Networking across the pond- ‘Celebrating good times’ in San Diego

Networking across the pond- ‘Celebrating good times’ in San Diego

Networking across the pond- ‘Celebrating good times’ in San Diego

During my PhD I had the wonderful opportunity to travel to academic conferences to present my research. From smaller national conferences in UK cities to larger keystone gatherings in Belgium and Vietnam. Having thought my conference days were behind me, I was thrilled to be able to attend the BIO International Convention in San Diego, California, to promote our commercialisation projects and raise the commercial interest for Institute research. Dr James Dooley from the Liston lab also joined us to seek investment and promote Aila Biotech, a recent spin-out from the Institute and member of this year’s Accelerate@Babraham cohort.

Having the academic conference experience in my locker, I was surprised at the comparable differences when it comes to industry conventions.

How do academic conferences and trade shows compare?

  Academic conference Industry event
Main focus Presenting your work and finding/catching up with collaborators Presenting your translational opportunities for licensing and investment for spin-outs
Presenting Your research to the field Company pitches, licensing opportunities and promoting facilities
Exhibitors Promoting research consumables and services Promoting manufacturing services (CDMOs), contract research (CROs) and supplementary services for business development e.g. intellectual property (IP)
Information sharing Group talks and poster sessions Pitching sessions, panel discussions on current trends and 1:1 partnering meetings
Networking Activities arranged by the organisers. Usually catching up with existing collaborators or seeking new collaboration. Lots of organised social mixers in the form of dinners, parties, breakfasts and drinks receptions. These are a significant part of the event and attendance is expected.
Attendees Academics, research councils, funders etc. Big pharma, investors, tech transfer offices, CEO and business development teams, consultants, CDMOs, IP lawyers

Now to touch on the highlights, challenges and top tips for anyone attending their first industry conference.


As a natural networker, I really enjoyed the time I spent talking to other attendees.

  • Having access to a wide range of exciting content - there were plenty of sessions on business development, IP and challenges facing the industry. Often presented as panel sessions, they provided the opportunity to discuss topics from different perspectives and invited audience participation throughout.
  • Great conversations with people from other areas - it was fantastic and very inspiring to hear the goals and challenges of colleagues from other tech transfer offices, as well as start-up CEOs, big pharma and everything in between. I met some fascinating people and it really developed my understanding of the biotech industry, networking skills and confidence in my skillset.
  • The diversity of networking receptions - there was really something for everyone both in terms of scientific theme and how you like to network e.g. a large Hawaiian-themed reception, small breakfast sessions with pastries or an event on an aircraft carrier with a guest appearance from Kool & the Gang with accompanying fireworks! Definitely set a high bar for future networking events (one which unfortunately is unlikely to be met).


These events can have their downsides too, I found these mostly to be logistical and could apply these to lots of scientific conferences too.

  • The size of the conference both in terms of the number of delegates (>13,000) and the vast exhibition space (>600,000 sq ft) made the conference a four-day marathon. It was both physically and mentally demanding with regular time-outs needed to rehydrate and relax, although I think I came back physically fitter from all the walking!
  • The work hours - the day programme ran from 8am to 5pm but, in addition, there were breakfast networking sessions and evening receptions to attend (sometimes multiple) making your day run from 6am to 11pm at its busiest.
  • Being out of time zone - California was eight hours behind the UK when I went in June which meant there was limited time in the day to check in with family/friends and work colleagues back home. I found this quite isolating at times.

General tips:

Reflecting on how my time at BIO went, here are some tips for others who might be new to networking or new to industry events.

  • Don’t be tempted to sign up for everything - it can be overwhelming and makes it difficult to fully engage in those sessions/events that are most useful to you.
  • Networking as a junior team member - everyone is more welcoming than you might think and, although it can be intimidating to talk to network when you’re early in your career, everyone has been in that position at some point and wants to know what you have to offer (there will always be something!).
  • Find time to step out into the sun (or rain) and be around ‘non-conference’ people - no matter how much love and passion you have for what you do, it’s important to remember there is a world just on the other side of the conference centre wall. Grabbing a coffee and watching the world go by for 20 minutes was great for some quiet time.
  • Stay professional - networking is always a careful balance of connection without over-connection. However long you stay up dancing the night away, make sure you’ll have the energy in the tank for tomorrow.
  • Stay hydrated - networking is thirsty work and with so many new people, conversations, information sessions and a busy programme, it’s easy to forget to hydrate.

From this experience I have discovered that networking pays off, not just for moving projects forwards and career development, but sometimes sooner than you think, like at the end of BIO when my flight home was cancelled and I needed a hand arranging a hotel for an extra night!