A brief guide to your first academic conference

Samantha Booth, Psychology, University of Manchester (2018 Cohort)

So your abstract has just been accepted to an academic conference. What should I expect and how can I make the most out of the experience?…Here’s 5 quick pointers to get you started.

Presentations

Presentations often vary in length depending on the conference, format and number of attendees. The last conference I attended (Brainbox Initiative Conference) had quick-fire 3-minute poster pitches with informal sessions on Gather Town to discuss your research further with those interested. In my opinion, three minutes is a perfect amount of time for Early Career Researchers to present their research – it’s less daunting than a longer pitch and gives you an opportunity to practice summarising your research in few sentences. Top tip: whatever the length of your presentation make sure you practice it a few times to make sure you’re within the time-window!

Networking

The opportunity to make connections, share ideas for future collaborations and chat to peers within the same field is in my opinion one of if not the most important parts of a poster conference. This is particularly important if you come from a small lab! Networking can be daunting, especially as a PhD student, but don’t panic – let it happen naturally. I’d suggest starting by talking to others about the work they presented (e.g., “Your presentation on ‘X’ was great, can you tell me a bit more about ‘X’”), then introducing yourself and your research interests after the conversation has begun.

New ideas

Listening to talks from other academics in labs around the world can spark a new enthusiasm and excitement about your field and I wouldn’t be surprised if you walked away with a whole load of new ideas for future projects.

Feedback

So, you’ve presented your research. Great. Now it’s time to get some feedback. A conference is the perfect place to get feedback on your research outside of your supervisory team/lab group. Academics with no personal connection to your research are often able to offer fresh insights into your work, spotting things that you might not have considered. This is particularly helpful if you plan to submit your research to an academic journal, and also great preparation for your final viva.

Exhausting

I’ve mentioned all the positives to an academic conference so far, but one thing to keep in mind is that (probably all) academic conferences are exhausting! Being switched ‘on’ all day concentrating on others talks, engaging with their research and making conversation is exhausting! Which brings me to my last point, make the most of it – but ensure you take some time out of the conference or some time before/after it to explore the city you are in (if it’s in person) or to simply switch off for the day.

Twitter handle: @Sam_Booth_PhD

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