If you haven't read it yet, Paul's written a really great reminiscence about his first chemistry conference over at ChemBark. It's funny how reading someone else's account causes you to immediately flash back to your own "first time," especially since mine didn't go quite so smoothly...
I'll never forget my first pharma internship during the summer of my sophomore year. It was my dream job: smart people in pressed slacks, automated fraction collectors, a communal coffee pot, and (gasp) top-shelf Pentium II computers at work stations, equipped with (dial-up) SciFinder!
My boss wanted a coworker and I to present a poster at the big ACS meeting that summer. We would be one of about 400 posters on the floor, but I didn't care, I was going to go talk science with scientists. We stayed up late the night before, changing the poster layout* and gluing the backings down for each image; this was before cost-effective full-poster printing. I bought a new shirt and tie, and got a haircut. When the session came, I arrived an hour early to tack up my opus, and eagerly awaited the flood of potential listeners.
If you're familiar with poker, you know the expression "If you don't know who the mark is, you're the mark." That means someone's always at a disadvantage, and will likely lose all their money in fast order. Worse yet, the senior players know you're the mark, and take you down accordingly. With hindsight, it's clear to me: someone needed to present, but none of the staff scientists wanted to go, so they sent me.
I was the mark. And I got eaten alive.
"What's the platform?" "Umm..." "Any targeting groups?" "Maybe." "Tell me more about [pathway X]" "I think it has to do with cancer...?" "What's the SAR around that site?" "Lots of compounds."
My colleague was nowhere to be seen. I was on my own for most of those hours.
I'll never forget my intense embarrassment and nervous, hesitant answers. When the session ended, I just grabbed the poster and ran out of the room. Didn't go to any talks, didn't go back the next day. I'm sure my poster still sits at the company, buried under a pile of old journals.
*Fast forward a few years: my second poster had everything: color-printed on one rolled-out sheet, copies of abstracts and company contacts to give out to listeners, coached one-liners for questions, the works. That one went worlds better.