to hear about what else was going on in the world of environmental toxicology outside of my own little niche. Once joining the ranks of grad school it’s easy to get lost in the depth of your project and lose touch with the breadth of knowledge that comes naturally in undergraduate studies. It also provided a peace of mind to my inner environmental scientist: it doesn’t matter if I’m not tackling all the environmental issues, rest assure, there are many individuals out there working on their piece of the puzzle to contribute to the bigger picture.

As for my presentation, it turns out I had nothing to worry about. Before I presented, I was told it was a very forgiving crowd at SETAC, and my experience as both a presenter and audience member reflected that. Above all, I was happy to see that no one was being egotistical with the question period. Intelligent questions were asked with poise, and many questions were backed with their own explanation so it was understood where the asker was coming from.

All in all, it was a wonderful first experience at SETAC. I’m looking to head out into the working world after my Master’s and can’t say when I’ll be back again, but I hope that I’m lucky enough to find an employeer that will support my attendance.

With that, I’ll leave you with my top 5 tips for first-time SETAC attendees:

1. Participate in the buddy program.  My seasoned SETACer showed me the ropes, gave me great tips for the conference, provided insight into the consulting industry and government sector, and was able to introduce me to her network. Added bonus – she had a second first time attendee buddy who was also the only person from her lab attending, so we were able to navigate the waters together.

2. Sign-up for structured activities.  Not only do you benefit from the actual activities, which was my own initial draw, but it’s a great way to meet people. It’s a lot easier to start a conversation with someone when you’re sitting at the same lunch table then when you’re walking into a warehouse sized room with hundreds or thousands of people.

3. Take advantage of the technical content.  It’s great to hear about what else is going on in your particular area of focus, and to pick-up some tips and tricks for your own project, but SETAC is also a chance to explore the other areas of tox that you’ve always been interested in but may not have time for. Some sessions are even recorded and posted online so you can listen to what you missed at your own leisure.

4. Attend meetings/advisory groups.  SETAC is an inclusive group and you don’t need to receive a personal invitation to check out advisory groups or attend meetings (albeit those that are for the executive will be flagged). If you work with pharmaceuticals, go check out the Pharmaceutical Advisory Group. If you work with metals, go check out the Metals Advisory Group. It’s a great way to see how academia, government and industry work together and how research in the field is being shaped. Also be sure to check out the North America Student Advisory Council (NASAC) Open Assembly and hear about what the students of SETAC have going on.

5. Explore the vendors…ALL of them…As a Master’s student looking to graduate in less than a year’s time, I planned to hit up the vendors to network and ask those burning questions to potential employers. I set out to tackle the consulting companies and hadn’t considered exploring the publishers. I’m not getting a PhD – what use would I be to them? Well, after being sent to Wiley’s booth during the Career Navigation event, I learned that there are opportunities for MSc grads with a passion for science communication that sound right up my alley.