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I'm an undergraduate about to finish my first year of undergraduate research in CS. This past year has been mostly engineering-based as I learned how things worked in terms of implementation.

I expressed a desire to my advisor about (for next year) moving from engineering / implementation of others' ideas into creating my own novel ideas and research, and how to appropriately bridge this gap. He suggested that I attend a conference in my field to learn more and get a better idea of the sort of problems out there.

My question is -- how should I go about preparing for attending a conference? Should I read all the accepted papers, and read the papers that have background information that they use that I'm not familiar with? Or is there some other better method?

I know that this question is similar, but I'm more interested in finding out how can I learn the most from this experience as an attendee vs a presenter.

1 Answer 1

Start by checking the program. Conferences in computer science are often organized into sessions, with all papers presented in a session having a common theme. Find the sessions that cover topics of interest to you. If the conference has multiple parallel sessions (tracks), make a plan of which sessions you'll attend.

For sessions you plan to attend,

  • Read up on the general topic of the session, to get a sense of what the important problems are in that area.
  • Skim the papers that will be presented in the session, with the goal of understanding what kind of work is being presented in the session. Try to extract the main idea from each paper, and understand why it is an interesting and worthwhile contribution to the literature. (Don't worry about not understanding a lot of it.)

Does the conference have any panels scheduled? These are a good way to find out about interesting topics in a more informal and interactive way.

Plan to be an active participant, not just a passive listener. Is there a poster session? Poster sessions are great because they're designed for attendees to talk to participants about their research. Go to coffee breaks and lunches, and find some nice grad students (or other researchers) to chat with about their work. If you are having an interesting conversation and the coffee break ends, don't worry about missing a talk you were planning on attending - the ideas shared in hallway conversations are much more useful than the actual talks at the conference.