Sophie Jackman, final year medical student at the University of Cambridge, shared top tips from attending her first major academic conference
From the 28th August to the 31st August, Barcelona played host to the international Association for Medical Education in Europe (AMEE) Conference. 3500 people from across the globe descended on the Spanish city more famous for siestas than symposiums and pinchos than posters. If you had been there, and in fact maybe you were, then you might have noticed among the delegates was me, Sophie, a final year medical student who’d been pleasantly surprised to find her poster accepted for presentation at an international conference and eager to use the opportunity to the best of her ability.
The subject of my poster was exploring the barriers to help-seeking for mental health issues for medical students. Whilst the inspiration came about anecdotally, I’ve been supported by the Primary Care Unit over the last two years (and particularly by the extraordinary help from my supervisor Dr Thelma Quince) to pursue this research alongside my studies in the Clinical School at the University of Cambridge. What originated from my own intellectual curiosity has culminated in a two part research project, the first phase of which – qualitative data from focus groups – was the poster I presented in Spain. The focus groups revealed several barriers to effective help-seeking, roughly classifiable into student factors, support service factors, and factors specific to the medical course. It highlighted confidentiality as a hindrance to effective help-seeking and marked differences in student opinion on the relevance of stigma in medical school today. I hope it will be useful in designing student welfare programmes both at Cambridge and other medical schools. You can read my poster here.
I found the three days of the Conference a remarkable learning curve but one I would recommend to any and all medical students
– Sophie Jackman, student doctor, Cambridge
Having never attended a conference before and with only a rusty memory of GCSE Spanish to hand, I found the three days of the Conference a remarkable learning curve but one I would recommend to any and all medical students. The sheer volume of events, speakers and workshops to attend was phenomenal but despite travelling alone I met and shared ideas with researchers from around the globe. Naturally, I gravitated towards attending workshops and short communications whose themes were similar to my own research, and it was reassuring to realise that I did have a good enough grasp of the subject matter to ask what I hope were pertinent questions. I did not feel out of my depth. When it came to my own presentation (which seemed to go pretty well) I was secretly thrilled to bits to notice other delegates grab a copy of the handout I’d prepared, and I’m 90% confident I noticed one researcher who seemed to have attended the poster session for my poster alone. Well, at least I’ve convinced myself that this was the case!
I am incredibly grateful to the Primary Care Unit without whom this would never have been possible. I very much hope that, with their support, other students like myself can embark on their own research and represent the University on their first conferences as well. Now with the second, larger, phase of data collection to sift through in my research, I look forward to what I might achieve by next year and who knows, perhaps I’ll see you at AMEE 2017: Helsinki!
The General Practice Education Group (GPEG) at the Primary Care Unit may be able to provide a contribution to support Cambridge medical students engaged in SSCs at the Primary Care Unit to present published papers or posters about their own research at conferences. Find out more about our SSC programme here.
11 things all medical students who are going to their first conference should know
The biggest challenges I faced as a medical student at my first conference can be easily summed up as:
a) it was my first conference
b) I was travelling alone and did not know a single person at the event.
Having returned after what I feel was a pretty successful conference, I’ve summed up 11 things I wish I had known or considered before going. So if you find yourself in a similar situation, I hope you find some of my tips below helpful!
- Get as much funding as you can! The costs, particularly of international conferences, can escalate rapidly. Try every avenue and don’t be embarrassed or try to underestimate, as in the end it will only be your own bank account that loses out…
- Don’t be afraid to leave halfway through. There is so much going on in such a short space of time, that if you’re not enjoying or interested in what you’re attending – head to something else!
- Go to at least one talk/symposium/workshop which has the dullest sounding name in the world. It may still be the dullest event in the world (in which case see point two), but some will turn out to be mind-blowingly brilliant.
- Join the student social program! (If there is one) This was one of the best things I did, especially as I was travelling alone. You’ll meet keen and friendly medical students from your country and from all over the world who’ll take you to authentic local bars and restaurants and arrange activities.
- Visit stalls to find out about new technologies and innovations, and also for free stuff! Being a medical student, you’ll know how many free pens, USB sticks and even mobile phone charging packs you can collect.
- Enter ALL the competitions, and get a twitter account. All the stalls will almost certainly be running selfie publicity competitions with great prizes that almost no one enters. My mistake was not having twitter, but a German medical student I met won twice, an iPod Nano and an iPad, out of a conference of 3500 delegates!!
- Approach random people. Being new, you’ll meet and fail to recognise renowned Professors of your field which leads to fascinating conversations that you only realise the significance of afterwards when someone tells you.
- Download the conference app. I blundered around with the thick and difficult to navigate programme, whilst others used the smart and slick app with four times as much information and interaction.
- Don’t worry if you’re walking around like a lemon on the first day. If you know people, great! But if you don’t, like I didn’t, don’t stress that this precludes an entire conference of not talking to anyone, because it doesn’t.
- Ask all the questions that you like. You may be feeling new and naïve, especially at an event that’s not your subject interest. But go for it anyway and, if you like, prefix your question with the fact you’re a medical student. Everyone falls over with enthusiasm that you’re at the conference and interested in their research and immediately forgives any perceived ignorance in the question, though it’s unlikely to be there anyway!
- Pat yourself on the back for being at your first conference. Look at you – you’re really impressive! Just being there is already a major step ahead not taken by many of your peers. Maybe you did or didn’t win the Research Prize for best Short Communication, but you’re just at the beginning of your career. Enjoy yourself and the amount you learn in just two or three days and feel even more excited about your second conference as an established conference goer!
From Sophie Jackman, University of Cambridge medical student.
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