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First Time at the TRB Annual Meeting

Last January, I attended the Annual Meeting of the Transportation Research Board in Washington DC.

The Annual Meeting, nicknamed the Superbowl of Transportation, attracts between (estimated) 11000 and 20000 participants, of which 5000 international participants. The Annual Compendium of Papers holds about 2500 papers. Between 20% and 30% of these papers make it into the Transportation Research Record Journal, a journal that has seen its impact factor rise steadily over the past year: from 0,093 in 2003 to 0,482 in 2010 (click here for the full analysis).

TRB is by far the largest conference I ever attended. At first, I was absolutely overwhelmed, and therefore I decided to share my lessons learned with you:

1. Get the app

If you have a smartphone or tablet, make sure to get the app. In a next post I’ll go at length into the excellent app and use of social media by TRB, but as for now it is most important to know that the app will hold your schedule, and will show you where to go.

2. Travel early

I arrived on Saturday evening, with the conference starting on Sunday morning (even though the schedule at a glance does not really show that you should expect to dive in at 8 am on Sunday:

As a result, I missed out on Transportation Camp on Saturday, and didn’t really get to opportunity to get the jetlag out of the way.
If possible, I’d also recommend finding the time to explore the hotels and surroundings some time before the conference, to avoid loosing too much time trying to find your way around.

3. Prepare your schedule

If you use the app, prepare your schedule in the app (the online scheduling option won’t sync to the app). Otherwise, use the online version and print it out or send it to your Outlook or Google Calendar.
With so many sessions, workshops and committee meetings to attend, you can’t just decide on the go where to go. Also, keep in mind that the distance between rooms can be large, so you can’t plan to hop from one session to the other.
Keep some time available to have a look at the exhibition hall as well.

4. Book early

I had to wait for my paper acceptance to request travel budget, but if you can, register early and book your hotel room early!
If you’re late, you end up in one of the overflow hotels. Some of these hotels are just next to the three conference hotels, but for other hotels (like the Mayflower, where I stayed) you need to take the shuttle or the metro, and the commute becomes long (especially during rush hour).

5. Use the metro, not the shuttle

One morning, I left at 7:12 with the shuttle, only to make it at 8am to the conference hotels. The metro might be crowded, and have tracks that are closed, at least it is not influenced by rush hour traffic.

6. Define your committee(s) of interest

In the schedule, you can see which committees organize the sessions. If you are interested in the research supervised by one of the committees, it’d be wise to search by the committee number in the schedule.

7. Eat at odd times or locations

Trying to get food at lunch time or dinner time in one of the restaurants around the conference hotels is a challenge. Therefore, go a little earlier or later, or take the metro to a different location.

Have you attended TRB? What would you advise first time attendees? What would you have done differently?

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