A conference may or may not be on your to-do list of undergraduate involvements; it certainly was not on both of ours.

During our second post-pandemic semester, we were invited to attend the 8th Water Institute Symposium, held here at the University of Florida. This was our first conference ever, and we were going to be surrounded by professionals and experts across the state of Florida. Conferences may seem overwhelming and intimidating; however, these spaces offer meaningful venues for conversation, creativity, and connection. 

What is a conference? 

To put it simply, a conference is like a middle school science fair! Everyone has different proposed research questions, accompanied by their findings. The only difference is conferences have a bit more suits, snacks, and free swag.  

A conference is a meeting that is organized over the span of a few days, with the intention of bringing together people with common interests. Students can meet well-seasoned individuals within their interests and area of study and exchange ideas, opinions, and information. If you want to share your personal research, students can also present. Even if you’re not an expert on a topic and just want to learn more, do not shy away from attending a conference! We’ve compiled some tips from frequent conference goers to help you.  

How Do I Attend a Conference? 

First, find a conference! Conference opportunities are usually shared via email or newsletters. For professional workforce development conferences, check out the UF Conference Department. Your respective department’s opportunities or resource page may also have listed opportunities. However, if you are scouting a specific conference, reach out to your mentors, professors, advisors, organizations, and even peers, to locate conferences that fall within your interests and can benefit your academic and professional career.  

Registration can also be tricky, especially if fees are involved 

“Check the conference website or reach out to organizers to see if there are any travel grant/scholarships available. There may also be discount opportunities in exchange for volunteering.” – Becca Burton 

How Do I Prepare for a Conference? 

After you pick a conference, know your goals and what you hope to gain from the experience. Perhaps you will attend a conference to learn more about a topic. Sarisha here — when I attended the Water Institute Symposium, I was interested in the intersection of environmental and social issues and wanted to learn more about water quality and public health. I used that interest to plan for my conference experience.  

If your aim is to make connections, practice an elevator pitch and have some business cards available. It is common for students to be approached by professionals as well!  

Look at the conference schedule and plan — conferences also have a lot going on at once! 

“I think it’s very easy to get overwhelmed with so many sessions that sound interesting. I would suggest prioritizing sessions ahead of time into your day.” – Brian Abramowitz 

Most conferences will release their schedule ahead of time. Knowing your goals can help you plan for the panels you want to attend. This will also help you become more acquainted with the speakers and topics that are to be presented.  

“My tip, especially for undergraduates — go to the poster sessions! And ask the folks standing at their posters to tell you about their research. This can be a great way to get one-on-one discussion time with graduate students, ask for advice or recommendations, and more. -Sadie Mills  

At this point, do some preliminary research. Panels and discussions may be difficult to understand, especially if you have limited knowledge on the panel topics. That’s okay!  Sarisha here again — at my first conference, a lot of the panels were very science heavy; I was not accustomed to this as a political science major. In this case, use your time to research the topics; this will help make unfamiliar concepts less alien. Notetaking can also be useful as your notes can be used after the conference for any unanswered questions.  

Presentation Preparation

For students presenting their research at a conference, their preparation may look a little different. One of the most important tips is working on your presentation and poster ahead of time.  

“When I was in grad school, we had our presentations somewhat ready and practiced in front of our lab two months ahead of the conference. There were tons of comments and suggestions from everyone in my lab to improve our talk and posters. A month before, we had everything ready or almost ready and during the conference we were able to enjoy the rest of the panels without worrying about ours.” -Mariela Pajuelo  

It is also advised that students get a feel for the space they are presenting themselves in.  

“If possible, visit the presentation space before your session. Be ready with the necessary technology, like adapters or dongles. Understand the space and how loudly you may have to speak or how big your text should be…” – Brian Abramowitz 

Day of the Conference

Rise and shine! You are up bright and early and wondering how to dress for a conference? Aim to wear business professional attire, however, make sure the clothes you are wearing are comfy, as you may be sitting for long periods.  As you leave the house, make sure to have a notebook and pen with you to take notes. If you are presenting, make sure to bring your laptop. Carrying a reusable water bottle also comes in handy for longer panels where you do not want to get up; it is also a great way to tout your eco-friendly merch!  

Make sure to arrive early at the conference location and know your parking accommodation beforehand.  Use your time before the conference to locate the session spaces. It is normal for the welcome sessions to take place in bigger ballrooms, while smaller breakout sessions might be in other rooms.  

Before any session starts, ensure your phone is silenced and find a seat that suits your auditory and visual needs. At this point early in the conference, it may be hard to tune into your first panel. You probably have hundreds of thoughts and questions. This is a normal feeling, so do not stress if you cannot retain every information at once. To help with active listening, take notes on the topic of the presentation, the name of the speaker, the proposed research question(s), and their findings. Some speakers may provide additional details about their background and experiences; if you feel like their interests align with yours, note their contact information to reach out later!  

In the end, there is usually a designated time for questions; don’t be afraid to ask questions or to approach people with your questions. Although the jargon may be intensive and hyper-specific to the panel being presented, context can often help clear up any confusion that arises during the presentations. Try to formulate questions as the speaker presents to be an active participant in the conversation.   

During breaktime, interact with other attendees! You may have some downtime between panels, or a coffee and bathroom break scheduled into the program. Use this time to interact with those who share the same interests and passions as you! 

“It can be tempting to stay with your group, but it can be easier to network with just one other person or on your own.” -Megan Ennes  

However, it is important to also take time for yourself! Use any break time for restrooms or snack breaks. Step outside and get some fresh air.  

You are welcome at a conference as much as everyone else in the room. Be confident in the skills, passions, and interests that you possess! And just remember, if you feel nervous, everyone has been a rookie conference-goer at some point in their life. The only difference is hopefully you will have a little more guidance to get you to that conference.  

About the Authors


Sarisha Boodoo pursued her B.A. in Sustainability Studies and Political Science at the University of Florida, last spring. She was a participant in TESI’s pilot Environmental Leaders Fellowship program.  Sarisha will continue to develop her professional skills in environmental communication, education, and outreach at the Silver River Museum in Ocala, this fall.  


rahman headshot

Aadil Rahman is an undergraduate student at the University of Florida pursuing a Bachelor of Science in zoology with a minor in sociology. In his career, Aadil hopes to combine his knowledge of zoology and sociology to advocate for environmental justice issues as well as to bridge the gap in science communication.