It’s conference time! Which means three things: 1) you’re frantically applying to every travel award, scholarship and bursary available to help fund your trip, 2) you’re trying to put together your poster and/or powerpoint at the last minute and 3) if this is your first academic conference, you’re wondering what to bring with you. This post is dedicated to the last point (inspired by Ars and other sites).

I like to pack light at conferences. You spend most of your time shuttling between rooms and the more you have with you, the more you have to worry about. That being said, I like to have the following 7 things with me at every conference:

Here’s my conference loadout. Macbook, iPhone, satchel, USB key, business cards and water bottle 🙂 (item #7 not shown)

1) A laptop/note taking device

I find that passively listening to talks doesn’t work for me. However, if I force myself to take notes, I can stay engaged and really appreciate what the presenter has done. I take all my notes on my laptop and save them into DropBox – but you can use a notepad to accomplish the same thing. The other advantage with taking notes is that a speaker might say something that is relevant to what you’re doing and that you should look into later on. Make a note of it, and when you’re back in the office, you can look into it in more detail. Related to this: if you have a Mac, make sure you try out your presentation on a Windows PC, and also bring your DisplayPort to VGA adaptor.

2) A way to Tweet

I’ve spoken at length about how Twitter can be used at conferences. While I’m jotting notes down as speakers present, I’ll occasionally copy-paste a quote from that I find particularly insightful and put it on Twitter (another reason why I like having my laptop with me). I also find Twitter a great way to network and meet people through Tweetups and the like, although your mileage may vary.

3) A good bag

You’ll be carrying stuff around all day long. And especially at conferences where there are vendors giving you swag, you need a way to carry it around while still leaving your hands free.

4) A water bottle

Conferences have copious amounts of coffee, juice and pop. The one thing they don’t? Water. Not only is water good for you, bringing your own water bottle is also better for the environment than using plastic bottles.

5) A USB key with your presentation

This is for those who are presenting at the conference. While many conferences will ask you to give them a copy of your PowerPoint in advance, things may go wrong. If you have your presentation with you, it’s easy to substitute in a new laptop, load up your presentation and continue with your talk. And finally, don’t rely on PowerPoint’s Presenter View being available.

6) Business cards

Business cards are underused among graduate students. Given that conferences are a great way to network and meet people, why wouldn’t you carry around a card with all of your contact information on it? And if you’re in the last year of your program and about to enter the job market, this is a perfect time for you to try and expand your connections. They’re also cheap; most campuses have a student-run copy centre, and their prices are usually quite reasonable (the Queen’s P&CC will do 50 cards for $10 and 100 for $15).

Protip: If you have a name tag, put a few business cards in there. It’ll make it easier to get them when you want to pass them out.

7) Gravol and pepto-bismol

Just trust me on this one.


So what do you guys think? Is there anything important that I’ve missed? What do you bring to conferences?