Written by Rahim Munir and Ahmed E. Mansour
The Materials Research Society (MRS) meetings are organized twice a year, one in spring and one in fall. MRS Meetings are fully packed with top-notch scientists discussing their current research and its prospects. It represents a great platform to connect with other research groups and promote interdisciplinary and international collaborations. The 2017 MRS Fall Meeting is just around the corner, and if you are attending it, then this article will help you to make the most out of your visit to MRS, whether you are there to publicize your work, seek answers to standing questions in your research, communicate with research equipment representatives for potential upgrades, or seeking for an opportunity for the next step in your career.
MRS Meeting application
The MRS Meeting app is intuitively designed to list all events happening at the meeting, with the ability to search by presenter’s name or institute, keywords, symposium or topic, and to filter the search by day or time. You have to log in with your MRS username and password in order to access the details of the Meeting. The app lists all the talks and posters in each symposium along with abstracts, venue, and timing. It will also list other events such as exhibition, career fair, etc. You can bookmark the events that resonate with your interest from the plethora of talks and networking events, and the app will generate a timeline based on your selection. The app also lists key exhibitors with their booth numbers; it becomes easy for you to search the company of your interest. Many researchers do not know about its personal messaging capabilities. It acts like a mini Whatsapp or WeChat. You may message the person of interest through MRS app to schedule a meeting or share comments about their presentation. The MRS team sends beacons (notifications) based on your current location. It is your choice to either activate this feature or not. Our advice is to activate this feature as if you are in the vicinity of the session; you will get a notification.
The MRS Meeting app is available on both Android and iPhone platforms.
It is better to stay at the hotels which are recommended by MRS because of the low rates and plentitude of networking opportunities. These hotels are quite respectful of your presence and are in close vicinity to the conference venue allowing participants to easily take a rest in their room till the next session of interest starts. Munir has met one of the professors, coincidently, with whom he wanted to discuss his research, in an elevator of the hotel while going to the conference. He took this as an opportunity to introduce himself and expressed his research interest. It was a quality time as no one else was there. Moreover, the MRS channel is often embedded in the TV channels list of these hotels, thus allowing attendees to watch key interviews and summaries of meeting events during the evening in your room. MRS-sponsored coffee is usually available in the lobby of these hotels, in which a hot cup of coffee can be an icebreaker with other peers attending the meeting.
The first day of the MRS Meeting – Tutorial Sessions
MRS Meetings have been in the habit of having various tutorial sessions related to some key symposia that will be presented during the week. Such an opportunity is key to fill out knowledge gaps and may act as a live literature review that will help you make out the most of the sessions to come during the week. Usually, these tutorial sessions are run in parallel, so make sure to choose the one most relevant to your plans and stick to it. With these sessions running on the first day of the MRS Meeting, where research presentations and companies exhibition have not yet started, it allows for a relaxed environment where you can stay focused in addition to making new friendships and connections.
Plan each day of the conference
The plentitude of talks and posters will leave you in a mess if you do not plan. Our advice is to plan each day before you reach the conference but be flexible for any changes. Mark all the important talks you are interested in attending. Attend the multidisciplinary talks; e.g., if you are working with biomaterials, attend key talks of organic transistors and solar cells—it might provide new out-of-the-box opportunities and ideas for your own work and might lead to a potential collaboration. Plan the posters you are interested in looking and discussing with the presenter. The poster exhibition hall is quite huge, and you might get lost if you do not plan well in advance. The beauty of MRS is that it is not only a research conference. They offer a variety of socializing events, competitions, soft skills seminars, career fair, etc. Make a list of the events which are most relevant to you and plan your day accordingly. We strongly recommend attending at least one of the “non-research” events according to your interest.
MRS cultures a friendly and scientific environment for a person to present their work either through oral or poster presentation. If you are a student or postdoctoral fellow, then presenting at MRS is a crucial way to show your research capabilities and your communication skills at once. It is a great platform to create an impact on your future employer about your critical thinking in research while presenting it in a simple way to make the audience understand your perspective. We would recommend to start from a generalized introduction and narrow it down to your specific work in your oral presentation. It is difficult to discuss the plethora of your research work in a 12-minute presentation; however, with smart planning of your presentation time, you will be able to convey key messages to the audience successfully. Remember do not use more than the allotted time. Take special care while designing your figures for the presentation, what may appear readable on the computer screen might not be clear on the projected screen. Learn image optimization for oral presentations by Tim Miller. He has also explained the effective use of each slide in your presentation.
While practicing your presentation, make sure to give a mock presentation in front of your colleagues to get the constructive criticism. It is better to be criticized by your friends than project a negative impression of yourself in front of the large audience. Bring your own laptop for the presentation and keep a backup in the USB or an external drive. We personally upload our presentation to our dropbox accounts also, just to be protected from any technical issues. It is important (read: a must-do) to test your presentation, especially if you have any videos embedded, during the coffee or lunch break prior to your assigned session. MRS has a strict prohibition for recording or taking pictures during the presentation; however, if you are interested to get photographed or recorded, you may email the MRS team before the conference. They may allow you to appoint someone to record your presentation.
In a poster presentation, you should skip the generalized introduction part. The poster design should be an eye-catching one in order to stand out in the sea of posters. Take special care for the font size and do not load it up with a ton of text. Keep it simple and elegant. Watch the poster presentation tips by Dr. Husam Alshareef of King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST). It is always better to have your poster, printed beforehand, accompany you during your flight. However, if you feel the need of making changes or don’t want to have the burden of carrying your poster with over-long flights and connections, you may print in any of the FedEx Kiosks typically available close to the MRS venue.
