Tips for conference travel packing

As you might know from previous posts, I like to travel with a carry-on. Since the number of things you can bring with you decreases, there’s some optimization involved: bring at most a carry-on and a “personal item” full of things, while maximizing the comfort your trip. I can spend lots of hours doing research about this and overthinking each item. This is not the most productive use of my time! But, to get maximum benefit from the time spent, in this post I share a couple of things that have been making my conference trips easier.

1. Good carry-on

I think the first time I felt like a Real Adult is when I bought my Samsonite carry-on. I have one of their more budget models, but it’s still really nice to use. The things I find important are:

  • Four wheels, easy to roll behind OR next to you
  • Side pocket for quick stashing of e.g. your boarding pass
  • Handle that allows me to carry it horizontally, since I’m too short too carry it vertically

The exact model I have is not sold anymore, but there are several similar ones available.

2. Good shoulder bag

I use a backpack in daily life, but for travel I prefer to have a shoulder bag because it’s safer and I feel like it’s easier to argue it is my “personal item”. Recently I got a really awesome shoulder bag from PACSafe. My favorite features are:

  • Lightweight
  • Can secure the zippers and straps for extra safety
  • The inside has a light color, which means I can find everything inside it easily
  • Fits my laptop, case with headphones, Kindle, wallet, phone, water bottle and a few things I like to have accessible during the flight

3. Fabric poster

If I have to bring a poster, I always print it on fabric. This means I can fold the poster to fit into my carry-on, or even in my shoulder bag. I print my posters for 21 euros including delivery at, but there are many options in other countries as well. Although this was new in 2012 when I did it for the first time, at the most recent conference I went to I estimate that about 1/3 of the posters were now on fabric.

4. Black running shoes

I think everybody should wear what they want at conferences. But I would have never felt comfortable wearing running shoes – too informal and colorful for me. This was until I found these 100% black Asics, which are great for running, and in a pinch, I can also wear during a conference day (at least, at the kinds of conferences I go to). I wear these while I travel, as they are the heaviest shoes I bring.

5. Leggings WITH POCKETS

Leggings are the best for long airplane rides, except that often these don’t have pockets at all, or only a tiny pocket for your keys. But after hours of research (really :’) ) I found leggings WITH REAL POCKETS. They are non-transparent, comfortable and also very affordable. I’ve also used these for running, although they are a bit too hot for summer.

6. Bose headphones

Yes, everybody has them, but I still had to mention these. I only bought mine this year because it always felt like a luxury item I couldn’t afford, and can’t believe I waited so long. Airplane rides are just much more comfortable now and I even managed to get a nap in on the last one, which is huge for me. I have the QuietComfort I which was a bit cheaper than the lastest model, and I’m happy with it.

7. GoToob

Since I travel with a carry-on, all my liquids have to be smaller than 100ml and fit into a 1l plastic bag. Although lots of small containers for toiletries exist now, I swear by these reusable GoToob containers. They are cheaper in the long run than buying ready-made small containers, since i just refill them from the larger container. They are also more comfortable than the typical reusable containers, since you can squeeze them, and clean them easily.

8. A USB mouse

Much more relaxing when doing a bit of work from your hotel room or somewhere where you have a table.

9. Powerbank

This one is a no-brainer, but I don’t like my phone running out of battery especially when I’m travelling. I’ve got the Xiaomi 16000 mAh which is good for charging my phone to reasonable battery levels at least a few times.


These are the things I bring on every trip – would love to hear what your “must have” items are!


How to recycle your fabric poster

Today I’m at Benelearn 2017, the Belgium-Netherlands-Luxembourg machine learning conference. Here’s me next to my poster:


As usual I printed the poster on fabric, growing my collection of fabric posters even further:


But you might have noticed something else about the picture… Yes, I’m wearing a skirt made from one of my old posters!

Here are some frequently asked questions & answers about this development.


Did you make it yourself?

No, the skirt was made by REpost Science, a company in the Netherlands that upcycles fabric posters into bags, gadgets and even clothes. I first heard about it through @GeomechSteph (thanks!)


Is it comfortable?

Yes. I asked REpost Science to create the skirt following the model of a Comma skirt I already had (see a better quality photo on Zalando):

So the fit is very comfortable. The fabric is comfortable as well – the poster skirt has a lining from a regular non-poster material. The lining also removes any transparency of the poster fabric.


It has pockets!

Yes! The original Comma skirt has pockets too, which is why I love it and why I vowed never to buy clothes without pockets again.

On the subject of pockets, you might also want to check eShakti, which has lots of customizable and affordable skirts and dresses WITH POCKETS (thanks to @Doctor_PMS for the tip!)


Do a lot of people notice it?

I’ve had quite a few compliments and questions, but I think less people notice it than I had originally thought. In part I think this is because I don’t feel like I’m wearing anything unusual (since I wear exactly this skirt but in a different color/fabric more often). And in part it’s because most people don’t really care what you are wearing. See for example this story where a woman wore the same outfit for a year and nobody noticed.

