As well as being my first conference, this was my first time presenting my research outside my lab group, which was a little daunting. I freaked out for about two weeks beforehand. What would I present? How would it be received? Would someone notice the flaws in my study, publicly declare me a fraud and a failure, rip off my name tag and have security escort me from the building? All of this worry was largely unfounded, so I wanted to write this post to perhaps allay a few of the fears of anyone heading off to present their research for the first time.
I presented a poster, which is probably less stressful than standing in front of a room full of people and giving a talk. On the other hand, those giving talks only have to take a few questions at the end and then they're free. A poster session could be considered a two hour long question session. This was a frightening idea for me because my research had what I considered a fairly obvious problem with it, and at the time I was yet to figure this problem out. I imagined two hours of one person after another grilling me on the problem, each more indignant than the last. Happily, this was not what happened.
Did people notice the problem? Of course. These people evaluate research every day for their bread and butter; they're pretty good at it. Were they horrible about it? Of course not. All research has problems; yours, mine, and theirs. People are generally understanding of this. But also, you are more of an expert in your particular research niche than the majority of people you speak to. As such, I found that if you know your field people are pretty willing to accept your explanations for any problems in your results (or they're at least polite enough not to laugh in your face). I think this holds up for talks as well. In all the talks I saw the tough questions were reserved for the experienced researchers. The newbies all got off pretty light.
So if you're preparing to present at your first conference, just remember no one goes to conferences with a hunger for the blood of young researchers. Everyone is there to do some science, share some ideas, and to have a good time. The people I met were all lovely, or at least polite. So relax and enjoy your first conference.
Thanks for reading,