It has come to my attention that there are several classifications of the attendees at academic conferences in the sciences. I have had the distinct pleasure to come into contact with several of these people, and will attempt to produce something akin to a field identification guide for the layperson(read: conference newbie).*
Category 1: The Fashion Deviants
This seems to most often be the professor/advisor who feels cargo pants and t-shirts constitute conference attire. They are found sporting water bottles stuffed into the side of their large backpacks. Often, when viewing this sort, the image of a 1800’s frontier’s man comes to mind. They can, and often do, sport the full growth of facial hair to complete the look of rugged adventurer. Under no circumstances are you to disagree with their opinions, or offer a different viewpoint, on whatever niche they claim. Failure to heed this rule can result in lengthy a debate(read: you being told exactly why your new, con-fangled idea is horribly wrong and will likely bring the scientific community crashing down under the weight of its own stupidity). You have been warned…
Category 2: The Don’t Bother Me’s
These conference goers will often be found muttering to themselves as they more from talk to talk. They are found alone, and rarely seen in groups. The often wear a permanent scowl and are not receptive to strangers. If you want to keep all of your fingers I recommend that you handle this specimen with care. Approach only if you have food, a free trinket, or something to distract them long enough to introduce yourself and maybe ask a question.
Category 3: The Gunner
This type will be found in almost every talk. They will ask questions with 15 parts, and will have follow-up questions for the speaker’s answers as well. They are a leech on the little free time available to the audience to ask questions. There is no way to successfully avoid the gunner. One possibility, is to go to the most oddly timed talk, or one that is scheduled at the same time as a popular speaker. This is the only known way to reduce exposure to the gunner type.
Category 4: Normal
This last type will be found in well represented numbers at conferences, particularly when there is free booze and food available. Seek the free food and booze and you will find a haven of semi-normality.
*These categories are not meant to be taken seriously, and are only a playful look at the diverse and unique atmosphere that academic conferences present.