Grad Life: Stuck at Home During a Conference

My last post discussed catching COVID-19 and all the fun I had with the resulting data that came about it. What I didn’t cover was the conference I was attending remotely during the bulk of the time I was sick. At first, I was supposed to attend the 54th DPS (Division for Planetary Sciences) meeting in person. Alas, this was not possible after contracting a very contagious virus. Instead, I found myself prepping to check in online and make the best of it. Here are some of the tips that I developed when I was getting ready for another conference online (AGU). An alternate version of these tips can be found on the PVL blog (

Tips for attending a scientific conference (when you’re remotely at a hybrid event):

  1. Identify your favourite conference snacks and drinks
  2. Purchase, make, or make student-budget friendly versions of said snacks and drinks
  3. Plan chores that require at most 1 hour of your time. Preferably a bunch of 10-15 minute chores
  4. Acquire bluetooth headphones
  5. Identify some clothes for dressing up (or down)
  6. Pick a few “key” sessions you want to be awake for and some interesting ones to pad out the rest of your time
  7. Chat with your lab mates on your preferred communication method of choice.

Let’s break these down a bit. Say you were really looking forward to attending the conference in person and had already planned for those days to be away. However, you’ve fallen sick or some event has taken place that prevents you from attending. You might as well try to get part of the conference experience at home! While there will be significantly less mingling with others and networking opportunities will be at most, awkward and stilted, you can still delight in the little snack breaks while reflecting on the state of the field.

This brings us to tip number 1. If you’ve been to a conference before, what snacks did you enjoy during the breaks? Personally I like that there are usually several tea options, and sometimes the coffee is palatable. The previous conference I had attended online (planned), I had the time to order some coffee samples and pick up a variety of snacks from the asian supermarket. This time I was stuck in quarantine, so I made sure I had a kettle and a massive stock of tea bags. This covers tip number 2 as well. It doesn’t have to be fancy, but having the ability to make hot drinks on demand is quite nice. It’s reminiscent of downing drinks to soothe your throat in the dry, conference room air.

Since I had to attend the conference online rather last minute, I wasn’t able to grab a photo of all the cute snacks and drinks that I had during this time. I will say that my favourite snack was a soft matcha flavoured cake. My favourite drink was lavender tea, freshly plucked from the front yard when my folks could remember to grab some for me, since I was functionally under house arrest.

Lavender from my folks. This + honey made my sore throat much better. Herbal tea (infusion if you’re picky) is a nice alternative to the gallons of coffee I usually imbibe.

Tip number 3 and 4 involve keeping yourself busy. Unlike an in-person conference, there are very few things you can look at that you are unfamiliar with. You likely won’t have access to the attendees (no camera facing that way, zoom only shows the speakers) so figuring out who else is at that session is out unless they speak up during Q&A. Instead, you could be getting some mundane tasks done! I personally can’t look at a screen continuously, so laundry, cleaning the kitchen, organizing bookshelves, watering/trimming plants, etc. all give me breaks away from the screen, but I’m not doing anything so critical that I can’t check what’s on the screen if it’s particularly important. Tip 4 gives you the flexibility to move around without fear of wires tangling or blasting the audio (less of an issue if you don’t have roommates, but still a nice option). Earphones are also an option, but I find headphones to be a bit better with universal fitting. Also, you now have the wonderful ability to choose to go to the bathroom while still listening to the sessions.

It’s all good to be perfectly cozy while stuck at home (or if you’re so inclined, going outside while still plugged into the conference). A big part of the conference experience is being present though. For me, that means dressing in a slightly snappier manner than I normally might. Regardless, I would want to have a change of pace for “conference time”, much like when working from home, it’s helpful for me to dress up for “work hours”. Dressing down could be a fun alternative to this though. After all, no one can see that you’re in the goofiest of onesies. Similarly, no one will know (other than your housemates) that you attended in a full ballgown and mask. So that’s tip 5.

Tip 6 is applicable to any conference you attend. There is only so much time in a day, so pick your favourite events to go to. Figure out what’s relevant to your interests. Not much more to say about this one. Tip 7 is similarly applicable always. Should you find yourself longing for some company, or wanting to experience the social aspect of the conference, checking in with your lab mates or anyone else at the conference can be nice. If you’re all together (remote or in person), it can be nice to schedule some hangout time outside of the planned events.

Lastly, it’s always a good idea to tap out whenever you’re feeling tired. No point attending a conference in your brain is on the fritz. Return to your comfy couch, or pop back into that hotel room as need be. Enjoy your next conference!

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