Conferences offer the invaluable opportunity to broaden the professional network and meet the “big names” in the field in a relaxed atmosphere. On this account, they provide access to information that you don’t find in any book or journal and help to get recognized by people who decide about jobs and/or grant money. I’m actually offered jobs on an increasingly frequent base during conferences. In addition, there might be the chance to exclusively visit sights and events with otherwise long waiting lists, so the time is definitely worth spend.
As a networking enthusiast, my advice is to take these important steps into the scientific community as early as possible. At best, this already happens as a bachelor or master student, for instance by volunteering during a relevant conference. Besides the suitability even for a low budget, such provides the valuable experience of getting in personal contact with important people in a quite casual way. To provide some encouragement, I decided to share my personal “conference history” – a sometimes wild ride that started in September 2012, when I almost finished my bachelor’s degree in Psychology and was about to start my master’s degree in Human Factors.
My first psychological conference
After spending an exciting internship at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development in Berlin in 2010, I knew that my career-related future would lead into scientific research. Thus, the decision to attend the 48th Congress of the German Psychological Society in Bielefeld with the main topic “Fascination Research” was self-evident. Of course, things were quite overwhelming at first, but after spending a lot of time with psychological literature, to finally see some of the people behind it was pretty awesome!
Entering the scientific stage
The year 2013 turned out to be a really important year for me. Not only did I step into academic teaching as a tutor at the chair of Human Machine-Systems at TU Berlin, but I also gave my scientific debut at the 55th Conference of Experimental Psychologists in Vienna. My first English conference talk addressed the core findings of my bachelor thesis and would not have happenend without the encouragement of my great supervisor Professor Günter Daniel Rey, who also supervises my PhD. I still enthuse about the beautiful university building and the marvelous city, thus I am very grateful that I had this option! After entering the stage, I even had the chance to proceed straight to the next conference, the 8th Conference of the Media Psychology Division in Würzburg, to give another talk on the results of my bachelor thesis. Attending this conference has been worthwile in many respects, as I had the first encounter with the Research Training Group CrossWorlds by meeting my future colleague Daniel Pietschmann, who gave me valuable information about this project.
Volunteering as networking opportunity
As I already mentioned, volunteering at a scientific conference provides an excellent way into the scientific community. Luckily (and conveniently due to residing in Berlin anyway), I had this chance twice that year, at the 35th Annual Meeting of the Cognitive Science Society and the 10th Berlin Human-Machine Systems Workshop. I actually learned a lot at both events, met interesting people and enjoyed delightful social events. When else do you have the opportunity to get a free lunch at Hilton?
Cognitive modeling in Groningen
Like the year before, 2014 kept me busy with studying and teaching, particularly due to my master thesis. Since this involved dealing with ACT-R to a large extent, I seized the chance to travel to the Netherlands together with my colleague Sabine Prezenski, and attended the 4th ACT-R Spring School at the University of Groningen. Under the kind supervision of Menno Nijboer and Professor Niels Taatgen, I could improve and extend my model within the master class. Besides making huge progress in my work, I really enjoyed meeting cognitive modelers from all over the world and spending time in the idyllic city of Groningen. At this particular time, I already knew that I would come back some day (and I indeed would do in 2018 and again in 2019!).
Meeting my fate and future
The year continued, and while my master thesis took shape, due to existing contacts I got notice of the conference on “Theory, Development & Evaluation of Social Technology” organized by the Research Training Group CrossWorlds in Chemnitz. My submitted contribution on interruption and resumption in a smartphone task, resulting from my master thesis, fortunately got accepted and thus I had the opportunity to present my work there. In addition to the scientific program that featured several high-class keynotes and invited talks, the CrossWorlds members had organized an incredible dinner at the restaurant Janssen. This particular conference already provided me the chance to establish stable connections to the local colleagues in Chemnitz, which helped a lot during the following years.
Starting the stony path of PhD
With 2015, new challenges emerged that involved a quite ambitious application procedure and a relocation from Berlin to Chemnitz, after I successfully got the desired PhD position in the Research Training Group CrossWorlds. Right from the beginning, I was eager to jumped into my research and make progress in my project. To get valuable advice already at this stage, my conference history continued by attending the Summer School Human Factors, organized by colleagues from the chair of Cognitive Psychology and Cognitive Ergonomics at TU Berlin. It was really helpful to present my ideas within a focus group and get feedback from my former academic teachers Professor Manfred Thüring and Professor Dietrich Manzey. As a further highlight, the informal conclusion involved a round of blacklight minigolf. Before the year ended, I could visit Berlin again for the 11th Berlin Workshop Human-Machine Systems. I also introduced my PhD project there and participated in amazing social events. Most impressive, we did a boat trip at the river Spree while enjoying a traditional Berlin buffet and listening to exciting historical facts.
