Conference navigation tips for students!

Posted on June 20, 2016

Conference season is well underway! For a busy graduate student, attending any form of academic meeting can be a stressful experience but also a very rewarding one. In this issue of the Student Section, I’ve tried to compile some hints and tips that I hope you’ll find useful.


  1. Finding the right meeting

 There are so many meetings to choose from! I didn’t realize this until I started compiling material for the ISB social media channels. As an Australian studying in America, I was well aware of the upcoming 10th Australasian Biomechanics Conference, and the 40th Annual Meeting of the American Society of Biomechanics, as well as some other meetings hosted by our ISB Affiliated Societies.

However, I was surprised to find a lot of smaller meetings that were very applicable to my own research. Through talking with my PhD advisor, I learnt of the Biomechanics and Neural Control of Movement (BANCOM 2016) meeting – a six day-long event to be hosted at a serene lodge on the edge of a beautiful lake in Ohio (USA). If this wasn’t enough to lure me, when I read the list of invited speakers, I couldn’t have been more excited!

Of course, being a graduate student doesn’t come without its time/cost limitations so this will definitely narrow the window of opportunities. That being said, you may find a gem every now and again if you know where to look. Your advisor, and other biomechanics-related mentors could be a good place to start. If they are aware of the nature of your work, they may be able to point you in the right direction. Due to their larger networks, they are often on mailing lists for such events.

You can also connect with us via our social media channels (Facebook page, Student Members Facebook Group, Twitter feed and LinkedIn group). I try to keep these updated with meeting information such as dates and locations, abstract deadlines etc. The primary search tool I use for compiling these notifications is the Biomch-L Events and Conferences Forum:


  1. Financing the trip

 Beyond the opportunities available to you through your University, there are a range of awards/grants that exist to financially support domestic and international student travel. For example, you are probably aware that the ISB offer Congress Travel Grants for our biennial meeting (applications will be due in Dec 2016, for ISB2017). We also offer Technical Group Travel Grants, for student members presenting at our Technical Group meetings.

Many of our affiliated societies also offer similar grant opportunities for student members to attend their meetings – examples from 2016 include the International Society of Biomechanics in Sports, the American Society of Biomechanics, the Canadian Society for Biomechanics, the European Society of Biomechanics and the German Society for Biomechanics.

You may also find instances where your national society offer travel grants to a variety of international meetings. For example, this year the Australian and New Zealand Society of Biomechanics offered their student members the opportunity to apply for financial support to attend the International Society of Biomechanics in Sports (ISBS), the American Society of Biomechanics (ASB), the European Society of Biomechanics (ESB) or the International Society of Electrophysiology and Kinesiology (ISEK) meetings.

Delsys and the AMTI Force and Motion Foundation also offered student travel grants this year. I aim to promote all of the above on our social media channels, but you can also search for available funding by visiting the relevant conference and/or Biomechanics Society websites.

If you have any questions about the ISB Travel Grant Program please feel free to get in touch!


  1. Presenting your research

 Oral Presentations

For this, I found a fantastic blog on Scitable (by Nature Education). I’ve summarized the main points below but if you have the time, I’d definitely recommend reading the entire post as it includes lots of good tips.

  • “Written documents are for convincing with detailed evidence; oral presentations, on the other hand, are for convincing with delivery — both verbal and nonverbal.”
  • Be selective with the material you include, allow adequate time for Q&A and try to anticipate questions.
  • For your introduction, lead with an attention grabber, a presentation outline and a statement of the principal message.
  • Describe only methods you feel will help to convince the audience of your principal message.
  • Consider the body of the presentation as a tree-structure (vs. a chain-structure). Select two to five key statements that support your principal message, and two to five sub points that support each key statement.
  • Strongest arguments should be placed first and last, with weaker arguments between.
  • End with “a review, a conclusion, and a close”: review the presentation, conclude with the principal message and other applications of your results. Close by “indicating elegantly and unambiguously to your audience that these are your last words. Although there are many ways to do so, one that works well is to make the link back to your attention getter: By referring back to your initial question, analogy, picture, etc., you indicate that you have completed the loop”.


Poster Presentations

If you are presenting a poster this conference season, the following link will take you to a very useful video. I’ve outlined the key points below, but it’s definitely worth a watch:

  • “Don’t read your poster! Use your poster as a visual tool.”
  • Prepare a 2-3 minute talk, predict questions like: “what was your research about?” and “what were the main findings?”
  • Only highlight the most important information on the poster, and don’t be afraid to bring handouts to supplement potential discussion points.
  • Creating a small handout summarizing your poster may be useful if your abstract was not included in an abstract book.
  • Have contact details ready for follow up discussions, especially relevant if you cannot answer a question on-the-spot (e.g. business cards).
  • Be honest if something is outside the scope of your research.
  • Always prioritize the viewer over social interaction with friends etc.


  1. Networking

 In the latest instalment of the ‘Advice to Students’ project, Prof. Brian Davis (a former ISB President), conveniently discusses approaching a ‘big name’ at a conference. You can view the video here. It’s often daunting to do this, especially when there are no mutual contacts to make the initial introduction. However, Prof. Davis was one of the kindest people I had the pleasure of meeting at ISB2015 in Glasgow, and his words left a lasting impression. ‘Never be afraid to go up to some big name in the field, introduce yourself, and ask for their opinion on almost anything’. At first, I was a little sceptical, and doubted that any well-known Professor would take time out of their Conference schedule to speak with me. However, I dived in at the deep end to test this theory and was very pleasantly surprised by the welcoming reception I received. I picked up some good advice and new perspectives on my work, gained a greater understanding of the industry, learned the difference between an American and Canadian accent (thanks Prof. Joe Hamill!), and had a lot of fun along the way. We’ve all got to start somewhere!

Finally, I’d like to share something I’ve come to realize over the past few years of graduate school – your peers are the next generation of ‘big names’. At large meetings, it is easy to get ‘tunnel vision’ as you look to establish ‘big name’ connections. However, try not to lose sight of the amazing resource we have in each other. The students you meet at your next conference may be future collaborators, travel companions for upcoming meetings, peer mentors, a source of information about the industry in different countries, etc. I’m personally looking forward to meeting many of you this time next year in Brisbane!

Before I sign off, I’d just like to say a huge thank you to everyone who took the time to respond to the online survey I posted in April. It was great to get your feedback and I am actively working to transform our resources to better suit your needs. At our upcoming ISB Executive Council meeting (in August), I look forward to representing the Student Membership and tabling ideas for new initiatives to enhance your member experience. It will take a little time to get things ‘up and running’, but keep an eye out for some exciting updates in the future!

Kind regards,


Kirsty McDonald

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