We cannot write about a conference without including its networking aspect. Each scientific conference brings up an opportunity for networking with great minds in the field. Through networking at conferences, people may land on their dream jobs, make lifelong friends, start new collaborations or discover a nearby awesome place to dine in. Numerous outcomes can be projected from the networking at the conference. During the 2017 MRS Spring Meeting, a seminar by Alaina G. Levine titled “Networking for Nerds” took place during the conference. She has authored a book of the same name which is quite useful if you are new to the conference environment. She is a wonderful speaker and an auspicious author.
In our view, if you are in your initial years of Ph.D. then you should focus more towards networking with other students and discuss the innovative ideas in science and where it is heading. You should attend the talks which are not directly related to your research in order to get a larger perspective of science. You may change your research area in the future, and these talks might prove to be helpful. If you can see the light at the end of the tunnel of the Ph.D., meaning you are in your last year or so, then use the conference networking primarily for landing the dream job. Make a wish list of the professors you would like to work with during your postdoctoral years. Invite them to attend your talk and get feedback. Do the same with them, attend their presentations and give them your honest feedback. Schedule a lunch or dinner with them. Usually, professors are heavily occupied by their commitments for meals, but you still have coffee breaks to catch them and pitch your application. Make sure you register for the student mixer, it is a great opportunity to mingle and have informal conversations. If you are a postdoctoral fellow and would like to continue in academia, then keep an eye on professors announcing open positions in their universities. Talk to people from different universities and inquire about the opportunities. You may find out about positions that will open in the near future. Numerous publishers exhibit their journals and books at their booth during the exhibit. Inquire about the editorial or writing opportunities.
If you are interested in a career in industry, keep an eye on the sponsors of each symposium, which is typically overlooked by most of us. This information can assist you in identifying key companies that are interested in a specific research field, and a speaker of which may be attending and presenting recent progress in the R&D industry. Make sure to talk to these people, and discuss the alignment of your research with theirs, then openly ask if they have positions that match your expertise.
Job seekers in Academia
MRS meetings being carried out in both Boston and Phoenix give the opportunity to be in a forest of well-reputed universities and research institutes that are within walking distance or as close as your finger is to book an Uber. Spend an hour identifying research groups in these universities, and write an email for PIs requesting a meeting or a chance for a short presentation of your research in their group meetings. Moreover, if you have the time and resources, you may expand your search to nearby states and travel to visit research groups of relevance to yours and which you may be interested in acquiring a post-doctoral opportunity. If you are a postdoctoral fellow and would like to continue in academia, then get to know upcoming opportunities in different universities for the faculty position. There might be new departments, centres, or even universities in the making. Being a faculty not only means to be on the top of your area of expertise and publish, but it is also an opportunity to build a long-term mentor-mentee relationship. We suggest taking a look at the articles by Wendy C. Crone and Peter J. Feibelman. They have explained the ever evolving nature of the mentor-mentee relationship in an immaculate manner. These articles expound the art of balancing your time allocation for writing and helping your mentees.
Professional development events
As mentioned earlier, MRS is no regular science conference, it provides ample opportunities to develop soft skills. The events they usually organize are
- CV critic
Bring your CV to them in order to get it evaluated. You can register for the time slot of your own convenience. You will get a chance to discuss your CV in detail with the professionals in order to improve your CV architecture and turn on and turn offs. Watch the interview of Dr. Prashant Kamat from Notre Dame University and Dr. Jillian Buriak from the University of Alberta talk about CV writing.
- Photography service
You can register for a time slot to be photographed by a professional. If you have not been through a photo shoot, then this is your chance to get highly professional photos. You will receive these photos, electronically, in a few weeks after the MRS meeting and you may use it for LinkedIn, Google Scholar, Research Gate, etc.
- Career Fair
Keep your CV with you because numerous companies and universities visit MRS with the intention of hiring the cream of scientific minds. Check out the list of potential employers beforehand in order to prioritize your time.
- Workshops and Tutorials
You will receive emails from MRS about different workshops and tutorials. Do not ignore those emails. These events are organized and selected carefully in order to develop your specific skill set. Check out the relevance and make sure to attend as many workshops as possible. They organize workshops for networking, CV writing, use of social media, etc. Moreover, a session for green card application is also organized for the researchers interested in getting a permanent residency in the US.
- Journal launch or promotion
Social events by publishers are organized either to launch or to promote their journals and books. Make sure to register and attend these events. You will get a good chance to meet the editors and understand their expectations of research quality for the research papers they publish. You may also consider to publish your work in prestigious MRS journals. Take advantage of the presence of the whole MRS editorial team at the meeting and discuss your research or editorial ideas with them. You may also discuss your publication issues (rejection, revision, duplication, etc.) with them in an informal setting. Watch the presentations and panel discussion on “Essentials of Getting Your Work Published” to learn more about the publication process.
Things to keep with you all the time
Here is a small list of items you should keep with you all the time during the MRS Meeting
- Updated CV
- Business Cards
- Your phone with MRS Meeting app installed
- Your laptop loaded with your oral or poster presentation
- Your MRS badge
and of course
- Trust us, you will be walking a lot, so why not count your steps while you are at it.
We hope this article will help you to make the most of your upcoming trip to the MRS Meeting. We are sure you will have a great time in learning the state of the art research while having fun with the conference events. If you are particularly interested in science communication, then you should attend a science communication panel discussion on 28 November (8 – 11 am) at Hynes, Level 2, The Hub Stage—Hall D.
Here are the links to some useful resources which will help you to prepare for the conference:
- Prashant Kamat and Prof. Jillian Buriak talking about CV writing
- Husam Alshareef talking about oral and poster presentation
- Networking for Nerds
- Mentoring a postdoc–the basics
- Mentoring Today and into the future
- Essentials of Getting Your Work Published
- Science communication panel discussion