Navigating the world of conferences:
Top tips from early career professionals

As someone at the beginning of their career in drug discovery, you’ve probably heard this before: “Attend conferences. They can help further your research or boost your career.”

But going to a conference as an early career professional can be daunting. With so many attendees in advanced stages of their careers, you might feel the dreaded impostor syndrome. Or, just thinking about networking with other people makes your palms sweaty and your knees buckle.

Fear not: ELRIG general committee member Claire Kelly and ELRIG board member Jennifer Mitchell offer conference insights in our latest blog post. As early career professionals themselves, they’ll give you insider advice on overcoming impostor syndrome at conferences, networking tips, and more.

Jen Mitchell

Claire Kelly

Claire and Jen – who both started as student volunteers at ELRIG – helped pioneer the organisation’s early career professional workgroup, which engages with those in the drug discovery community who are starting out in their careers through outreach activities and career development workshops at ELRIG events.

In this blog, Claire and Jen talk about their conference experiences as early career professionals and share their insights and advice on how attending conferences like Drug Discovery Digital and getting involved with organisations such as ELRIG can help.

Q: What are the benefits of attending a conference as an early career professional?

Jen: It’s helped open my eyes to the breadth and depth of careers that are available to scientists within the drug discovery community. I’ve also walked away from past Drug Discovery conferences with a few contacts, which has helped me further my career.

Claire: It’s difficult making a long-term decision on what your career is going to be. At the Drug Discovery conference, you get to meet people of all backgrounds and at different stages in their careers. You can chat with them and hear stories about how they got from point A to point B in their careers. People go through many different routes, and listening to them makes you aware of the direction you could take to get to that career end-goal.

Q: How can those starting in their careers overcome impostor syndrome when networking at conferences?

Jen: If networking is a bit daunting to you or you struggle with putting yourself out there at conferences, why not give it a go in a fun and vibrant setting like Drug Discovery Digital? It’s an environment with a bit of structure to it, so you can more easily approach people and speak with them.

Find and sign up for something you’re passionate about. If you want to be involved, approach people and ask if there are any volunteering opportunities. Whether you look at it as an extracurricular activity or an opportunity outside your immediate role, it can be valuable. You can learn just as much through a volunteer role as with your primary role, and this can set you apart from others.

At ELRIG, we want to expand our involvement with early career professionals, so if you come to Drug Discovery Digital and other ELRIG events and think it’s something you want to be involved with, there will definitely be opportunities for you within ELRIG.

Claire: Volunteering is a great way to boost your confidence and start those initial conversations with people. Offering to help at an event is one of the best experiences and opportunities you can have because when you’re working with the organisation, it gives you more confidence. You’ll find that people approach you, and you end up having great conversations. Even this year with events going digital, there will no doubt be ways you can get involved!

Q: What makes ELRIG’s Drug Discovery conference different from other scientific conferences out there?

Jen: The atmosphere is friendly and welcoming. People are open, and the networking aspect of it is personal, which isn’t what I’ve experienced at other meetings. The ERLIG team is working hard to make sure the networking opportunities at Drug Discovery Digital will be just as good as those at face-to-face events.

Claire: In other conferences I’ve been to, I haven’t networked with that many early career professionals or even been able to identify fellow early career professionals because the conferences don’t cater to us. But with ELRIG’s Drug Discovery conference, you have this group and all these activities and workshops dedicated to early career professionals.

Q: What can early career professionals look forward to at Drug Discovery Digital 2020?

Jen: The “Network like a Boss” sessions have grown each year, so we’re doing two of those sessions this year. Even though we’re moving to the digital world, we’ll still keep it similar to a face-to-face setting, with early career professionals gathering in small groups and going into “rooms” to meet with different bosses. We have a good panel of bosses lined up from a diverse range of career backgrounds and stages, so I hope people are excited to be involved with that.

It’s also a way to build your confidence when interacting with people on camera. If you’re preparing for or potentially transitioning to a new role, it’s a brilliant opportunity to become comfortable interacting and speaking with people online as many recruitment processes may well be moved online and  it’s likely that digital interaction will be here to stay.

Claire: With our “Network like a Boss” sessions, you have the potential to meet bosses you can ask questions from and network with – and you don’t even have to leave your house. It’s the same with our CV Clinic, where early career professionals send their CVs in advance and bosses look over them and give as much feedback as they can during one-to-one sessions.

Q: Any insider tips for those planning to attend this year’s Drug Discovery Digital conference?

Jen: Have a look at and speak to vendors. It’s a great opportunity to learn and be inspired about the latest technologies out there.

Claire: Vendors are definitely good to approach; they really want to speak with you and are more than happy to help you troubleshoot challenges you’ve been facing, giving you top tips that you can take back to your lab. In fact, being at the earlier stages in your career can almost be an advantage as you’re looking at things with a fresh pair of eyes, so you’ll likely ask questions that others wouldn’t. Even better, you can find cheaper and better alternatives for items you use in the lab; a great way for you to deliver extra value to your department.

Q: How can early career professionals make the most of Drug Discovery Digital 2020?

Jen: The Drug Discovery conference has a diverse mix of people from the pharma, biotech, and academia – there’s so much scope for potential collaboration. Put yourself out there and you’ll be surprised how many people you meet could be contacts for the future.

Claire: You’ll also be meeting like-minded people at the same stage as you are in your career. It’s interesting to hear how people got to where they are, what companies they’re working for, what ideas they have. You’re not only networking with potential bosses but also fellow early career professionals. I think those connections are equally as important as connections you make with bosses and those in more senior positions.

Q: Any final remarks?

Jen: Drug Discovery Digital is free to attend, so what’s stopping you from attending? Come along, enjoy the talks, meet with vendors and make the most of the opportunities for early career professionals, you won’t regret it.

Claire: The event has even been split across two weeks to make it easier for you to attend different sessions around your schedule. We hope to see you there!

To learn more about Drug Discovery Digital and register for free, click here.