As a graduate student, I've been able to attend several different conferences, and hope to attend many more. Conferences are a fantastic opportunity for a graduate student. The benefits of attending conferences are immense. As a graduate student, it's important to take advantage of them and get the most out them as you can. And besides, FREE vacation!!! Am I right???? Ok, not so much. Conferences are very costly. Not just monetarily, but also for your time and energy.
They call these "Opportunity costs". These are something that a graduate student is all too aware of, even if they don't have a name for it. Money spent on a new Taylor Swift album isn't available for Wednesday's lunch. Energy devoted to prepare for a lab section isn't available to create a new project. Time spent traveling and sitting in talks isn't available to spend writing or on your research project.
I was reminded of this while I was traveling to the recent SICB conference in Portland. By the time I had added up all of the time spent traveling (car, plane, light rail, walking), waiting in lines, sitting in talks, and presenting my work, I was a little freaked out. Don't get me wrong, I had an amazing time and wouldn't do it differently. However, it did make me think about the costs of attending and being involved in conferences and meetings. It put into perspective how valuable time and energy are as a graduate student.
Our time and energy are already in high demand and in short supply. Between our own research, teaching, and classes (if you haven't finished yet), it's exhausting. I'm not complaining here, as I did sign up for this. I am saying that it takes a toll on you, especially if you're striving for balance (i.e. friends, family, hobbies). With the birth of our daughter last September, I've been struggling to appropriate my time, energy, and attention to the right places and (more importantly) at the right moments. Thankfully, I have an amazing wife who helps out so much and understands when I need to be gone for longer days or long trips. Seriously, she's awesome. I have to constantly remind myself of what my priorities are and then plan accordingly. (Insert debate over work-life balance here...keeping in mind that is looks totally different for everyone).
So I'm going to take advantage of the conferences in my field. I'm going to attend, present, and mingle. But I'm going to remember to take into account the opportunity costs of attending and make sure my priorities are in line with what I'm trying to accomplish.