This weekend I went to ComSciCon-Chicago, hosted at Northwestern University. Two days of panels, workshops, speakers, and networking.
The first panel was titled "breaking up with the bench" and I frankly found it a bit soft-toothed. The panelists were four science communicators at varying stages of their career, but the resonating vibe of their comments and responses to questions were "It's hard to transition from doing research to doing science communication, but we did it, so so can you!". But without any actual content. They were all success stories in breaking up with the bench, but this felt like a distinct problem of attrition bias. They don't really provide useful examples of how to do things, they're simply examples of people who've had success. The fact that none of them seemed to face exceptional opposition in pursuing their breakup with the bench makes them not so useful for the people in the audience who are facing such problems.
As someone who broke up with the bench about a year ago, and in that instance mostly through the luck of Hazel taking the role of program director, I think it would have been as useful to have someone able to speak on how to deal with the work environment hurdles researchers typically face if they try and dissent from the standard academic route.
Another panel was about science outreach and education, and one of the big problems I had with the talk (I was rather tired as it was the end of the conference) was that their biggest tip was to "do the extra effort outside of work, volunteer, etc.". I find the advice of "volunteer where you want to work" sorta condescending. Most of us are graduate students, working for poor salaries and trying to work through our programs. To suggest that we do ADDITIONAL work that isn't supported by our committees, and aren't even necessarily directly associated with what you want to do (akin to working your way up from the mailroom at a major corporation, a concept that I think was not feasible back when Michael J Fox did it in The Secret of My Success, provided you were working for free at said mailroom).
But, I'm not all doom and gloom. I successfully networked (although I think the concept of networking is semantically stupid) and made three great connections (but to be honest, they're just three great friends). Two were from my peer editing group, one, Divya, does research on Indian desert jirds and their prey-predator dynamics, and was a good personality match; we both liked to be critical and mumble-grumble after each panel/workshop. AJ does data visualization work, and was just a cool dude. Finally, the crown gem of the connections was Liza, who does biomedical visualization/illustration, as well as some game-based learning stuff. And we hit it off with conversations about not only my research but also stuff like octopuses and other neat topics.
Suffice to say the best part of the conference were my new friends.