They take up time, money and energy that could ideally be spend on your research. However, you have to do them regardless!
Conferences. You either love them or you hate them. But as an academic, or someone simply invested in research in a specific field, you can’t really avoid them (definitely not if you’re an academic). In this post I’ll just outline how you can make the most of your conference experience, and why really, you SHOULD make the most of your conference experience.
Learn more about the topic I know that you can read papers on Google Scholar or SSRN, but conferences are for papers that aren’t out yet. Working papers, still in press papers, or papers that will never see the press (it happens). These are findings that are newer, more relevant, and maybe even quite heavily contested, or being contesting of current assumptions and defaults. Whatever the case, there is much information to be gained here, especially as the publishing process is lengthy enough to reduce the relevance of some papers significantly.
Practice makes Perfect Apart from you learning new information, it’s also important you learn new skills. Or at least perfect what you’re currently working with. My supervisor keeps hammering this one home to me: “There is only a limited number of opportunities for you to speak about your research, before you have a job interview. By that stage, you better be well-practiced.” He’s not wrong.
Conferences are a great way of getting feedback on your research. People in similar fields, topics or methodologies will be presented with your stuff and give their two cents. Granted, this can be soul crushing and leave you more frustrated than invigorated, but after the initial stages of pure defeat, you’ll just have to pick yourself back up again and move on. Move onto better research, that is!
In general, your research, your methods and your public speaking skillset will improve. Not just by you practicing your own, but also looking at others. Seeing and hearing what they are doing right, and what they are doing not-so-right, can give you a lot of insights about yourself. So that’s definitely something to take notice of!
You don’t know who anyone is If you’re new to doing a PhD, it’s likely that you’ll know your supervisors and some people in your respective research group. Let me break it to you softly: that’s not enough to guarantee you a job later on.
I’m afraid even the average academic can’t escape networking events. It’s how you get to know people who might be useful to you later, and people that you might enjoy working with. The person that told you academia was less about networking than corporate life LIED!
You need to know who is working on what, where and what for. As such, you can find yourself people who you want to work with, and maybe even, people who want to work with you! Imagine that!
Now this might all sound a bit intense and if you’re headhunting people for your own purposes (you are), but what this looks like is just you having lunch in between sessions with people you haven’t met before, and whose research interests and areas somewhat align with yours. And then later you can have dinner with the same people and some more of their network, or very different people. It tends to help that with dinner there is always alcohol. At least it seems to massively help with the British. Just saying.
People don’t know who you are Maybe worse than you not knowing who anyone is: no one knowing who you are. How are you going to get hired if no one knows who you are or what you do? That’s a terrible starting point. Everyone knows that is easier to get hired by someone who knows you, or to get published by editors who have at least heard of you!
Here is where the conference strikes again. There are people, especially chief editors and very prominent members of boards of universities and other institutions that are incredibly difficult to meet. They are prominent, and as such they are busy! But they still go to conferences.
I’m not saying you should stalk your role models. I’m just saying that if you want to meet them and connect with them, this seems to be a pretty decent way to do it. If they can put a face to you, you’re already ahead of most of your competitors. Especially if you later send them an e-mail with a request (hire me?).
Moreover, except for knowing you as a person (which helps), people will also come into touch with your research, either through informal networking or you actually presenting it. You can build an entire reputation for yourself as the girl/guy who studies … I’m the idiot who decided to study contactless and dedicate a blog to it. There you go.
I hope this four pointers have given you a glimpse into the glamourous life of someone who goes to conferences. It tends to be good fun, semi-funded travel but yes, it costs a lot of time and energy (and sometimes your own money). Just make sure you go there with somewhat of a strategy, and I’m sure you can make the most of it!