Organizing a symposium
When contributing to a conference, one possibility besides submitting an individual talk or poster is to organize an entire session, mostly called “symposium” or “work group” or something similar. On the occasion of the 58thConference of Experimental Psychologists in Heidelberg, I decided to organize my first symposium that covered the topic of “Extending experimental cognitive research with ACT-R”. In addition to my own talk, I had invited former colleagues from Berlin and a colleague from Heidelberg. I also received very kind and encouraging support by Professor Verena Nitsch, who had provided a fascinating guest lecture at CrossWorlds just a few month before.
Flamenco, old memories and long flights
The 2nd International Meeting of the Psychonomic Society in Granada was the first international conference that I attended since starting my PhD, and this experience particularly increased my confidence in presenting my results at an international stage to a broader audience. Moreover, the conference attendance really fostered the development of my scientific network, particularly during the social events. Such was even more the case within a speed mentoring session, which had been organized by the related society for “Women in Cognitive Science” and took place right before the conference started. All social events were really impressive, since the organizers had put a lot of effort into providing us unforgettable experiences. The welcome reception included a typical flamenco show that was truly amazing, another event comprised an exclusive guided tour through the Alhambra, which usually has a long waiting list for tourists, and the conference dinner took place in the beautiful Alhambra Gardens. In addition to getting familiar with the beauty of these places, during all events I could chat with interesting and important people in my field, discuss my research and get helpful advice that supported me in proceeding within my PhD project.
A further highlight in 2016 consisted in the chance to refresh old memories by visiting Bochum, my former place of residence for four vivid, instructive and also challenging years. The occasion was another international conference, the 9th International Cognitive Load Theory Conference that especially addressed research related to the Cognitive Load Theory, a main focus of my PhD research. Since lots of “big names” in the field were present at the event, above all John Sweller himself, it was quite overwhelming!
However, the excitement still went on due to my first trip to the USA to attend the 14th International Conference on Cognitive Modeling at Penn State University. After a long flight that involved a change of planes and a panic attack, I arrived at the cutest little airport I have seen so far and was suddenly called “ma’am” by the polite people everywhere. A strange experience, but I was really impressed by the wide space everywhere and of course the nice people (although I had some difficulties with the accent in the beginning). To finally meet the international ACT-R community in person was at least as overwhelming as the experience in Bochum before! In addition to the scientific part, I had some time to discover hidden treasures of the city, like the Arboretum or the Palmer Museum of Art. When I looked out of the plane window during my departure, I already started to miss the spacious surroundings and the cosy buildings, and promised myself to come back some day.
With reference to my conference visits, the speed of events did not slow down in 2017. As every year in early spring, the Conference of Experimental Psychologists took place. It was held for the 59th time this year and located at the University of Dresden. My colleagues from Berlin had organized a symposium on cognition and emotion in human-machine interaction and invited me to contribute a talk. Due to the more applied focus of the session, I chose a study that had been conducted within the bachelor thesis of one of my students and focused on interrupting features of hyperlinks in digital learning material. In general, the conference was quite successful and provided several interesting contacts to my scientific network. Also, I got a pretty cool coffee mug as part of my conference bag.
Getting international again
Proceeding further in the year 2017, I had the amazing opportunity to visit London on the occasion of the 39th Annual Meeting of the Cognitive Science Society. Aligned to the conference topic “Computational Foundations of Cognition”, I brought along some work-in-progress results on the ACT-R model that I develop within my PhD thesis. Since I also attended the ACT-R workshop the day prior to the main conference, the stay turned out to be a real benefit for my ongoing work. My personal highlight: I had the incredible honor to meet John Anderson in person just before the ACT-R workshop started! When I presented my poster, several established researchers from the community stepped by to provide me very helpful ideas and hints. Besides attending the conference, there was indeed some time left to explore the city, for instance by visiting the Royal Greenwich Observatory or enjoying a cold ale in front of the Thompson Reuters building in Canary Wharf.
In September 2017, I had the pleasure to attend an extraordinarily well organized 20th Conference of the European Society for Cognitive Psychology in Potsdam and enlarge my professional network across Europe. For instance, during lunch I discussed issues in multitasking research with colleagues from Belgium, or issues in embodiment research with an Italian colleague currently residing in France. I could even see Alan Baddeley, who provided amusing anecdotes during his speech at the 20th ESCoP celebration ceremony on the last conference day. Altogether, the organizers had done an extremly good job – not only by organizing the most amazing vegan chocolate muffins that I ever tasted. The conference venue was located quite close to the beautiful scenery of lake Griebnitzsee and offered the chance to enjoy a nice walk between the sessions. In addition, during one bright and sunny day, I used the opportunity to visit the impressive and beautiful park of Sanssouci palace.
