Eight reasons to attend a conference or training course as part of your research

(and how the NIHR GOSH BRC Junior Faculty could help you get there)

When you’re busy in the lab or staring at data analysis on your laptop, leaving it all for a few days to give an oral or poster presentation at a conference in a different country or attend a training course could be the last thing on your mind. However, there are many reasons why attending conferences and training courses, may actually enhance your research.

Since the scheme launched in 2019, the National Institute for Health and Care Research Great Ormond Street Hospital Biomedical Research Centre (NIHR GOSH BRC) Junior Faculty Conference and Training Support Scheme has awarded funds to nearly 50 Early Career Researchers (ERCs) from across GOSH and UCL GOS ICH, including PhD students, nurses, AHPs and psychologists. Since it began the Junior Faculty have awarded around £24,000 in funding and the scheme has provided recipients with new opportunities and skills!

Here are just some of the reasons to apply to the fund to attend a conference or training course:

1. Fresh feedback

When you’re working on your own project, you may not realise the research echo chamber that can form around you. At conferences and courses researchers of all stages in their career are there to a) receive feedback and b) give feedback, so people with theoretical and practical knowledge and a fresh pair of eyes can identify gaps or opportunities in research you think about day-in-day-out.

I had the chance to speak with the major experts in the field, discuss and compare my research methodology and start collaborations.

Alessandro Borghi, awarded funding in 2019 and 2021 as a Senior Research Associate
Alessandro Borghi

Alessandro Borghi presenting in 2019

2. New collaborations

What’s better than one brain working on a single problem? Two brains. Depending on the research environment you’re in, you may have access to some types of technologies or different skillsets that other researchers don’t, and vice versa. Conferences and training courses are great, prestigious environments where researchers tend to be looking to form collaborations to design novel, exciting projects, doing things they wouldn’t usually be able to do.

There was an in-person networking opportunity, to help form potential collaborations and find research groups with similar research goals. I also attended an Early Career Gathering which was a good opportunity to meet other scientists in my stage of career and share like experiences.

Elizabeth Scotchman, awarded funding in 2022 as a Senior Clinical Scientist
Elizabeth Scotchman stands at a lectern in front of an audience presenting her research

Elizabeth Scotchman presenting her research in 2022

3. Presenting science to varied audiences

Practise really does make perfect when it comes to talking about your research – conferences being a prime place to do so. Depending on its aim, a conference will have different types of audiences – non-experts as well as researchers in and outside of your field– so you’ll get to practise tailoring your explanations to people who know very little or lots about your subject. As many conferences now often also run as hybrid events, it may also be an opportunity to get used to presenting in different formats – to both in person and online audiences.

This opportunity enabled me to present my work in a major global conference and provided me with access to current developments in the field of CAR T-cell therapy for AML.

Warren Hazelton, awarded funding in 2020 as a GOSH BRC PhD student

4. Accreditation and awards

Poster and presentation competitions are some of the best things you can put on your office wall and CV. It shows all your hard work has been recognised, and that you’ve been diligent to develop your presentation skills. Often conference organisers will award prizes to researchers presenting posters or giving talks at conferences, which are fantastic awards to add to your CV. Training courses also provide recognisable acknowledgement of specific skills you have dedicated time to.

5. Meeting and learning from the experts in your field

Maybe you have a burning question for an expert in your field or there’s a new technique you’d like to try but the people who know how to do it are outside of your home institution? This is where training courses can provide the perfect solution. Conferences are also great places to network with professionals you wouldn’t usually be able to, to ask them questions and get their opinion – one on one – on your own research topics. And many of the new skills you learn or advice you gather can be brought back with you to GOSH/UCL GOS ICH to be shared more widely (and you could even go on to train your colleagues!).

Through the poster sessions, I was able to talk to lots of different people, opening up doors for the next step in my career. I also heard an amazing talk about a new gene editing technique, Prime Editing, the paper describing the technique having only been released in Nature the day before the conference began!

Amy Walker, awarded funding in 2019 as a PhD student

For me, this [the International League Against Epilepsy 18th Specialist Registrar Epilepsy Teaching Weekend] was an excellent opportunity to give rounding to my perspective of epilepsy. It allowed me to better appreciate the medical, social and psychological perspectives of epilepsy.

Rory Piper, awarded funding in 2021 as a Clinical Training Fellow

6. Overcoming your fears

Whether it’s presenting in front of large audiences, learning to discuss science topics with experts or travelling somewhere new for the first time, conferences and training courses are safe places to learn how to develop your skills as a researcher. The varied expertise in the audiences will also give you plenty of opportunity to tailor your story to suit their comprehension abilities.

7. Finding new career paths

Attending conferences or meeting researchers in different fields at training courses is often central to finding new and exciting opportunities for lots of different career paths. Fresh job openings and funding call application advice are just some of the things you’ll be learning about during your time there.

I was able to attend several events that were meant to guide young researchers like me towards the next steps in your career. One of these was called “Meet the mentor”, where I got to speak to principal investigators discussing the pros and cons of their daily lives as senior researchers.

Lorenzo Caciolli, awarded funding in 2022 as a Research Assistant
Lorenzo, wearing blue trousers, a white shirt and glasses, stands next to a large conference sign reading "2022 TERMIS, EU Chapter 28.06 - 1.07.2022"

Lorenzo Caciolli at the conference he presented at in 2022

8. Being awarded grants is an accomplishment

Research funding bodies, again – like the NIHR GOSH BRC -, actively seek out to fund brilliant early career researchers to help support them towards achieving their ultimate career and personal goals. The competitive process of applying and successfully securing conference and training grants are excellent means of proving your research is vital for the wider community and to develop your grant writing skills for the future.