I succeeded in making a fool of myself in introduction to one such PI, by attempting to hide behind other poster surveyors until I was equipped with intelligent questions about his research. My scheme unraveled when he recognized the name on my badge and made the introduction himself. I spun a subterfuge of embarrassed chatter until recovering my intellect. Fortunately, he stopped by my poster in the afternoon and was enthusiastic and impressed. Score.
A dear late post doc of our neighboring lab, now working in industry as a medical liaison, imparted some wisdom regarding the giant that is SfN. "What is unique about this conference," she said, "is that what your experience here changes each year as your career changes." When you are a graduate student, your mission is to soak up any and all information about other research that may help design your own. When you are a post doc, you are sponging in addition to networking. When you are a PI, you are peppering your collaborative learning with reunions and lunch dates. In industry, she says, you are honing in on studies where drug intervention studies may be beneficial for your company, as well as attending committee meetings. SfN is consistently a whole 'nother world defined by where you are outside of it.
And, I suppose, as a pre-pre-doc, my mission this year was to get my feet wet, to network, to get some face time with potential mentors and, of course, benefit from poster feedback on my own research. In all of these regards, I believe I was successful.
Tuesday afternoon was my poster session, and though I initially planned on holding the fort for two of the four hours, both my boss and myself were present for almost the entire session breaking away for no more than half an hour each to visit other posters. Thank goodness for my wonderful colleague who fielded questions in our brief absences even though she works with a different model! By half an hour into the session, the traffic in front of our poster was boggling. My boss and I ended up tag-teaming presentation/question rounds for different handfuls of people. The feedback was spectacular, with several unique directions offered, several potential collaborations resulting and a few friends made.
What's more, I was totally starstruck by the flow of big names in front of our poster whose badges I recognized from manuscripts that had jump-started my career or helped to define my work, but whose faces were met for the first time. At one point I remember surreptitiously asking my boss, "is that the Mike Salvatore?" What a rush to present and discuss your work with minds whose contributions to neuroscience have shaped your own, and what an even greater honor to be commended by them for your ideas. These folks are all friends of my boss -- you come to know or at least meet most of your field at some point -- and he got a kick out of my agog state.