We’re now 7 days away from SfN’s Annual Meeting …and counting. Anyone who knows anything about SfN knows the first cardinal rule of surviving the meeting: plan (everything) ahead of time. Gone are the days when I would attempt to attend every talk, lecture and symposia that tickled my scientific fancy. That’s not to say I’m not as excited this year as I have been every other year I’ve attended – only that, this time, I am considering myself a slightly more experienced voyageur of the land known as SfN.

What are some signs that you’re an experienced voyageur?

(1) For starters – you have taken advantage of SfN’s Online Meeting Planner and have compiled a personal itinerary. One nice thing about the planner is that it acts kind of as a personal secretary and alerts you if any of your chosen events conflict (confession: I have a few of those…final decisions to be made soon). I will be sure to write up a post previewing some of the events I plan to attend and blog about at the meeting.

(2) You have planned your sustenance. Take snacks. Take a water bottle. Bring along several tea packets (or instant coffee if you can stomach such strange things). If your hotel offers a snack/food bar – grab something before you head out as the lines will likely be much shorter than what you’ll find at the conference site. I’ll refrain from giving much more advice here. Instead, I encourage you to check out Pascal’s post “Food for Thought” for a more in-depth coverage of how to keep up your energy levels throughout the conference.

(3) You can answer one question: “Why am I here?” Not metaphysically, of course, but more specifically: why are you attending the meeting at all? There is no “one size fits all” approach to thriving in the land of SfN – it depends very heavily on what you are hoping to gain from attending the meeting.

If you’re an eager undergraduate student simply excited to be part of the scientific bustle and without a necessarily committed or narrow research focus, then your approach will be quite different than the more committed graduate student and even more different than the post-doc who wants to network with people in his/her field. I realize this is an over-simplification of the various possibilities but I trust you can fill in the spectrum. All that matters is that you can answer the question for yourself.

(4) You connect and re-connect. It probably goes without saying that SfN is as much a networking opportunity as it is a way to keep yourself up-to-date with the most current research in the field – but here I am saying it, anyway. It’s a wonderful networking opportunity! One of my favourite networking events to attend is the “Women in Neuroscience” luncheon, but you don’t need an official event to network.

This year, I’m looking forward to meeting old coworkers, classmates and friends from the NIH and my undergraduate institution. It’s important keep your connections with old mentors, classmates and coworkers strong even as you voyage the sea of scientists to forge new relationships. Even if it may not feel like it as you make your way through the crowds at the conference, the scientific community can be rather small and the degrees of separation will. surprise. you.

(5) You have some plans to explore the city! If you haven’t heard: San Diego is pretty well known for its zoo. Especially for those of you flying half-way across the world to attend this conference, it is probably worth making the effort to check out this world-renowned zoo (I’ll bet anything that the neuroethologists already have it on their itinerary!)

Those of you more-experienced voyageurs out there: have I missed anything?