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Make the Most Out of An Academic Conference

An academic conference provides the more than the venue to present your work and hear other presentations. It also is a great place to network and make connections, as well as learn from colleagues in the field. This post makes suggestions for a successful conference appearance.

If you are presenting and need technology (a video data projector), do make a point of making sure that your needs are met. Likewise, always have a Plan B if the technology does not work. This means copies of your slides for you to refer to and handouts of any pertinent slides or related matter is also copied (introduction, findings and conclusion) for distribution.

For graduate students, you should come with some business cards in hand. The standard in my areas of familiarity (Women’s Studies and Political Sciences) are that you can use the university crest and get cards printed. Please note that when you are writing, you are a candidate (for instance MA Candidate). When you have defended your prospectus for you dissertation, you are a Phd Candidate. You cannot put PhD on your card until you have defended or have your PhD in hand. I see that a few people have PhD on their Twitter profiles or blogs and they do not have this degree earned yet. This is misleading and unprofessional to do—don’t do it!

Practice your presentation in front of a mirror or a friendly audience. There is nothing harder to do than to sit by and pay to attention to a terrible or wooden presentation. Don’t stare at your computer. If you must, place phrases in your document that read: scan the room, breathe, smile, look up, etc. This will help you add some semblance of connection with your audience. Speaking of which you could present to one person or have no one in your audience, but this still counts as a presentation for your vitae.

Make sure that you take time to attend some of the receptions. This is a good place to network or catch up with others. Make sure that you are available to attend some of these events. The conference is not a vacation, but a working series of meetings. Take some time off, but your main job is to use the conference experience to help you share your research and meet people in your discipline.

Before your trip you also want to peruse the conference program well so that you can organize your daily itinerary of what you have to do. If your advisor , mentor or other faculty in the department are attending the conference, go to some of their talks. Ask them to introduce you to some people at an event. A good committee member or mentor, will do this naturally, but some people need the little nudge to do so. Also, try and meet other graduate students. These people will provide the cohort of scholars you will see at the conferences.

The next few things are obvious: have fun, eat, sleep and exercise. Conferences are often 12 hour days and you want to make the most of them, but not work too hard that you return home exhausted or sick.

Remember that your first academic conference might appear a daunting experience, but it is not if you plan well and take the time to network and attend conference events.

For the established academic, all of the above is obvious. But, let me add that we need to remember to make time to mentor. I try and take grad students out for a drink, coffee or a meal to chat with them about their progress. These brief meetings make a difference. I know that they did when I was a grad student.

4 thoughts on “Make the Most Out of An Academic Conference

  1. Great tips, Janni!

    The mentoring one is the one I have taken on a lot recently. I think I’m in the right group now – I’m not a fresh-out-of-his-PhD kid, yet I’m youthful enough (and recent enough) that I can engage with graduate students and help them realize that there is life AFTER they get that pesky piece of paper that says “Ph.D”

  2. Thanks, Raul for your comments. I completely agree with you.

    It was great to connect with an ABD from California and hear that I made a difference back when she was an undergrad. So, peer mentoring is definitely important, too. And, we need to give back and go up to others at the conferences and make them feel welcome.

    I remember my first APSA and it was really intimidating. I think there were several thousand people there and it was held at four different hotels–scary.

    Best,
    Janni

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