As any veteran attendee knows, strategic planning is key to making the most of both the scientific program and networking opportunities offered by international conferences.
To help new attendees better plan their time during conferences, Dr. Diva Kant Misra, a vitreoretinal surgery fellow at Sri Sankaradeva Nethralaya in Assam, India, explored this topic at the recent India Ophthalmology Society-Young Ophthalmologists Society of India (AIOS-YOSI) forum in New Delhi.
Why should I attend international conferences?
There are many reasons to attend international conferences. Among them, according to Dr. Misra, is the opportunity to gain an international perspective.
“You can be informed of the latest research and interact with the latest innovators,” he explained. “You get a chance to contribute your research at an international level, and there will be chances for future international collaboration.”
These conferences do not only provide a wealth of information, they also offer an excellent platform for global networking.
“Networking isn’t just reserved for business executives. We, as clinicians and academics, should network as well,” said Dr. Misra. “Moreover, conferences offer a great opportunity to meet the masters and learn from them directly. If you are lucky, you can even find a guru among them.”
In addition, conferences present an opportunity to grow professionally and personally: “Presenting your research in international conferences reflects well in your résumé. If you receive awards and grants, they add to your credentials. Finally, the by-product is that you get to travel,” he added.
Which conferences should I attend?
With so many conferences happening around the world, it can be difficult to decide which will be the most beneficial.
For young residents, or ophthalmologists without a determined subspecialty, Dr. Misra advised to focus on large, general conferences, instead of subspecialty conferences.
“A good option would be the Asia-Pacific Academy of Ophthalmology (APAO) congress, which has great scientific content and offers travel grants,” he shared.
However, Dr. Misra also warned about “predatory” conferences and recommended avoiding them. “These conferences are not organized by scholarly societies, but by revenue-seeking companies. They exploit the researchers’ need to build vitas with conference presentations and papers in published proceedings or affiliated journals, with zero peer review process,” he said, noting that a list of predatory journals can be found online by searching for Jeffrey Beall’s website.
How should I prepare for a conference?
Careful planning – both on the conference details and travel arrangements – is vital.
“Awareness is key,” said Dr. Misra. “Be aware of deadlines for registration and abstract submission.”
He recommended having the conference program book as your ‘bible’. “Even though it’s huge, you should read it properly from the very first page to the last. Jot down relevant points and tick the sessions you want to attend,” he emphasized.
Attendees should also research travel arrangements and plan ahead: “Be a smart traveler – prepare your visa, ticket and currency; learn about the place you are going to through websites like TripAdvisor; learn the local language; and respect local culture and rules,” said Dr. Misra.
To maximize your time and effort, Dr. Misra advised not to mix business and leisure: “Separate the days for attending the conference and for personal travel. Do not just attend a session that you want and leave after that.”
How can I fund the trip?
Attending conferences can be a financial burden. Therefore, Dr. Misra suggested that young ophthalmologists should go to their institutes for financial support. He shared that his institute, Sri Sankaradeva Nethralaya, helped him considerably in his endeavors.
“The university attached to your hospital or institute might also help. Associations like the All India Ophthalmological Society (AIOS) offers travel grants based on your thesis,” he explained. “Conferences like APAO, the Asia-Pacific Vitreo-retina Society (APVRS), and the Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology (ARVO) offer travel grants as well. You should definitely apply for them.”
There are a few requirements to apply for travel grants. “Usually, they require a biography of 250 words, where achievements, charities, and public services should be highlighted,” he said, advising to be clear on how the knowledge gained by attending the conference will be applied.
“If you are interested in research, a big conference to attend is ARVO – which offers many travel grants. The information is listed in their website with very specific criteria,” he shared.
“The Bernadotte Foundation for Children’s Eyecare Inc. (Florida, USA) also gives international travel awards for research and conferences related to retinopathy of prematurity. In India, certain government bodies, like the Science and Engineering Research Board, give out grants as well,” said Dr. Misra.
Editor’s Note: The AIOS-YOSI’s “Young Ophthalmologist – The Way Ahead” Forum was held on 25 November 2018 in New Delhi, India. Reporting for this story also took place at the AIOS-YOSI Forum.