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I will be attending my first computer science conference and after reading the advice for how to improve conferences I noticed the several suggestions were about grad students attending their first conference.

What advice do you have for a grad student attending his first conference and what should his focus be.

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  1. Talk to people, even if they are scary big names.
  2. Attend all the keynote/invited presentations.
  3. Attend the talks most relevant to you.
  4. Don't be afraid to ask questions.
  5. Attend the social events, meet other graduate students, have fun.
  6. Talk enthusiastically about your research.
    Make sure you have a 1 minute pitch describing your work, plus a 5 minute description, and also be prepared to enter into a more detailed discussion.
  7. Ask people about their research.
    Simply asking what are you working on? will get the conversation started.
  8. Be open to possible collaborations, and follow up after the conference.
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    $\begingroup$ 6. is sound advice, but on the other hand, visibly trying hard to impress senior people in your field would seem somewhat lame (at least to me), so don't be too serious about that. $\endgroup$ – Marcin Kotowski Nov 24 '11 at 18:32
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    $\begingroup$ I think you are unwittingly combining 1 and 6. You need to be able to talk about your research, otherwise you'll come across as foolish, regardless of who you are talking too. $\endgroup$ – Dave Clarke Nov 24 '11 at 19:03
  • $\begingroup$ I agree with everything except number 3. I discovered early on that I simply cannot absorb anything from more than about 10 talks per day; your mileage may vary. The conversations in the hallways (see "social events") are more important than the talks; you can always read the papers later (or in many cases, earlier). $\endgroup$ – Jeffε Nov 25 '11 at 15:53
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    $\begingroup$ I adapted number 3. (It previously said "Attend most talks.") $\endgroup$ – Dave Clarke Nov 25 '11 at 16:12
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I don't know what it is worth, but the advice I was given was to

  1. Read the summary of the proceedings as soon as it is given to you (bring your laptop, sometimes it is on a USB stick)
  2. See which talk may interest you, read the abstract+paper if you are interested
  3. Then listen to the talks that you are interested in, after having read the paper (keep the paper open during the talk in case you need to catch up)
  4. As much as possible, go talk to people, meet new people, especially people working on similar stuff, ask question.

During the talk you are not so much interested in, you don't necessarily need all the pre-talk stuff, but always have the paper about the talk open, otherwise you will be lost at some point.

Anyway, I think the definite focus would be \begin{cliché} To get as much as you can from this experience \end{cliché} but not only by listening to talks, also by talking with people, asking questions (to anyone, do not be afraid, usually people are really open to discussion even if they are well-known (might be busier however)).

Final advice, be careful, there are many talks so it is easy to lose focus. Some will be much more important for you; it is better not to follow a talk you are not interested in and fully follow one you are interested in than follow half of them (IMHO).

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