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An industry conference in my field of research (medical) is being held soon. I am wondering is it typical for academics to attend non-academic conferences?

Several academics have been invited as keynote speakers but it is predominantly aimed at industry professionals. The talks sound interesting and relevant to my work and it would be a useful networking event.

There are no similar academic conferences being held that I am aware of. This is an area of research that is more active in industry.

However, the fees are very high compared to an academic conference. Is it normal for travel funds etc. to be spent on non-academic conferences? If I cannot attend are they other ways to make connections to industry? I am a postdoc currently.

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I occasionally attend non-academic medical conferences, or attend the industry-focused sessions at mixed conferences. In my experience, these conferences are excellent for generating a couple things:

  1. Contacts. Even if you want to stay in academia, knowing people in industry is occasionally useful - for example, if you want to be a PI, someday you will have students. Presumably those students willl need jobs.
  2. Ideas. I actively refer to one conference I go to as a "hypothesis generating conference" - I leave it with a notebook full of ideas, and some followup emails to send.
  3. Funding. Following from 1 and 2, industry contacts are a decent way to drum up industry funding.

That being said, they are more expensive to go to, and in my experience using travel funds for conferences where you're not presenting is a very hard sell.

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I'm not in the medical field (my field is Engineering related), but my advisers have always encouraged me to attend conferences (both academic and industry). I believe that one of the many benefits of attending a conference (other than learning and getting up to date knowledge) is to network and make new connections. Keep in mind that even in industry conferences, one can always brainstorm or come up with ideas/solutions/problems that can help you as a student or even an adviser (maybe even get some funding!).

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In several fields (for instance exploration geophysics), "conferences and exhibitions" (e.g. SEG or EAGE) may have a mixed audience, industry and academy. Such situations are not uncommon for scholars (to spend travel funds). So during sessions of little interest to you, you can meet industrials at their booths. You can also meet speakers that take some time off, and may be more prone for discussion.

As you are a post-doc, you should bring your resume (even if you want to stay in academia), this gives you an opportunity to discuss about their needs, and what you have to offer, and sometimes there is a match, that could spark collaborations, topics of research.

Plus, in conferences with industry, you can get goodies or corporate gifts quite easily.

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