I am currently attending a conference which is simultaneously one of my favorite and one of the most socially awkward conferences I go to on a regular basis. The conference is big (over 2,000 people) and diverse enough that I probably only know about 100 of those people (maybe – this is kind of hard to estimate). So I feel like I spend a lot of time standing around awkwardly at coffee breaks and I tend to only see the people I actually know when I’m in the middle of session or running to the bathroom. I usually eventually get to catch up with everyone I know, and it’s always fun when I do. However, I do sometimes feel like I’m back in high school, especially when I see someone who is famous (in science) and I’m too shy to talk to them.
Anyway, beyond the social aspects of this conference, it’s both scientifically inspiring and demoralizing at the same time. The meeting is full of people with lots of funding who have great ideas and are on the cutting edge of their fields. This can be awesome to see, but also makes me feel like the projects that I’m working on are insignificant. I think everyone who isn’t at the top of their field feels like this once and a while, so I try not to let it get me down too much, but it’s difficult. I need to learn how to deal with it, though – I don’t think the situation is going to change very much in the near future. Seeing the awesome stuff is totally worth it, though.