BACKGROUND: Patients are incidentally involved in scientific conferences as collaborating partners. Little is known about how they engage with researchers. OBJECTIVE: The purpose of this study was to explore the expectations and experiences of new patients to better understand the specific features of collaborative research during conferences in its complexity. STUDY DESIGN: After a thematic literature review, we conducted fourteen interviews with eight delegates: four men and four women with three rheumatic diseases and representing five countries. They participated for the first time in the biannual conference on Outcome Measures in Rheumatology (OMERACT) in 2010. Data were subjected to a thematic content analysis. RESULTS: Before the conference, patient participants had felt privileged to be invited but felt insufficiently prepared and uncertain about what was expected from their participation. They had anticipated a learning experience and had hoped to be able to make a contribution. Most experienced the conference program as physically and mentally challenging, partially due to poor moderation or lack of individual support. They doubted their input had been beneficial. After the conference these patients also described their participation as having been a valuable, meaningful, and learning experience. Although they presumed that they had not been very productive, they expected their contribution would be more effective at future conferences. CONCLUSIONS: Patient delegates attending a scientific conference need clear information about their role prior to the event. Personalized support and a facilitative moderation style during sessions are advantageous for maximizing valuable contributions. Participation leads to personal learning curves and various benefits.