This past week I attended an academic conference in the Czech Republic. I have always been sceptical about the value of academic conferences, and now I have a much more defined opinion of them.
In short, they are networking holidays.
At the conference I attended, I was in the minority – as a student. Most of the other attendees were professors of big labs with lots of experience. Some of the attendees were business people who are quite easy to talk to. Still, the majority were high ranking scientists that just spoke to each other.
As a student, it was quite interesting to see how the system works, as far as networking, it was one of the least valuable events I have attended. This is because I don’t really have anything to offer the other attendees. The professors can offer to collaborate on projects or talk to business people to try and get funding. I, however, could only provide questions. My fellow students and I spent most of our time talking to each other, which wasn’t too bad.
There were three days of lectures and one 16 hour excursion that included a tour of a winery followed by wine tasting amid a European heatwave. From the talks, I probably understood around 20% of the subject matter. This is not unusual as there were quite a few different disciplines involved, but this obviously makes it hard to stay interested. I noticed a lot of the higher-ups tended to leave for days at a time to avoid this. As this was my first international conference, I was told that it would be best to stay for all the talks. I ended up doing a lot of work on one of the many projects I have going on, so it wasn’t a complete waste.
We, me and my girlfriend, decided to take some holiday before the conference and explore Berlin. I would say that of all the places I have visited, Berlin was the most liveable. It is the perfect size for commuting via bicycle and has everything one would need. We ended up taking a bicycle tour that cost £16 for 3.5 hours which was fantastic, and it took us around all of the highlights. I could not recommend this enough if you ever visit. The rest of our time we spent mooching around shops and parks as any good tourist worth their salt would do. We also went to this bar that is at the top of a tower block looking over Berlin zoo; It was free to enter, and you could see the monkeys!
After our three days in Berlin, we took the train to Prague, which is a fantastic Journey that meanders along the river Elbe. The journey was relatively slow, taking four hours in total; taking advantage of the relatively cheap train fairs in Europe, we travelled in first-class which would have been unthinkably expensive in the UK.
When we arrived in Prague, we only had a couple of hours before our next train, so we didn’t do much exploring. I had been before, so I wasn’t too bothered about exploration, and we were perfectly happy to sit in a restaurant and avoid all of the rampaging stag dos.
Finally, we had another train journey, this one only two hours, to our final destination in Olomouc – the second biggest city in the Czech republic.
I may have an unpopular opinion here, but for me, cities are fine for a weekend visit and no longer. After that, they start to feel very generic. See the map of a generic city below
As a holiday I would give it a 5/10, as work I would also give it a 5/10. If I have my way, I will only attend another conference if it is in a destination that I really want to go to. My suspicions about it not being worth it was mostly accurate – and I was there with six other lab members, so we did a lot of drinking. The conference itself was very well run, and I don’t want you to get the impression that I thought it was terrible itself. It was the opportunity for me that was 5/10.