I learned a lot going to the Graph Drawing Conference that I want to share. So, I am an expert in another field. I'm 38 years old and have worked in IT in industry since 1994. I know a lot of information. I have given talks and taught classes. I have been hounded by people wanting to get information about what I do so they can learn about it and advance their careers. I get emails from strangers asking for advice.
However, in the world of Theory of Computer Science, i am new. I went to the conference on Graph Drawing and I was pretty much lucky to understand parts of the talks. I was lucky to recognize certain words. But, for the most part, it was over my head. There was a part of me that wanted to leave. I'm busy and overtired and I need to do my homework!
However, I know better. I am a newbie to this world but i have the experience from other worlds that tells me what to do. Here is what i know is the right thing to do at a conference where you are a newbie.
1. Going to talks and just listening even if you are completely lost is part of the learning process. You will hear words and concepts and they will go into your head and sit there until years from now when you hear them again. It is all related. It will come up again.
2. Have something to say when you meet someone. Have an "elevator speech" ready. You are going to meet people at the conference. The first thing people tend to do is try to figure out who you are and what you are doing in your work. An elevator speech is a concept where if you are in an elevator with someone "important" that you have something to say prepared so that you make your pitch in that time. At a conference where you are a newbie, basically everyone is someone who knows more than you. When you meet someone, give your elevator speech in 2 mins and then ask them about themselves and have questions ready about the material. Try to get information from them. Be interested and engaged in the material.
3. Be respectful to yourself and others. At conferences we all get tired. Try to let things flow naturally and don't try to hard. Just relax. if you need a break from talking to people, then go walk outside or skip a talk break. It is better to be "on" when talking to others than to be checked out and half engaged when talking to others. Be respectful to yourself and get the rest for socializing that you need.
4. Help out. Ask the people running it if they need any help breaking things down or carrying things around. This is a great way to meet the conference organizers and the professors involved.
5. Follow up. So, after the conference, if a talk interested you then follow up on the material. Ask a professor for more info or a book to read. Email the people who did the talk for advice. Tell them you heard the talk and found it interesting but are a newbie and did not understand it. However, (and this is KEY) when you email someone ahead of you in any knowledge thing, be very short with your email. Often they are very busy and want to help but the emails people write are too filled with information for the person to digest. Make it short and to the point and VERY clear about what you need.
Hope this helps others. I also hope I can follow my own advice! Numbers 2, 3 and 5 are the hardest for me!