We just finished a round of faculty development grants in the Department of Medicine. It is always a happy task to award money to deserving applicants.
The faculty we reviewed plan to attend conferences on topics from doctor-patient communication to academic leadership. I remember my first professional conference. I diligently highlighted sessions in the agenda ahead of time but was then disappointed when I was one of only a handful of people in the meeting rooms.
Soon I discovered that most of the action happens at the hotel bar or in the corridors. The networking opportunities–not the paper presentations–were the most valuable part of the experience. One expert who elaborates on this advice has a blog post about how to maximize conference participation.