Attending conferences isn’t a routine part of most training schemes, and it’s easy for a keen trainee to let it fall by the wayside. This report is my argument for why you definitely should attend PMG conferences!
As a trainee clinical scientist in clinical engineering, I almost didn’t, but my supervisors (always looking for ways to get me out of their hair) wisely suggested I apply for a bursary to attend PMG Conference 2016. Now, having attended, I feel I have enough experience to explain why trainees should not avoid conferences….
PMG hosts a large annual event, and 2016 saw several hundred scientists, engineers, and other assorted professionals descend like a marauding horde on an entire floor of the International Convention Centre in Birmingham; I found watching presentations to an audience this size quite an experience in itself, having never been to a large conference before. Lectures ranged from the legal side of capacity and consent to using 3D printing in rehabilitation services; from a beginner’s guide to critical appraisal to integrating wheelchairs with other assistive technology. The scientific content focussed on projects that might impact on future practice and, as trainees, there’s a lot of professional future that it could influence!
However, I probably should tell you that my favourite part of the event was trying out a two-wheeled power wheelchair, based on the technology of the Segway. If your first and last thought every day is that wheelchairs have too many wheels (everyone thinks that, right?), I would recommend trying it out!
Here are some of the hesitations I had about going to a conference as a trainee, with my reasoning as to why you should consider it:
- I won’t understand anything! This is actually a good reason to go: you probably have more to learn than other attendees. You can always look something up if you don’t understand, or ask the presenter afterwards.
- I won’t know anyone! One of the main selling points for attending conferences is networking with professionals from other areas, especially if you can find someone from the speaker or delegate list that you especially want to meet. There was never a better reason to casually stalk someone.
- A conference costs more than my shoes/car/house! Several conferences have bursary schemes for early-career professionals, so look around. Every department has a staff development fund, however well-hidden it is. Some companies have also been known to sponsor delegates who approach them. In these cases, it helps if you can make a business case for attendance in terms of skills. Alternatively, you could always sell a kidney.
Essentially, although it can be challenging to fit conference attendance into a busy training schedule, it’s another way to learn and therefore well worth considering.
Photograph (above right) shows Tom Paulson of Loughborough University presenting his paper on Preservation of upper limb function, following spinal cord injury which was supported by PMG's small research study funding scheme. Tom was awarded the Best Free Paper prize.
(Photography courtesy of Suzie Hunt)