The general consensus in the research community seems to be that attending and presenting at conferences is a useful tool to survive in a PhD journey and research career. I still remember the requirements list given by my study leader in March 2016, as I was making the first steps towards a three-year PhD journey. Attending international conferences was one of them. I have so far attended two national and two international conferences and the obvious question to answer is: Was it worth while? Do I agree with the general consensus? What follows is a summary of my experience on international level.
From the 21 - 23 March 2018, I was attending the SIGOPT (Special Interest Group in Optimization) conference, organised by the Augsburg University’s faculty of Mathematics, at the Swabian conference and education center Kloster IRSEE in Germany. It is a Monastery, situated in the small town of Klaufbeuren, between Augsburg and Munich. My excitement was mitigated between my first international conference and the opportunity to discuss technical aspects of optimisation with a group of experienced mathematicians I was going to meet. Unsure about the weight of my own presentation when compared to what I heard about some of the other researchers, I was hopeful, at least, to get new insights for my ongoing research as this was the main goal in selecting the small optimisation conference. The conference program comprised a variety of streams, both theoretical contributions and applications to industry. Some of the recurring topics identified were in the area of supply chain optimisation, combinatorial game theory, non-smooth optimisation, as well as branch-and-bound problems. I was very nervous in the beginning, but finally found it as being a very rewarding experience; I enjoyed the time shared with senior researchers, as well as the encouraging moments shared with my peer PhD students. I managed to get some networking in the area of game theory and supply chain management, in Germany, as well as a networking in water resources management in Mexico, that could be useful for the future. All in all, I enjoyed SIGOPT, I made connections, and I look forward to fruitful collaboration opportunities. I will definitely go again for such a focussed conference.
The second conference opportunity was the EURO 2018. From the 8-11 July 2018, I was privileged to attend and present at one of the biggest conferences in operations research, with about 3500 researchers from across the world participating. This year it was hosted in Spain, at the Politecnica Universitat de Valencia. It was in summer, and I had the opportunity to make use of a day before the conference start to visit the old and beautiful city of Valencia. I had the opportunity to visit the local museum, and enjoy some local beverages such as hortacha and sangria, ending my day with the conference welcoming ceremony. The parallel sessions started on 9 July, with around fourty sessions running simultaneously. It was very difficult to choose a stream to follow, due to the diversity of all the possible options. Nevertheless, I managed to listen to a number of sessions in data mining, statistics, data analytics, dynamic optimization and scheduling. From the sample of sessions that I managed to follow, I drove the following conclusions:
Data analytics, with machine learning, is the future orientation of operations research, and the earlier you specialise, the better opportunities you will have, as compared to other fields of research which are relatively old, with a saturated number of experts.
Big conferences are very important to get the general feeling of the ongoing research orientation;
Big conferences are important for networking, and you need to set your targets in advance, to capitalise on opportunities.
Some advice to those still wondering whether conferences are worth to attend:
It is good to attend conference, as long as it is an accredited one;
It is okay to go to a conference that challenges you, even if you do not have much to share, but as long as you have something and you are willing to add value to your knowledge;
They can be very useful for networking and research collaboration;
It helps in practicing the skill of making your ideas clear to others;
It provides opportunity for getting useful feedback from other researchers.
All in all, I found it very useful for a junior researcher to attend conferences, as it cultivates the ability to talk about your research, and also connect with others peers, for ideas adjustment, and career orientation.