I did have a lot of nice comments on Twitter too! Here are some favorites:



Online, it gets noticed a lot! At one point it was the most popular post I have written, and in the last quarter it even surpassed the all-time-popular How I Fail interview with Hal Daumé III.

I also discovered I don’t really understand how to use Twitter Analytics – is there a list of “all time popular” tweets? But compared to my other tweets in June 2017, the tweet about the blog post seems quite popular:

Are you the first person to do this?

No! Here’s Rolf Hut and his suit from posters, and actually how I found out about REpost_poster (the company that created my skirt)!

I also saw pillows, bags and other accessories in my Twitter feed – if you are the owner of any of those, please share the tweet and I’ll add it here!

Is it machine washable?

Yes! Because the skirt needed a bit more than poster, I had some leftover “scraps”, which I decided to use to investigate what happens when you wash the poster fabric. Since it was an experiment anyway, I thought I’d raise the level of difficulty with sriracha and garlic sauce – the first things I saw in the kitchen I thought would be difficult to get out of white fabric.

These made some terrible stains. I also added coffee, since that’s what I’m most likely to spill on myself. I didn’t have any red wine in the house, but I could try that in a next experiment if there is interest.

Into the washing machine it goes! This is the normal cycle I use for all my clothes, 40 degrees Celcius, with regular color detergent.

All good again! At first I could still see hints of the sriracha, but after drying, these disappeared.

So, now I can safely bring the skirt with me to the next conference – MICCAI in Quebec City, Canada in September!

Firsts: organizing a workshop (part 2)

In the previous post I wrote about getting started with organizing a (sattelite) workshop. In this post I cover a few specific topics that you will want to include in the workshop proposal.

Invited speakers

In most cases a workshop will feature one or more invited speakers. This is something to be arranged early on. Typically already when submitting the workshop proposal, you will need to specify who you plan to invite, and whether the speakers have already confirmed or not.

You might already have a wishlist of people who are famous for their work on the topic of your workshop. If not, it might help to have a brainstorming session, and make an (overcomplete) list of people you could invite. Places to look are:

  • Papers you cite often. Look up the authors, and see if they have recent work, related to your workshop. To do this more efficiently, try SemanticScholar. Here’s what comes up when I search for myself:.Of course, my supervisors are here! The other authors are people in the field whose papers I cite most of the time.
  • Google scholar. Authors on Google Scholar can add keywords under their name. For example, on my profile I have the keyword “machine learning”. By clicking on it, you will see authors who added “machine learning” to their profile, sorted by the number of citations. Note that keywords are author-defined! Therefore, you will not find everyone working on machine learning, and subtopics are not taken into account.
  • Search for your topic of interest and watch some lectures. Bonus: you already have an idea what kind of a speaker somebody is!

To brainstorm, you can create a spreadsheet where all organizers can add potential speakers, roughly with the following fields:

  • Name
  • Website or Google scholar profile
  • Relevance/motivation (i.e. well known for topic X)
  • Whether we have any personal connections
  • Whether the person usually attends the main conference

The last three questions are good to consider, because they influence how likely the person is to respond and accept the invitation. Where the person has to travel from is important because, if you are inviting somebody who wouldn’t normally be at the conference, you probably want to offer to cover the travel costs.

Once all the data is there, you can use the relevance and the chances of the speaker accepting to make a selection of whom to invite first, and who to invite in case the first person declines. It’s also good to decide who will be sending the invitations – usually the organizer who knows the speaker best.


If you want to allow participants to present their work (either as a talk or a poster), there are two main ways to do this:

  • “Type A” contributions, which are novel contributions and which can be published in proceedings.
  • “Type B” contributions, which are abstracts of previously published work, or not fully worked-out ideas and open questions.

Both have advantages and disadvantages. Type B contributions are interesting for people who are already at the conference, but do not have new material to submit to the workshop. Because the threshold for joining is low, you are likely to have more participants. On the other hand, Type B contributions may be problematic for researchers who are not already at the conference (and need a published paper to be able to claim travel expenses). If the conference acceptance rate is low, it’s probably a good idea to have Type A contributions to encourage those authors to participate. A caveat is that you will need to have enough contributions to actually publish proceedings! To combine the advantages of Type A and Type B contributions, several workshops call for both types of contributions.

The mix you choose is likely to influence the schedule of the workshop. If you only have a few Type A contributions, each author could give a talk. If you (also) have Type B contributions, you will probably want to host a poster session. Personally I think poster sessions are great opportunities for the participants to get to know each other, so I would recommend including one in the schedule.

In the workshop proposal, you will likely have to specify what type of contributions you want, how you will collect the contributions (for example, via Easychair) and how you will select the final contributions (i.e. your reviewing process).

Anything else?

