Luke Jones, Research Development Administrator at the University of Birmingham reflects on his first time at the ARMA Conference and provides some top tips for 2016.

Last year saw ARMA stage its biggest conference yet, with over 750 delegates, 34 sponsors and exhibitors, and a glitzy awards dinner present and correct. Although Brighton was my first ARMA conference, I could tell from the start of registration that there was a sense this year would be different. While I had some idea of what to expect, I quickly found that the scale of the event meant there was a higher level of intensity than expected. I had to plan carefully in order to maximise the benefit from the time available. Here are some lessons that newcomers and veterans might find useful:

• Choose wisely – it’s easy to register for sessions just on their title, but if you dig deeper your experience will be much more rewarding. Read the synopsis before registering, see who will be speaking and think about whether you really need to attend 5 out of 6 sessions on ‘impact’.

• Be open – most of us want to portray our institutions in the best light. Yet the best advice I received came from admitting to people the problems I face within my institution. Not only is it comforting to hear that others face the same problems, I gained valuable suggestions on how to mediate these difficulties.

• Engage – make sure to exploit the opportunities presented to you. Exchange contact details with your peers. Swap business cards with companies that you might work with in the future. Ask questions during sessions, and if you’d like more detail seek the speaker out afterwards.

• No research administrator is an island – there were up to 10 options for each session at Brighton. Unless you have a time-travelling DeLorean in your garage then you will miss out on at least 80% of the seminars available. So liaise with other colleagues, at your institution and beyond, to cover any interesting seminars that you would otherwise miss.

• Butt in (nicely) – if you’re new to these conferences then it might seem like everybody knows each other. While catching up with colleagues is a large part of these conferences, many people simply know how to network. So don’t be afraid to join conversations and talk to the people next to you during seminars. Similarly, if you’re an ARMA veteran and you can see someone floundering then invite them to join your group; not only is it a nice thing to do but you’re helping to support the future of research support.

• Pace yourself – attending a busy conference is like going to a theme park; you want to see all the sights, but rush around and you’ll have a miserable time. So while breaks between sessions are great opportunities for networking don’t be afraid to allow yourself 5 minutes away from the rabble. Perhaps tidy up your notes or grab some fresh air (I hope most at ARMA 2015 got chance to walk along Brighton’s promenade). You’ll be sharper, and you might make it to the end of the conference without needing a holiday!

(First Published: The Protagonist, issue 2 by ARMA and Research Media)