Thursday, November 2, 2017

PhD Talk for AcademicTransfer: How to select which conference to attend

This post is part of the series PhD Talk for AcademicTransfer: posts written for the Dutch academic career network AcademicTransfer, your go-to resource for all research positions in the Netherlands.

These posts are sponsored by AcademicTransfer, and tailored to those of you interested in pursuing a research position in the Netherlands.

If these posts raise your interest in working as a researcher in the Netherlands, even better - and feel free to fire away any questions you might have on this topic!


When you start your PhD, outline where (at which conferences) you would like to present your work. Don’t wait until you feel “ready” to present something – it is not uncommon for conferences to require abstract submission 1.5 years before the actual conference. Talk to your fellow PhD students to learn where your supervisor usually takes his/her students, and talk with your supervisor about wanting to present your work at conferences as early as possible. Certainly, your plans can change as you move through your PhD, but have an idea of where you would want to present early on, and work towards the realization of that plan.

Ideally, you have been able to discuss travel funding prior to taking your PhD position, but if you are unsure about what to expect, then bring the topic up as soon as possible. The funding of the project you are working on is crucial here: it could allow you to present at a number of conferences each year, or it could limit you to one single conference per year. If your funding does not include a travel budget, look for other options. Many universities and professional associations provide scholarships for students to travel to conferences. You can also consider participating in student competitions, essay contents, and other competitions which can award you with travel funding.

Now that you know that there are many ways to find funding to travel to conferences, and that you should start building your conference wishlist early on, let’s focus on selecting the right conference. There are different types of conferences:

  • Meetings of international associations: The largest conferences tend to be the meetings of international associations. These associations can meet annually, or less frequently. A good place to start looking for information would be on the websites of international associations that you are involved with or that are important in your field. If you are not a member of any international association, start looking for the important players in your field. A good starting point would be the associations that publish the journals you read, for those journals that are not owned by large publishing houses. Keep in mind that many international associations offer free or very cheap student memberships. Once you’ve identified the important international associations, look on their websites for information about their events. Many international associations also mention events they cosponsor, so you can be informed about meetings you would not hear about otherwise.
  • National meetings: If you want to test the waters before you take your research abroad, and keep your travel costs lower, looking into national meetings is a good starting point. While not all national meetings require you to write a conference paper, presenting your work to a smaller audience and perhaps in your native language may be a more comfortable first step. These national meetings can be organized by national member groups of the international associations that you follow. Another type of events is organized by research groups of universities that study the same topic, giving PhD students an opportunity to share their research with researchers in the same field. Sometimes, young member groups of international organizations or student chapters of international organizations organize events in which you may want to present your research.
  • Industry events: There’s a whole array of different industry events that can be particularly interesting towards the end of your PhD trajectory, when you may want to explore opportunities outside academia. Some industry events are gatherings of academics and practitioners in a certain branch of the industry. These events typically have lectern sessions, in which you could present your work. Inquire if there is a possibility, but keep in mind that in some fields these lectures feature senior professors who give a more general overview of the current state of the art. Other industry events are career fairs, and trade shows, which you may want to attend to learn about your opportunities after your graduation, but which do not offer you the ability to present your work.
  • Specialized workshops: Workshops on specialized topics can be organized by international associations, or on the initiative of a few senior professors. Whereas these events typically tend to gather a small but focused group of researchers, it is more difficult for you during your PhD to learn about these events. Sometimes, these events are announced on the website of the overbearing international association. The presentations can be by invitation only, but if you are interested in participating and presenting your work, talk to your supervisor and see if he/she can get you a spot in the workshop.

Most information about upcoming conferences can be found online, and the internet (including the websites of the most important international associations) can provide you with a great amount of information. Sign up for newsletters of international associations to stay informed about the events they organize or co-sponsor. Tell your fellow PhD students and supervisor that you are looking for information about interesting conferences; they will forward you calls for abstracts when something interesting for you comes up. Ask your fellow PhD students and supervisor to bring flyers announcing future conferences when they travel to conferences.

Before finishing this topic, I need to give you a word of caution. If you receive an email with an invitation to submit an abstract for a conference, and it looks interesting, make sure you check if the conference is legit. Check their website, and see if the event is endorsed by any international association that you know. Check the organizing committee and scientific committee, and see if there are reputable scientists involved. If you are doubting whether the conference is legit, write one of the members of the scientific committee to ask about the scope of the conference. Some predatory conferences unfortunately just slap some names on a website without asking these scholars for permission. You wouldn’t expect it, but some companies have decided to make easy money with the organization of “academic” conferences: they ask high registration fees, and use no academic rigor in the peer review process (or use no peer review whatsoever) to organize conferences with the sole objective of making some quick money. Red flags for these predatory conferences are: poor English in the email, a promise for fast publication or publication in a journal, or you being invited as plenary speaker or session chair (by someone you don’t know at all). If you are doubting whether a call for abstracts is legit, google the name of the conference with “bogus conference”, “fake conference”, “predatory conference” or “scam conference” added to it to see if others have been fooled by the same organization.

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