By now your workshop program has invited speakers, talks by participants, and a poster session. That’s all, right? Well, that is up to you. Just because most workshops (*at least at the conferences I attended – this might be different in other places!) only feature these building blocks, doesn’t mean that you have to as well. For example, you could also consider:

  • A panel discussion
  • A brainstorming session where participants have to work in groups
  • An ice-breaking activity to encourage discussion throughout the day

Although for the proposal, you probably don’t need to specify a detailed schedule, keep in mind that you also want to leave enough time for breaks, so don’t try to fit too many things in a single day. You might also want to think about organizing lunch (if this isn’t already done by the conference) and/or drinks at the end of the day, so that participants get more chances to interact with each other. This, however, requires a budget – something I will talk about in a later post!

5 easy ways to do more with your poster

How can you make your poster stand out at the poster session, if you only have a limited amount of time? There are many tips out there on how to design the poster and how to structure all the information (a couple of resources I like are here and here), and these are the most important things you should be doing! But if you already have a poster ready and can’t afford doing a complete overhaul, here are three ways to make your poster more memorable:

1. Print your poster on fabric

Print your poster on fabric if you don’t already do so. This not only makes travel easier, but also makes it easier for people to approach you and to start a conversation, and that’s what poster sessions are all about.

2. Add a picture of yourself to the poster

Chances are that your poster will be up for a longer period of time than you will actually be there to present. If people see your picture on the poster and then see you later at a conference, there are again more likely to approach you if they have any questions.

Add a picture of yourself next to the contact information on your poster
Add a picture of yourself next to the contact information on your poster. See the full poster here


3. Add business cards next to the poster

These days most people have a smartphone and can take a picture of your contact information. But if you do this regularly, you end up with lots of pictures that you might forget to follow up with. Make it easier for people to remember and contact you by giving them an opportunity to take your card! If you do not have cards, you can consider adding print-outs of the poster (or even the full paper) instead.

Add business cards to your poster for easy exchange of contact information
Add business cards to your poster for easy exchange of contact information


4. Add a QR code that leads to your website

This is especially helpful if your website has a URL that is difficult to remember. There are many QR code generators out there, such as this one. Remember to save the image in a large size and resize it afterwards for best quality during printing.

5. Promote your poster on social media

If you have Twitter, take a picture of yourself next to the poster and tweet about it using the hashtag of the conference, and include the location of your poster. People are more likely to like an image if it features a face and might decide to stop by for a chat even if they didn’t yet know about your work.

Presenting my poster at the MICCAI LABELS workshop in 2016
Presenting my poster at the MICCAI LABELS workshop in 2016

That’s all the tips I have tried so far while attending conferences. Please share below if these work / do not work for you and if you know any other tips that might be useful. Thanks for reading!

Bonus tip

To leave a lasting impression, glue your PhD thesis to your poster:

How to print your posters on fabric

The Problem

Probably all PhD students face this problem in their career: the poster presentation, and bringing the poster with you to the conference. This usually means you need one of those poster tubes to keep your poster all neat until the poster session. Not too bad if you are going to a local conference, but more annoying when you are going to, say, Japan, where I attended the International Conference on Pattern Recognition in 2012.


I was determined to go to Japan with just a carry-on bag, something I have never attempted on trips longer than 3 days. Of course, I would also have a “personal item”: my regular bag for my laptop and valuables. I really, really did not want to add an extra piece of luggage (the poster tube) to the list of the things I had to bring with me. So I decided to look for a solution: posters that would fit into my carry-on!

The solution

For paper, this would mean either a very small poster, a poster with fold lines, or a poster consisting of several small parts. Neither of these seemed very appealing, so my material of choice became fabric. After some searching, I settled on this product, in particular the “vlaggendoek” or “flag sheet” variety. This material weights just 115 grams for 1m2, which is conveniently almost the same size as an A0 (841mm × 1189mm). Printing + delivery costs just over 20 euros, which is actually cheaper than an A0 paper poster with a plastic coating. That’s not all: apparently the material is fire retardant, because you never know when fire could break out at a conference.

But the best thing of all? You can fold it and it still looks great when you unfold it! Here are my two posters folded a few times:
poster folded

These did not only fit into my carry on, they even fit into my purse (and made a great padding for my mini laptop).

I received a lot of compliments (about the content too of course 😉 ) and heard a lot of  “I should have known this earlier!” during the poster sessions. So this is me, telling you: print your conference posters on fabric! If you are in the Netherlands, you are welcome to stop by to see the real thing.

Where else to get it

France: Easyflyer (thanks to @cazencott!)

Belgium: UniversityPress (thanks to @dan_marinazzo!)

Germany: Diedruckerej (thanks to @chrshmmmr

UK: SciencePosters (thanks to @IAugenstein!)

US: Spoonflower (thanks to @jengolbeck!) and Postersmith (thanks to @astent!)

If you know of any more companies not in these countries, please let me know (comment below or via Twitter) and I’ll add it to the list! As of July 2017, I’m still updating the list.



You can get your textile poster repurposed into a piece of clothing or accessory at REpost Science. See my newest blog post about this.





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