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Career Tips

How to cultivate ideas from a conference

by Brought to you by ACS Careers
March 30, 2019 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 97, Issue 13


Illustration of a person with many ideas.
Credit: Shutterstock
Jot down those ideas before they fade away.

You attended the ACS national meeting and spent a blissful week at technical sessions, conversing with colleagues, and reigniting your passion for your science. Now it’s time to head home, but how do you keep those ideas and maintain that enthusiasm once you’re back to your regular routine? Here are some methods that may help.

Document your ideas. As soon as you can, whether it’s in your hotel room at night or on the plane ride home, write down all those great ideas you had for new analytical methods, research directions, or compounds to test. This ensures that you won’t forget them, and it also serves as a tangible reminder of your new plans. Include as much detail as possible—the palest ink is more powerful than the strongest memory.

Connect with a colleague. One of the best ways to make yourself accountable is to tell someone else about your plans. If your idea involves a collaboration with a new partner, send them an email or give them a quick call as soon as you get back, even if it’s just to set up a time to have a longer conversation. Having someone else expect you to do something will make it more urgent and more likely that you’ll actually get it done. If your idea was sparked by unpublished work, you could contact the presenter to ask for details or a preprint of the paper.

Prioritize. Realistically, if you add this new project, something else is not going to get done. Where does this new project fall on your priority list, and what does it displace?

Block off time. It’s easy to think you’ll do something when you get some free time, but it’s much harder to get that free time. Instead, block off 30 min or an hour on your calendar, even if it’s a couple of weeks from now, to work on this idea. If it’s a long-term project, make it a recurring event. Regular follow-up and attention are required if a project is going to succeed.

Start the research. Do a quick literature search, source the starting materials, and start scoping out the parameters of the project. Which parts seem the most likely to succeed? Which ideas seem the easiest to implement? You can begin anywhere, but start mapping out your plan of attack.

Tag a teammate. At the team meeting where you report what you learned at the conference (because you do share what you learned with the entire team, right?), find someone who is as excited by the possibility as you are. Assign (or ask) that person to start looking into the feasibility, resources needed, timelines, and so on. Agree on what and by when your colleague is going to report to you.

Conferences are great ways to get out of your professional box and get inspired. But don’t let that new light get blocked out when you get back to your office. Take concrete steps to make it happen, and reward yourself when you make solid progress. Pretty soon, you’ll be the one at a conference presenting those new results.


Get involved in the discussion. The ACS Career Tips column is published the first week of every month in C&EN. Post your comments, follow the discussion, and suggest topics for future columns in the Career Development section of the ACS Network (


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