The SFN Annual Meeting is famous for the overwhelming barrage of science being fire-hosed at you. It is intimidating and can be impersonal.
Almost equally famous, particularly for the experienced hands, are the evening thematic socials. These are gatherings that may be focused on a scientific topic (Dopamine), University, lab (for the big ones), academic society (yes, the competition comes to SFN to troll for members) and/or organized by vendors (such as a journal/publisher).
Here is a list of the things I accomplished at one social this year:
-Talked with a colleague from whom I requested an emergency grant support letter just prior to the meeting. I explained the wheres/whys and thanked her profusely.
-Chatted with a colleague who is in semi-competition with one of our research domains. We worked some stuff out, talked a little about plans and I hope pre-empted what could have been bad feelings on one side or another.
-I met a junior scientist (that I didn't know except second hand) who had asked me for a letter of support for a grant application on the recommendation of a PO. This person told me more about the project and I was able to comment on a few things.
-Met a philanthropist who donated to a lab in which I have an interest. I kid you not.
-Chatted with a more-senior member of my field who is of pretty high stature in a subfield. I would not necessarily have gotten to know this investigator absent this particular SFN social over the past couple of years. This PI commented about my research directions in a thoughtful way that shows she actually knows me beyond social recognition.
-Met a postdoc who is nearing the job market in a subfield in which I have slightly better than average ear-tuning about job openings. I will be able to forward things that I hear about to this person now.
That's off the top of my head. I am sure there were several less-obviously work-related conversations that in fact have a work-related component to them.
So there are two points.
First, when you hear people talking about this or that fantastic party they attended at SFN, remember that these socials are there for work and career related purposes.
Second, the party that I am referring to was BANTER, organized by Scientopia's very own Dr Becca over the past five or six years. The organizing theme is not any of the usual one that you might think of as being specific to your career interests. It is based on the online science community, most especially the Twitter-based neuroscience community. It is not screened for any particular subdomain of neuroscience, including mine, and yet I had the above-mentioned interactions.
The implication* of this latter observation is that you can engage in useful work-related conversations at almost any SFN social, which means that it can be less forced. Go to the ones where you have the most interest, or an "in" or whatever. The key is to be....well....social.
*I think it also points to how firmly BANTER has become implanted on the SFN social map. Well done Dr Becca, well done.