5 – Conference considerations

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There’s a conference for just about everything nowadays. And no, you don’t have to go to every single one…

Being able to present your work at a conference is great for a variety of reasons. During doctoral study, I’d recommend going to at least two (e.g. one ‘postgrad’ and one ‘international’) to get feedback on your work, to practice communicating your ideas to a different audience, and to get your face ‘known’ in your research community. The conference might even be in a more exotic part of the world, so why not take a a few days before or after the conference to do some travelling?

But of course, there’s also a catch or two…

Conferences can be ridiculously expensive, not only in terms of travel and accommodation, but also just for being able to attend and present the work that you’ve offered to share for free(!). Sometimes there are reduced fees for Ph.D students and part-time staff, but don’t expect it to be cheap in any case. Even conference dinners – that legendary place where (apparently) ‘all the real work gets done’ – can cost a ridiculous amount. For example, I recently saw a conference charging nearly £200 as an attendance fee for doctoral students (nearly £300 if you’re full-time staff), and an extra £60 for said conference dinner regardless of your employment status. If you’re an invited speaker, your fees are often paid for you. If you’re not at that stage – and a good number of us aren’t – then best start budgeting (or applying for the scholarships and bursaries that are occasionally offered).

It’s also worthwhile to consider the number of parallel sessions that will occur. It’s usual to find conferences spanning 3 – 5 days and with a few parallel sessions taking place (i.e. ‘streams’ of presentations occurring at the same time). Even if you’re not presenting, parallel sessions inevitably mean clashes and/or running between rooms to get to the talks you wish to attend. Some conferences have grown so big that there may be 10 (or more!) parallel sessions occurring at any one time…

Conferences are a key part of the doctoral student experience, but be realistic: balance out how useful attendance will be against costs, time, energy, and likelihood of getting a good audience (especially at the bigger ones).

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