Going beyond disciplines
Emerging from the interdisciplinary collaboration in the Research Training Group “CrossWorlds”, together with colleagues from the computer science faculty I organized a workshop on “Computer Science & Cognition” for the INFORMATIK 2017 in Chemnitz. We addressed cognitive research from perspectives of both psychology and computer science by featuring projects on delay in a virtual speech-based memory training, the prediction of mental workload in an air traffic controller task, instructional design features in a robot construction task, or the classification of Twitter users with a machine learning approach. Our audience raised interesting questions and provided valuable ideas, particularly in the concluding discussion on benefits and challenges of interdisciplinarity.
Before the year ended, with the play4innovation in Berlin I could attend another exciting event. Organized by the team of StrategicPlay, the open space format offered a variety of playful sessions on different topics by people from all over Europe. Besides manifold opportunities to socialize and the excellent, creative food provided by Daniel’s Eatery, the special event was truly amazing! We visited the interactive museum “The Story of Berlin” that provides a foray through the history of Berlin by using modern multimedia technology. As part of the guided tour, we even experienced the oppressive atmosphere in an original nuclear bomb shelter from the Cold War. I really got goosebumps down there, particularly when the guide explained that the shelter would never have worked in the case of emergency.
Introducing the next generation
Having arrived in 2018, on the occasion of the 60th Conference of Experimental Psychologists, in addition to my own talk on the latest results of my PhD work, I proudly introduced my master student and appreciated collaborator Shirin Esmaeili Bijarsari to the stage of the experimental psychology community. Since I had a lot of encouragement from my academic supervisors back then, I strive to pass the same experience to students under my supervision. She did very well at her poster and received quite encouraging feedback that helped her to proceed in her project. I am even more proud that she immediately performed her next appearence on the scientific stage at the 51st Congress of the German Psychological Society in Frankfurt in September.
Returning to Groningen
To add the final piece to my PhD thesis before submission, I had the amazing opportunity to return to the Cognitive Modeling Group at the University of Groningen and complete my ACT-R model under the kind supervision of Jelmer Borst. I made incredible progress during that time and also had the chance to enjoy the beauty of the city. My favorite activity: A relaxing bike ride to the Hornsemeer. An additional highlight for me as cat lover was to visit the cats café. I’m really attached to the city by now and always look forward to come back!
Visiting the Human Factors community
This years Annual Meeting of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society Europe Chapter took place in Berlin and I had the pleasure to visit it. Despite the busy “dissertation-submission-marathon” I could present a poster on the joint work with my highly valued colleague René Schmidt, a best-practice interdisciplinary piece of research that emerged from our collaboration in the Research Training Group “CrossWorlds”. It was well received by fellow researchers from the Human Factors community who stepped by to discuss our findings. In addition, we got interesting ideas for future studies, such as mentally putting our participants in a car instead of a living room. We are curious what would happen and already plan future research on that!
Enjoying Groningen again
After starting my Postdoc in November 2018 with a brand new and exciting project on distraction and attention control, I used the chance to return to Groningen again during the Cognitive Modeling Spring School to continue my modeling work on cognitive load. As before, the inspiring atmosphere helped me to make progress in my work and collect new ideas. I’m very grateful to have such great connections here!
Canadian charme in Montréal
The summer of 2019 came with a very special highlight for me: Visiting Canada for the first time to attend not one but two co-located conferences and additionally introduce myself at the Shared Reality Lab at McGill University! After a quite calm flight I could enjoy the impressive city of Montréal, a city full of opposites with high skyscrapers and historic buildings side by side. The 52nd Annual Meeting of the Society for Mathematical Psychology and the 17th International Conference on Cognitive Modeling had again joint forces and took place together. My talk that introduced cognitive modeling work from my PhD was scheduled right at the first conference day after an insightful ACT-R workshop on the day before. I was really excited that “the big names” from the community such as John Anderson and Niels Taatgen attended my talk as well!
After a very successful talk at the McGill University and an amazing trip to Mount Royal (including sunset and fireflies!), the 41st Annual Meeting of the Cognitive Science Society started and came with broad opportunities to extend my professional network. Introducing the poster of our former intern Lin Xu resulted in great feedback on future steps in this research direction. My talk afterward strengthened my networks even more, as I had the incredible opportunity to meet Andrea Stocco and Wayne Gray and discuss my research. I further had the opportunity to engage in mentoring activities and provide advice to the next academic generation, thus the trip turned out to be really worthwhile. The amazing fireworks and the beauty of Notre Dame and the Old Port only supported this impression!