Early in December, I had the opportunity to attend my first major academic conference, the American Epilepsy Society annual conference in Baltimore. I would like to briefly reflect upon that experience here.
The first thing that struck was the egalitarian atmosphere. I presented my poster alongside residents, fellow medical students, and attending physicians and other advanced career professionals. This unique sense of parity is reinforced was workshops, social events, and the simple reality of having so many people in a common field eating and working and close proximity. While I was unable to fully take advantage of the opportunity due to a need to study for shelf exams I was still excited by the opportunity to do so in the future.
Given that research can often be frustrating and not every project reaches a definitive conclusion another key aspect of presenting at a major conference is the simultaneous sense of vindication and imposter syndrome. The reason for the former is largely self-evident. Regardless of how preliminary or seemingly insignificant, your findings are that others saw value in them speaks to the effort and organization you as a researcher put in. It is also a professionally edifying experience as proof of one’s growth in their chosen field. The latter is however less understandable but more often present. It can be very difficult to accept that experts in a field believe that you have something to say and contribute. A key struggle of this conference which will likely fade with time was taking people’s expression of support and interest as genuine rather than born of politeness.
Overall my first conference was an interesting experience and hopefully only the first of many with more opportunity to more fully immerse myself in those to come.