Surviving Conferences

4. Lunch and Breaks

Raid the Salad and have plenty of fruit. The usual fried and fatty delicacies will make you feel lethargic and quite tired by the end of a long conference.

Don’t overdose on the conference coffee, try herbal tea.

Delegate feedback overwhelmingly suggests that discussion between sessions or at the end of the day is the most valuable time.  Network, catch up with old friends, and make some new ones.  Establish some working relationships.

Don’t be afraid to go up and talk to people – especially the ‘great and the good ‘in the field, it may not feel easy at first but it is the key to getting good contacts.

Sit next to strangers at meals, talk with strangers at coffee.

Conference Story: a funding council officer’s perspective of conversation during the breaks

Let’s make one thing clear. The RAE isn’t my fault. It’s not even the funding council’s fault, if you want to be honest about it. It’s mandated by the government, and run on behalf of the four UK funding councils. What you are complaining about is the funding linked to research performance. And I’ve got nothing to do with that either. See this badge? Yes, it says “learning and teaching”. Not “research”.

The last initiative. Ah, yes, you want to talk about that. A disgrace, you say? A shocking waste of public money? Did you bid? And did you… ah, no… I see. First round. Oh dear. Well there were really rather a lot of bids. And we can’t all be winners. Yes, I know it’s not fair. Here – take a handkerchief. Will there be more? We hope so? Your chances? Well….

So, it’s nice to get out and meet people in the sector. What? Ivory towers? No, really, you should see our office. And I like to keep current with what is going on in Education. Your paper? No, I didn’t see it. Send me a copy… well, when it’s published. Or finished. Or started.  Whenever. No, I can’t give you any funding for it…

How am I finding the conference? I’m learning a lot. Well it’s not my job to be an expert, but I like to know as much as I can. I enjoyed the keynote. Ooh, sorry. A bitter rival? Oh, yes he runs that project from the last funding round… oh dear. Yes, I know. You said. And some of the sessions have been great. Are you presenting? Oh …. better last year, you say?

What’s that? Yes – we do keep all of the years funding allocation in the basement. In pound coins. And we take turns sliding down the huge pile. And cackling like comic book villains. It’s great.

Anyway, nice to have met you. Enjoy the rest of… oh.  *sigh*



  1. Get out to the doorstep. There’s a subculture of smokers out there usually discussing the conference, join in – you don’t have to smoke.

    Comment by Neil Witt — August 22, 2008 @ 6:55 pm | Reply

  2. I have occasionally become so engrossed with smokers’ conversation, I found lunch had been cleared. Once, I made do with a pot of yogurt – ‘Fruits of the Forest’, I think.

    Comment by James Durkan — September 3, 2008 @ 8:06 pm | Reply

  3. If you do, however, need the caffeine (and find herbal tea smells great but tastes foul), ensure you get plenty at the morning break, as frequently conference organisers forget to ask for coffee and tea to be laid on during the lunch break, and on those occasions by the time your afternoon break arrives your head is breaking in two from the caffeine withdrawal. This goes double if you’re at a venue that thinks only session speakers need access to water.

    Comment by Simon Ball — September 26, 2008 @ 7:46 am | Reply

  4. I found out about the vacancy at Roehampton University, where I am now Head of learning and Teaching because of a chat with some people at lunch at a conference. I wasn’t looking to move jobs and so wasn’t keeping an eye open for vacanicies but the conversation enthused me, I applied for the job and got it. That quick lunch time chat changed the course of my career.

    Comment by Julie Hall — September 26, 2008 @ 8:39 am | Reply

  5. Once you have attended a few sessions, you may find it easier to approach strangers by asking presenters something further about their session, or by talking to someone who has asked a question that you thought raised an interesting point. If you ask questions yourself, you may also find that others approach you to discuss your questions.

    Comment by Gill Harrison — September 29, 2008 @ 11:05 am | Reply

  6. if you have ordered a special meal make sure you get there early or jump the queue. the vegetarian food tends to be eaten very quickly, usually by non-vegetarians.

    Comment by michelle haynes — October 13, 2008 @ 9:42 am | Reply

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