How do you decide which conferences are going to be worth attending, and how do you get the most out of the event?
Conferences are places to gain deeper insights into your field, promote your research and build your networks. We have taken the best advice from several academic bloggers, and responses to various online articles about academic conferences. This post aims to give you a good landscape of the academic conference network, no matter what your discipline or area of research.
In brief, a conference is a good place to meet others in your field. It is where friendships are formed and collaborations are born. Be yourself and learn to communicate your research in the most accessible way.
Here are some points to consider when choosing the right conferences and how to get the most out of them. At the end of this piece we give you the links to online materials that we chose for this post.
Before a conference
Is it the right location?
Be wary of the location if it seems too exotic or has many local visitor attractions. This could be because the conference may be weak on content for the agenda. However, if the agenda is strong and the location is appealing, it may be worth including a short break prior to your conference. It seems that many academics would advise doing this as it is a useful icebreaker at networking slots to be able to talk about the location.
Shorter and smaller conferences provide greater opportunities for productive conversations and are less likely to create information overload and conference fatigue. Depending on where you are in your research career it may be useful to have a more stepped approach and start with the smaller more specialist conferences. Then as you become more established in your area of research, build up to attending the large annual international events. Large international conferences will often have packed and lengthy agendas and can feel overwhelming for the early career researcher.
A good rule of thumb in deciding which conference is right for you is to base it around the publications associated with your area of research. So make it part of your publication plan. You should also include the conference in your research proposal as a platform for dissemination. This will help secure funding for attending the event and add weight to your plan for disseminating your work.
See who will be giving presentations and who will be attending the event. Then make a plan to speak to certain people. Read up on their data and publications as it’s an excellent way to demonstrate your interest in their work and how your own research may relate to it. Prepare questions on their work with the purpose of gaining further insight.
At the conference
Connect with others
If you are in a Special Interest Group (normally an email group) around your subject, there are likely to be certain people who will have stood out as particularly helpful or well-informed. Use the first day of the conference to find and talk to those people rather than talking to everyone and anyone.
Attending a conference is about making yourself known to a community of people who you will be encountering on and off over the next 10-20 years of your life. If there is a particular person who does work that you’re interested in then sure, hunt them out (ditto if someone gives an interesting talk), but don’t focus on this alone.
It is possible to try too hard. Bring your intellectual enthusiasm to the party, and the rest will follow. If you try too hard without the intellectual enthusiasm, you can end up being avoided.
Make sure you attend all the social events (both planned and unplanned) including the conference dinner, any informal trips to bars, etc. These are where the productive collaborations are actually formed; most people would prefer to work with someone they like as a person.
This can be controversial, but consider having business cards to hand. This way if you do get to the point of exchanging contact details, and you are short of time, you can pass a card or perhaps ask if they have a card.
Keep connecting with others
Use the list of participants to continue the networking post-conference, perhaps via academia.edu or LinkedIn, or even Twitter!
Connect with the people you have met personally at the conference. If there was someone there who you didn’t get to meet but you did see give a presentation, connect with them and tell them what you thought of their talk. Perhaps initiate a conversation online or find out where they might be presenting next.
Make the most of the technology
A really excellent conference manages technology to facilitate both top quality presentations and ease of availability of papers, presentations, etc. Proficient organisers should be able to make all the materials available at check-in or, in the face of some unorganised presenters, shortly after the conference ends.
We think a good example of this is the recent JISC #digifest16 during which those who were not able to attend could log on and watch. After the conference, both participants and the wider public are able to access the presentations.
This post first appeared on Global Academy Jobs blog in April 2016
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