First Conference Advice


This will be my first tech/analysis/programming/any conference as an attendee. Do any of the veterans have advice for making the most of it?

I would especially appreciate any advice on how to decide what sessions to attend (so many overlapping ones that sound incredible :anguished: ) and how to capture things you want to do follow up research on once you return home (I’m currently planning on my trusty pen and notebook to minimize distractions).


It’s hard to know what sessions are going to be the most relevant/engaging/informative in advance, so no advice there. My two best conference strategies are 1) write notes on the backs of people’s business cards so you know the context in which you met them or if there was a follow-up item that you wanted to reach out about, and 2) have a special page (or two or three) in your notebook for each day’s “pearls of wisdom” in addition to your more detailed notes for each session. That helps me keep the high level/big picture/big lessons in memory, and not lose them in the weeds. I also like to review my shorthand session notes right after the session to make sure they make sense and I can fill in details while I remember them. :slight_smile:


My few pieces of advice are mostly about streamlining your experience to get the maximum gain with minimum frustration:

  1. Use the app! Conference apps can be very useful to help organize your schedule as well as network with other attendees and take notes on the sessions you attend.

  2. I would recommend bringing your laptop so that you can follow along during sessions. Typing can be faster than writing, and if (for example) you see an interesting git repo you’d like to clone, you can do it on the spot rather than hastily jotting a note that may be cryptic to you later.

  3. However, if you prefer to skip the laptop, lots of people at conferences use their phones to take pictures of particularly interesting slides and/or posters. Again, not sure how rstudio::conf does it, but other conferences I’ve attended will have QR codes on posters or some slide decks - you can scan the code and get an immediate .pdf download of the content.

  4. Regarding choosing sessions - it depends on your purpose. If you’re newer to R, the sessions marked with a green leaf (indicating those useful to beginners) may be of interest. Otherwise, my approach is to pick the topics I know the least about, to give myself breadth of exposure to new things. Conferences aren’t necessarily a place to learn in-depth about topics (except for trainings / short courses), but they are a great place to find out what’s out there! Incidentally, I wonder if recordings and/or slides will be made available after the conference. I imagine you’re not the only person trying to decide between two compelling sessions that happen at the same time! @Bill or @EconomiCurtis may know?

  5. Finally, don’t feel you have to take everything in. Conferences can be overwhelming! I don’t know what the attendance of rstudio::conf will be like, but the major conference I attend every year has approx 5000 attendees. The first year I went, I tried to cram in as many sessions and as much networking as I could. You can get drained quickly doing this (especially if you’re an introvert!). Take your time, choose sessions that sound interesting to you, and don’t sweat it if every minute of your day isn’t full.

Hope this was helpful!


Most if not all sessions are going to be recorded. I’ll follow up with where those videos will be posted shortly.

Thanks for all this advice! It’s my first rstudio::conf too!


Business cards? Ewwww! What’s that? :smile:
Just exchange Twitter handles and you’re set, haha!

I’d also expect slide decks on github or on rstudio website.
People who take a picture of every slide genuinely baffle me.


In the app you’ll have the ability to swap contact details…but Twitter works too!


Yeah about that functionality - someone tried to swap details with me (IIRC it was @taraas) and I accepted, but I don’t see where the contact details get populated in the app. I thought it would be under Attendees on the My Contacts tab, but there’s no content on that tab for me.


Argh…There seem to be a few issues with the app…Apologies. We are talking to the creators. Please let me know if you run into anything else.


Thanks for the quick feedback @Bill!


No worries, and will do!


I haven’t been to an R conference, so business cards may be outdated, but they’re still nice to have. Make your own and bring some in case anyone wants them.

Now, let’s be honest: conferences are inefficient for learning. We have the internet, so physically going somewhere is only worth it if you get something else. What you get with conferences is other people face-to-face, which is still the best way to have a conversation. If there’s any session where you could imagine talking to somebody when it’s done (the presenter, other attendees), go to it.


Yeah it’s pretty clunky. Oh well, what can you do. We’ll get by!


First of all, have fun!

I have been to satRday and the useR in brussels and I was there to make fun, I talked to some people I admired and they were really nice! I was pretty flexible in what talks I would attend, sometimes it was just too busy so I walked out of the talk and took the time to start some side projects, some with people I just met. It is a bit rude to walk out of a talk but sometimes the speakers didn’t seem to realize they were just reading out their slides and that is not what I want to listen to.

I would recommend taking notes of the presentations, I also took notes of who I met and how I could find them.
It is a bit weird to ask at first, but if you don’t ask people for their twitter or github handle or website or something they can be really hard to find!
It is also a bit weird to talk to completely strangers on a conference but it most of the people don’t mind and were very open. (a trick I saw and consequently copied was: when talking to others, leave the group a bit open to one side so others can join in)

I think conferences are great for getting inspired, so quickly making notes of inspiration in a separate page is a great idea, also try to revisit those ideas the same day, working them out a bit to make sure you don’t forget what it was about. And at the same time accept that you will end up not using some or most of those ideas.


It’s useful to take pictures of the handful of slides you want to remember so you don’t have to find and sort through long slide decks.


Agree. I stopped taking detailed notes at conferences because I found that I didn’t tend to look at them. I do keep a list of speakers / topics / dates, which you think you’ll remember when you’re at the conference but likely won’t a few months later.