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Professional Conferences: An Untapped Resource

As we walk the hallowed halls of Aldrich and check email in front of the Spangler fireplace, it’s easy to forget all the other great opportunities outside of HBS.

While HBS does a great job of teaching us about the business world, it’s easy to lose track of the exciting discoveries occurring off campus. One way to stay in touch is to attend one of the many technical and professional conferences that come to Boston.

They’re a great resource for keeping abreast of the recent developments in your field and building your network. Who knows, you might find the next panel moderator for your on campus conference, or lead for your summer internship / post-HBS job.

My first conversation of a conference I attended in December:
“Hi, I work in business development at company X.”
“Nice to meet you. I’m a student at HBS, and a former engineer for company Y.”
“Really? When do you graduate?”
“This spring.”
“Are you going back to company Y?”
“No.”
“Why don’t you email me your resume.”
Two days later, I had a phone interview. No foolin’.

I happened to be doing a field study on nanotechnology, so I signed up for the Materials Research Society (MRS) Fall meeting. This weeklong conference started with tutorials to bring non-experts up to speed. I attended one on fuel cells and received a concentrated dose of the latest research from industry and academic experts.

The good news is that fuel cells have made substantial progress over the last few years and are being introduced for devices that need relatively little power over a long period of time. Your laptop battery may soon be replaced with a fuel cell power source. However, the technology still has a long way to go before it can match the performance and ease of use of the internal combustion engine in a car.

The rest of the conference was devoted to paper presentations of recent breakthroughs. Most presenters are eager to talk about their work, and I interviewed many of them for my field study. It’s a great way to accomplish a lot of research quickly, because the experts you meet can help you sort the important information from the superfluous.

Check on the intended audience of the conference before you go. Since the MRS is a society of researchers, the discussions were a bit technical.

If you’ve never heard of Gibbs’ Free Energy, face centered cubic structure, or Young’s Modulus then you might want to do a little research before coming. But if you have a technical undergraduate degree and a desire to stay up to speed in your field, by all means go.

However, the conference scene doesn’t only cater to techies. Boston draws academics and thinkers the world over. A quick Google search uncovered conferences of educators, ethicists, and trade groups. For example, last December you could have visited the International Council of Shopping Centers (www.icsc.org) in Copley.

Consider attending some of these conferences coming to Boston:

February
National Federation of Tourist Guide Associations – February 1-3 (www.nftga.com)

Web Services Edge Expo – February 24-26 (//sys-con.com/edge2004/)

March
Nanotech 2004 – March 7-11 (www.nanotech2004.com)

Society of Competitive Intelligence Professionals March 23-24 (www.scip.org/boston/index.asp)

International Conference on Data Engineering – March 30-April 2 (//www.cse.uconn.edu/icde04/)
Bio-IT World Conference & Expo – March 31-April 1 (www.bioitworld.com)

Summer
Association for the Advancement of Medical Instrumentation – June 5-8 (www.aami.org)

USENIX Annual Technical Conference – June 27-July 2 (www.usenix.org/events/usenix04/)

Fall
Embedded Systems Conference – September 13-16 (www.esconline.com)

MRS Fall meeting – November 28-December 2 (www.mrs.org)

January 20, 2004
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