Nine things I wish I had known the first time I came to NIPS

1. Everyone at NIPS has felt like an impostor at some point. Most people probably still do.

Let’s start with the most important. Machine learning is getting super trendy and there are now all these rock stars and machine learning legends. You, in contrast, just got started and feel like an impostor in the community.

2. It seems like everyone knows each other already. They don’t.

Walking around the conference, it’s easy to get the impression that everyone already knows each other. They don’t.

3. You don’t need to go to all the talks. That’s not really the point.

You don’t need to go to all of the talks. In fact, please do not try to go to all of the talks! That’s not the point of a conference.

4. Don’t just attend the talks you think you should.

Next, you might think that if you’re only going to attend a few talks a day, you should pick the talks most immediately relevant to your own research. But I’d encourage you to use some of your time here exploring one or two topics that are entirely new to you, topics that just sound really exciting. You might find interesting connections to your own work that you never would have expected!

5. Asking a question is a good excuse to start a conversation.

Ask speakers questions after their talks. If you’re too shy to do it in front of the whole room, find them in the hallway after. It’s a great excuse to introduce yourself and strike up a conversation.

6. Practicing your research pitch is important, even if it’s painful.

Next up, practice giving your research pitch, even if you don’t enjoy doing it. People you meet are inevitably going to ask what you work on, so why not be prepared?

7. The most important connections you’ll make are with your peers.

I know everyone wants to meet the rock stars of machine learning, and I’m not discouraging you from trying to do this. But there are a lot of other people at this conference too, and I’d argue that the most important connections to make are with your peers — other grad students or researchers at the same career stage as you. These people are going to be your colleagues for years to come, and some day they are going to be the big names themselves.

8. One new friend will often lead to many.

Luckily, one new friend will often lead to many. Cool people often know other cool people. Use this to your advantage. Go along to dinner with new friends that you make and have them introduce you to their network.

9. It’s ok to hide and take a break. (Introverts, I’m looking at you.)

Finally, this last one is for all the introverts in the room. You know who you are.

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