An insight into how scientists really use conferences and social media

Scientist Rafael Luque on how he decides which conferences to attend, and the role that social media plays in networking.

Chemist Rafael Luque works in the Department of Organic Chemistry at the University of Cordoba. His research aims to convert waste into useful materials, fuels and chemicals and since 2008 he has used ResearchGate to connect with other researchers around the world.

Q) Rafael, how many conferences do you attend each year, and how do you choose which ones?


I usually attend between 10-15 conferences per year. There are a huge number to choose from, so the research topics needs to be highly relevant in order to justify investing time and money to attend. The first thing I do is look for the topics on conference websites and information from speakers.

Chemist and ResearchGate member Rafael Luque

It also helps if I’m friendly with the keynote speakers or other researchers who are attending a conference. Conferences are a convenient way to learn about new research but what it comes down to for me is building professional relationships and making friends. At conferences, I get the opportunity to spend time with peers and from all over the world. Maybe later on, I help them with their research and they help me with mine.


Location of a conference can also sway the decision – I’m much more likely to choose a conference in a city I like. Two weeks ago I attended a conference in Berlin and now I’m in Budapest. Both are cities I like and where I have friends who sometimes also invite me as a plenary/keynote/invited speaker.


Q) How do you usually learn about a new conference?


There are the established conferences in my field that I attend every year (ICC and Europacat), but to learn about new conference it usually takes a mixture of word of mouth and advertising. I could be invited by a peer or by one of my ResearchGate followers, or sometimes I’ll see an advert on a website or a whitepaper promoted by a conference, and then I’ll research to find out more.


Q) Have you ever met someone at a conference and then connected with them on ResearchGate?


Yes, it definitely happens! The first time was in 2008 when I attended the EuChems Conference in Torino. I was talking to someone from the group about ResearchGate because it was a fairly new concept, and it turned out that he was already a member. We exchanged details to keep in touch afterwards.


Q) Have you ever connected with someone on ResearchGate and then arranged to meet them at a conference?


This also happens! I make a lot of connections on ResearchGate; if I see that they’re producing interesting research, answering questions to relevant topics or working on a project that I want to follow. I have over 1,000 of these contacts, and if I see an opportunity to meet at a conference I take it. One time I met two of my connections from India – Pacha and Saravana – which was very cool! We met to discuss new ideas and ended up publishing a few joint papers together.


Also years ago, I worked with Rick Arancon, a student from the Philippines, via ResearchGate on a catalyst for biofuel made from what’s left over if you nibble the corn off a corn cob. Later on, I invited him to come and speak about our work together at a conference and soon after he started working with me in my lab in Spain.


In both cases, ResearchGate brought us together initially but conferences helped us build our professional relationships further.


Q) Do you read conference papers? If so, how do you find them?


When I have time to read publications, it’s usually because the people I follow on ResearchGate have uploaded them.


Q) You’ve uploaded 14 conference papers to ResearchGate. How happy are you with the amount of readers you reach?


It’s always a great feeling when I see that someone has read my work. I believe that science should be shared, and it is validation that what I’m doing is meaningful. The industry is obsessed with metrics that show their impact in science, such as the h-index and RG Score, so the number of reads also helps with this!


Q) What do you love about conferences? Do you think ResearchGate could ever take their place in delivering this value?


Going to a conference has so many benefits; the exchange of information, sharing scientific ideas and connecting with others. You get a similar feeling on ResearchGate, but humans are social creatures so there is nothing quite like connecting with others in face-to-face. The two don’t need to be mutually exclusive though; people can learn more about the conference papers on the platform, and perhaps there could be event streaming on the platform – like a virtual conference – to act as an exchange forum for those who cannot get to the physical location.

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