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Hindsight is just that

Today's blog is from Aidan Cashin. Aidan is in the first year of his PhD Candidature at Neuroscience Research Australia (NeuRA). His research involves investigating the mechanisms of treatments for chronic low back pain. In particular, using mediation analysis to better understand how treatments work or why they fail. Alongside his research, Aidan is a practicing Exercise Physiologist, an avid surfer and a succulent enthusiast.

Transitioning from clinical practice to PhD student has presented a series of first experiences. I recently had the opportunity to attend and present at my first international conference, the international back and neck pain forum, the premier conference, well forum in my field. Initially elated with the opportunity to travel abroad with my lab members and present my research to my peers I started to become increasingly apprehensive as the date drew near.

What if I didn’t say the right thing, didn’t know enough, was a bad networker or couldn’t remember the subtle nuances of the various aspects of my poster? As unhelpful and exaggerated as these thoughts may have been, at the time they were beginning to overshadow my excitement.

I decided to seek council in my lab and supervisory group to best prepare myself for the experience. What do I wear, how do I give off the right impression, what do you actually do at conferences? Thankfully, my questions were answered and my concerns began to fade. A common thread appeared; “not to worry”, “it isn’t all that serious”, “it is usually fairly casual”, “there should be free food and beer!”.

I attended the conference with a renewed enthusiasm and was exposed to new ideas and viewpoints, different insights to research methods, latest studies, as well as being able to cross paths and observe (sometimes from afar) researchers whose surnames adorned work I admired. As I presented my poster on the final day I wondered to myself why had I been so concerned? Presenting my poster was a wonderful experience, an awesome opportunity to discuss research and ideas that I’m interested in and hear the views and suggestions of others.

The early career researcher component of the forum is well placed in my highlights reel. Meeting researchers from across the world who are also just starting out and cutting their teeth provided a fresh insight. Beers were drunk, shuffleboard was played and friendships were formed as well as potential future collaborations.

The perks, I am learning, of attending international conferences is that you also get time to explore a new part of the world (this should have been clearer to me at the time). Oslo was awesome and that I believe is all I need to say on that matter!

Although my experience is just that, my experience, I hope that it reduces some or any concern that may be forming for new research students attending their first international conference. I myself, cannot wait till the next conference, however, I should probably do some research first so I have something to present.