#SfN14 Here we go again!

With a blink of an eye, #SfN14 is right around the corner. Yikes! I've been overwhelmed with life problems for the last few weeks that the crazy neuroscience bonanza seemed to sneak up on me.

As some of you may know, I am once again delighted to be an official blogger for the conference. The lineup this year is absolutely stellar (if I may say so myself ;P), so keep an eye out for all the great content that's bound to start pouring out. In addition, the PLOS Neuro Community is launching a collaborative blogging/tweeting initiative this year on the lovely blogging site Medium, so make sure to bookmark their site as well. The community is already quite active, featuring informative previews of interesting conference sessions, such as this one on the Neuroscience of Gaming.

It's heart-warming to see how much the neuroscience community is embracing social media :) To get the most up-to-date info through social networks, keep the following two links handy:

1) #SfN14 on Twitter

2) @NoahGray's list of conference tweeters

A note of warning though: unless you're REALLY good at multi-tasking, scrolling through live tweets during sessions can be pretty overwhelming. In some cases, reading about other sessions can induce "grass is greener on the other side" syndrome, causing you to follow what's hot in place of what's necessary (i.e. your own itinerary). Which brings me to the meat of this post: some tips and tricks to make the most out of SfN14.

I've written a similar post last year that is still quite relevant, so instead of starting from scratch, I've fished it out, brushed the dirt off and gave it a face-lift. I'm far from an expert, but hopefully these tips will help you navigate the conference, sans stress.

1) Prepare in advance. It’s close to impossible to get the best out of SfN without some serious planning. The meeting planner is your friend. Use the search function (it’s not Google unfortunately, so choose your terms wisely). Then when you have time, browse the itinerary – I always discover things I missed. Hubbian is an alternative social planner that’s let's you upvote abstracts and see how many times they’ve been viewed or saved in the Hubbian system. In theory it lets you identify trends or hot topics, but at the moment the users base is still too small for reliable trends to emerge.

2) Prioritize! I can’t stress this enough. Ask your advisor and senior graduate students on which topics to REALLY focus on; generally, this would be related to your project. If you have a project that solidly fits into a theme, then you’re lucky (say, Huntington’s). Check out abstracts of posters under that theme; list then from highly relevant -> less so. Unfortunately the meeting planner doesn’t have that function; so write it down. Limit the number of posters you see in a day; the more you see the less you remember. If you have time by the end of the day (which you probably don’t), look through your notes or discuss what you’ve seen with your peers. Helps you remember.

When you’re done, check out things (and people) that you’re interested in. If you’re an undergraduate looking for a grad advisor, or PhD grad looking for a post-doc, posters are a great way to start talking to the PIs (and their grad students) you want to work with. Ask questions about their work, how their labs are run. It’s like a less-formal interview. If you hit if off, go out for lunch/coffee together, then follow up with an email after the conference. Personally I find posters much better for networking than official socials. The latter always seem more stressful and people tend to stick together with people they know.

If you’re an undergrad or junior grad without a project or with a project that doesn’t fit any specific subfield (ie technique), it gets a bit trickier. Think hard about what you want to do and what your lab’s interests are – then talk to your advisor. If you’re working on a technique, think about what area it might be used for and scout out things in that area. I worked on developing a protein degradation method for most of my PhD studies; at meetings I tend to check out protein accumulation diseases. It’s not a perfect fit, but it tends to open doors to collaborations.

If you don’t have a solid area of interest yet, then I would suggest sticking more to lectures and seminars. Posters are great to check out advancements in a field, but not that great in introducing you to the field. It’s still best to have a vague idea of what areas interest you the most – think about it as applying to grad school, you will have to choose a lab. What would the lab’s focus be on?

3) Freebies. I usually scout out the exhibitioners during lunch break or when my brain needs a rest. Don’t go when they’re still preparing. Tote bags and pens are a-plenty; cooler swag generally include T-shirts, pipette-shaped pens, posters, pins (Elsevier has them), notebooks (Nature Publishing Group often has those), brain-shaped stress balls and neuron plushies. Word-of-mouth is generally the best way to know what this year’s pickings are. Twitter is also a good source of info – follow the hashtag #SfN14, many vendors tweet.

If you take their stuff, don’t grab and run. Talk to them. I especially like talking to people from publishing houses – about open access, journal subscription, working in journal marketing etc. It’s a nice break from science and an opportunity to get a first-hand account of work options beyond the bench (there's also this workshop if non-academic careers are something you're interested in).

4) Socials. The one that I make sure I go to every year is #SfNBanter. It’s organized by the GREAT! @doc_becca and always attracts a wide group of social media savvy-neuroscientists, science journalists, editors and publishers. Great conversations. I’m met MANY of my personal SciComm heroes there. I can’t recommend it enough.

I have to admit other than that I usually just chill-out in the hotel (introvert). UCSD generally organizes good socials; follow them at @UCSDNeuro on Twitter for news. Otherwise keep your eyes and ears open, there’s always something going on.

5) Pre-conference reading if you're so inclined. The most recent issue of the Journal of Neuroscience (November 12, 2014 34(46) ) has articles covering some of the key mini-symposiums at the conference, so give those a read if you want a preview.

A few last words on packing essentials:

* Passport and US dollars if you’re international.
* Comfortable shoes. You’re going to be doing a LOT of walking (I averaged around 30766 steps per day last year) so bring the best you own. Flip-flops are ok!
* Poster tube strap if your poster is printed on paper. I got this idea from @scicurious. Last year I used a present-wrapping ribbon and clipped it in on both sides; tape also works. You can free up a hand for other luggage, plus it makes your poster tube easier to find.
* Chargers for your devices. Wifi tends to be a bit shaky at the convention centre causing battery drain. I always make sure to have one on me at all times.

Let me know if I missed anything! Don’t worry if you don’t see everything or meet anyone your first time at the conference. If you keep running into the same people, you’ll make an impression. Bottom line, there’s no need to stress about it more than you have to. Plan to the best you can and then go enjoy yourself.

OtherShelly Fan#sfn14, tips