Lessons Learned for Attending Conferences

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Figure 1: APEC  2016 held in Long Beach, CA.

The 2016 Applied Power Electronics Conference (APEC 2016) was recently held in Long Beach, CA, and I had the opportunity to attend.  At a week long, the conference covered the full gamut of topics; electric vehicle power trains, semiconductors, smart grids, power converters, power controllers, modeling and simulation, renewable energy, transformers, you name it.

Being a mechanical engineer specializing in power electronics packaging, my interest was naturally drawn to the 3D Power Packaging industry session.  The seven presentations covered additive manufacturing (3D printing), embedding components in circuit cards, and component cooling just to name a few.  As expected, I found a couple to be extremely applicable to my work, a few to be interesting but not usable, and a couple to be very meh.

I also spent several hours walking the exhibition floor, networking with suppliers.  Of particular interest were laminated bus bar suppliers, high power capacitors, and custom magnetics assemblers – items that need to progress in order to optimize the size weight and power (SWaP) of my designs.

All in all, it was a successful week, and I really enjoyed the conference.  I left with a lot of technical information, and many lessons learned for improving my next conference experience, which I will share with you now.

Conferences are always in need of content.  As evidence, look no further than the number of conferences that extend their deadlines for abstract submissions, or the number of presentations which seem to be thrown together at the last minute.  In fact my wife often tells me, except for television, every media outlet needs content.  Therefore, don’t be afraid to submit abstracts often.

Make sure all personal electronics are fully charged before arriving at the conference, or have spare batteries.  Despite the numerous charging stations set up by the conference and the convention center, outlets were a highly sought commodity.  Next time, I’m going to bring a power strip or two, and charge people to use my outlets.

Find out ahead of time if lunch will be served on the exhibition floor.  The APEC floor had dozens of buffet stations with plenty of seating.  Had I known, I wouldn’t have grabbed lunch at the Hyatt before hitting the floor, and saved myself (or more accurately, my company) a few bucks.

The exhibitors are there to talk to you, so don’t be shy about asking them questions. Yes, some can seem aggressive, especially if they’re in sales, but that’s their job.  Don’t let that intimidate you.  If it helps to calm the nerves, work out your questions ahead of time, and scribble their answers in a notebook or your phone.  Also, don’t forget to grab their freebies.

Bring your business cards.  In most cases, the exhibitors were able to scan my badge to record my contact info.  But there were instances in which the scanner wasn’t working or the exhibitor did not have one.  That’s when business cards are still needed.  Fortunately, I remembered to grab a stack of mine before leaving the office.

Save your in-depth networking for Day Two.  I found the first day of the exhibition to be too busy and loud to have involved discussions on the floor.  The high energy in the room seemed to have everyone buzzing and somewhat distracted.  Day Two was more relaxed, making conversations easier.

Have a basic plan of what you want to accomplish. What products or information are you looking for?  What presentations do you want to hear?  Are there specific vendors you want to see?  This plan will increase your efficiency and keep you from rushing to accomplish everything.

Bring a bag for the free material you’ll obtain.  Catalogs, component samples, pens, USB drives, flyers, business cards, stress balls… they all can’t be carried in your hands.  Either bring a professional looking bag with you, make your first stop an exhibitor giving away tote bags.  Your journey will be much more comfortable.

To conclude, be proactive about finding conferences and symposiums.  Bring them to your supervisor’s attention and request funding to attend.  Remember to focus on the Return on Investment (ROI) in your request.  Offer to present your findings to your group.  Even if the funding request is denied, still consider attending on your own time (if the conference is local) and presenting your findings. Either way demonstrates initiative to improve both yourself and your group – a quality required as you advance in responsibility.

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