Favourite Conference Phrases and Other Tips

Four Key Phrases for Dealing with Questions

“Thanks for an interesting talk. Have you thought about….{subject that is only tangentially related to the content of the talk, but is what I’m working on}?”

“That’s a great question! [Pause] Umm, ahh, I think…{stuff unrelated to the question asked} OR {that’s an interesting point – we haven’t looked at that yet due to lack of funds/time/interest}.”

If it’s really difficult question, and you have no idea how to answer, bullshit something and then say: “Maybe we can continue this during the break.”

To round off a rambling point, use: “…and stuff like this.”


Wear what ever you wear to work. Jeans, t-shirt and trainers are perfectly acceptable.

Male options: beige slacks or chinos. T-shirts, smart-casual shirts, or polo shirts.  For important persons (PIs and Professors) a shirt, worn open-necked without a tie, accompanied by a blazer jacket, elbow patches optional. Brown Oxford brogues if you’re feeling posh.

Female options: Jeans and t-shirt, or a smart blouse/top. Button-up shirts are rarely seen. Even less common than shirts are vest tops – bare arms are passé unless the weather is above 25°C. Go sparingly with tops that show off your cleavage because you don’t want lecherous old Professors staring down your shirt. (Blah, blah, yay patriarchy!). Skirts are very rare, but seen with calf-high boots as often as with heels. Mini-skirts are acceptable if worn with thick leggings. Smart trousers are also sometimes worn. Cardigans and light-weight jumpers for keeping warm, with or without a fancy scarf.

For both men and women, winter fleeces and waterproofs/anoraks/cagoules are abundant and so are proper rucksacks. Laptop bags are nice but why advertise that you’re carrying one, and why make your shoulder hurt unnecessarily by carrying it around in a bag with one shoulder strap? I would point out that if this conference were somewhere warm and dry (Denmark isn’t!), none of this would be required. Finally, trainers/sneakers are very common: you might as well be comfortable.

People who have to dress smarter than this: the poor sods who are Industry Reps and get to be stuck at their stands during the breaks.

Other conference tips

Make maximal use of free food and drinks. Take extra snacks and wrap them in napkins for later. If there’s a free bar at any point, it’s usually timed – get in there quick and send group members in for extra rounds. Conference dinners – expect this to be a complete rip-off. If it’s a buffet, make sure to get seconds!

To combat boredom during any talk completely unrelated to your work, have something to do with your hands. Knitting, crochet, origami, sketching. You can’t sit there with headphones in unfortunately but you can sit with your laptop on your knee and check your emails or do data analysis, and people will pretend to think you’re paying attention. If the session is going to be really long, make sure to sit at the sides and near the end of a row if you can manage it. If you like to nap during the boring talks, for the love of all that’s holy, sit near the back!

Caveat emptor – these tips may only be applicable to conferences in the life-sciences.

What are your best tips for getting through conferences?

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