My first conference experience

It is generally believed that presenting a research paper at an international conference is a milestone for any academic, but even more exhilarating for a second year PhD researcher.

An international conference encourages communication between people of different cultures, nationalities and research views. Looking back at my experience, naivety is perhaps the best way to describe my countenance.

Bergamo, Italy; here we come

My initial impression of the event, as we stood laden with welcome packs, lanyards and notebooks at the registration desk, was how excited everyone seemed. The positive buzz, music and food made us feel welcome and a little relieved that perhaps we weren’t the only ones eager to be in the beautiful city of Bergamo and delighted to be amongst the few selected to attend the INCOM conference.

The excitement carried on into the welcome address and our working sessions. Whilst some sessions were more interactive than others, all presented us with the opportunity to network and find out about on-going projects either in other faculties or other institutions altogether. Whilst I unfortunately couldn’t clone myself in time to attend all the workshops, the Whova app was a great help and made communication throughout the event a delight.

The conference

June 13th 2018 is a day I would not forget in a hurry. I had the privilege of presenting a paper at the INCOM 2018 conference in Bergamo, Italy. The theme of INCOM 2018 is Information Control for Responsive Manufacturing Systems.

Whilst I am studying towards My PHD in supply chain, I felt it would be beneficial for me to gain insight into what other researchers in my field have been researching and also discover more about the world of research as I look forward to becoming an expert in my field.

However, I will admit that I was both nervous and excited about the idea of attending my first conference as I didn’t really know what to expect. How will the conference be structured? What if I don’t understand the presentations? These are a few of the questions that came to mind as I made my way to the venue on the first morning of the conference. However, despite my initial concerns, it turned out to be an incredible experience and I really enjoyed every minute of it.

The conference agenda

Well, each day actually followed a similar format. The mornings began with a one-hour ‘plenary session’ at the S,Agostino Cloister. I particularly enjoyed the talk by Peshin Esti, the VP General Manager, Cyber Division – Isreal Aerospace industries, as she explained the importance of protecting your organisation against hackers and some very useful information that could frustrate the activities of hackers as it is almost impossible to be 100% cyber secure, and their activities if not contained or curbed could adversely affect our supply chain.

These plenary talks were followed by the ‘parallel sessions’, which consisted of a series of 20-minute oral presentations that took place simultaneously, but in separate rooms. There were around eight sessions taking place at any one time so the hard part was trying to decide which one to attend! Thankfully, the conference programme had detailed descriptions of each of the sessions, which made it a lot easier to plan out my day.

I was initially worried about understanding the sessions but I’m delighted to say that each of the talks and presentations were actually very explicable, though I struggled with some fuzzy equations which is understandable as I’m am not particularly good at mathematics and data analysis. In fact, I learned so much over the three day program and even got a lot of ideas and inspiration for my research. I particularly enjoyed learning about other aspects of supply chain.

I was a bit shy at the conference as there were so many professors, business owners and I was simply a student that looked younger and less experienced than the remaining attendees, but this didn’t bother me too much because everyone was friendly and welcoming. In fact, I have come to realise that conferences are great for networking, especially postgraduate students and postgraduate researchers.

Derby Difference

Gala night

We had the conference Gala Dinner on the evening of the second day and this tested a wide range of graduate skills; from balancing plates whilst giving out a business card to trying to read someone’s name badge whilst giving your elevator pitch introduction, maintain proper decorum and comporting yourself amongst others. Despite the pressure, nerves were calmed by a delicious traditional Italian three course meal, great company and the beautiful surroundings. The music was great but the rain and storm just had to step in and get us all wet as we hurried to catch the bus at midnight back to our hotel rooms.

The D-Day

I couldn’t sleep the night before, lost my appetite and I was very uneasy. The weather was about 32 degrees, I had a jacket on but was still shivering, couldn’t feel my feet and felt very nervous. I think fear deserves a lot of the credit in my success, at least during that point in time, because I was imagining things so hugely out of proportion to the point that when I got there, I realised I may have over exaggerated the whole imagined scenario. I thought of calling in sick or disappearing that morning but I just summoned the courage to go for it. It went well with loads of questions to answer and I was really glad when it was all over.

Life lessons learnt

If there was one thing that I was not expecting from this conference, it was that professors, doctors, scholars and business managers were impressed by my work (or so I was told!). I was shocked, and still am. But I am also humbled.

One of the more significant critiques I received was that my paper could help business and raise more awareness of the real effects of supply chain risks. My paper could be part of a bigger research project and therefore was a work-in-progress that needed to be improved, properly modelled and tested in relevant organisations.

Exciting times

It was just such an honour to meet researchers, academics, and teachers from all around the world; everywhere from Asia to Europe, Africa and America it was indeed a very cultural mix. Some of the people I met were actually really impressed by the level of collaboration and teamwork within my degree and even asked me for advice on how they could encourage it within their own organisations – I actually have two delegates interested in collaborating with me to write a few more papers… so that was pretty cool! In fact, meeting new people was perhaps one of my favourite aspects of the conference because I enjoyed hearing about their experiences and research interests, glad that I could contribute my own ideas.

Was it worth it all? I guess it was

Overall, the INCOM 2018 conference was a very enriching and worthwhile experience. I would like to thank the organisers for accepting my paper and for inviting me to attend the event. I was truly inspired by the people I met and their dedication to improving the teaching and learning of physics and science across all levels of education. I definitely gained a lot from the experience and feel more prepared to continue my research having gained more insights about the field. In fact, I would highly recommend other postgraduate and doctoral students to attend conferences because not only do they provide you with the opportunity to meet researchers at the forefront of their fields, but they also allow you to discover what a career in research might entail. You never know, maybe you will be just as inspired as I was – after all, researchers are the future of the world.

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