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grad skool rulz #23: conferences

 

 

 

 

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Eszter recently had a good post on the role of conferences. Here’s Eszter’s other professional advice columns. I think we’d agree on many points, but not on others. Here’s my take on the conference world. Previous grad skool rulz.

First, you have to figure out how important conferences are in your discipline for publication. For example, conference proceedings are the primary publication venue in computer science. In contrast, most social sciences assign no value to most conference proceedings. Lesson: If conference proceedings matter for your discipline, you had better show up!

Second, find out the informal rules of your discipline. It’s often the case that specialized conferences and department workshops are where work gets vetted. It’s often the case that the people at these venues will be the reviewers at major journals. If you have already responded to their criticisms, it’s more likely that they will help you in the review process. In contrast, panels at national conferences are populated with a random assortment of folks. These people need to hear your ideas, but it’s not likely that it will help with regard to professionalization.

Third, there is no replacement for working hard on your research. Yes, it is good to get feedback, but too many conferences can take time away from data collection, analysis, and writing. There is definitely a trade off. One solid journal hit is more important than attending dozens of conferences.

Fourth, there are important indirect effects of conference attendance. People meet you. They can put a face to a name. You get invited to visit places to speak, even grad students. You might get invited to submit to a journal or edited volume. You might also meet people and make new friends. This is all important.

Fifth, there is conference etiquette. Most conferences have an informal dress code. Nothing fancy, but if you are giving a talk, nice slacks/jacket/dress are good. Also, people expect you to talk about your research.  It’s a conference after all, so people want to hear about your work. So have a 1 sentence summary ready to go. Push your cookie!

Sixth, remember that conferences are business meetings. It’s ok to approach people for business purposes. At ASA, there are job placement services, data sales people, book editors, college deans, and people who give money out for foundations. It’s totally ok to meet these people and start a conversation – it’s the reason they showed up.

Seventh, you can go on the cheap and save money. Drive instead of fly. Student registration fees or one day fees are lower. Double up on hotel rooms. Many colleges and universities have student travel funds. Ask around. Heck, ask your mom for money.

To summarize: Conferences are useful, but not a make or break deal. You should definitely go, but don’t let it crowd out your research or teaching. When you do go, be aware that it’s a business meeting and plan accordingly.

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Written by fabiorojas

October 27, 2009 at 12:25 am

10 Responses

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  1. My small addition to this is that attending conferences can be a way to make up some ground in the chase to finish grad school/get a job/have a career. If your program is deficient in the area you have chosen, if your mentor is unwilling or unable to introduce you into networks, if your program is a bit lower than you’d like to be in the status game, and so on, making a name for yourself at conferences, finding those people who work in your area, etc., is a more important part of grad school than if you are at a high status program with a great mentor that is a great fit for you.

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    tina

    October 27, 2009 at 11:04 am

  2. Great point, Tina. If a student really needs that extra networking opportunity that a program doesn’t provide, conferences can help a ton.

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    fabiorojas

    October 27, 2009 at 3:47 pm

  3. My second master’s program is much better then the first in regards to conferences and networking. They allow you to work the table to make contact with people and even give you a special ribbon so that the alumni will know where you go.

    In my first degree, history, I never heard anything about conferences while in my second, Library and Information Sciences, from day one we were told about the importance of contacts and alumni associations in helping you to find a job.

    Would I be right in assuming that the importance of conferencing and networking is pushed at a higher status school then one with a lower ranking? The first MA was at small state schools while the one I am pursuing now is at well known university.

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    jason k

    October 27, 2009 at 4:31 pm

  4. Thanks for the post. I always wondered how much assistant professors working in top 25 programs considered the importance of conference attendance, length of stay at a conference, specialty conferences, and national conferences.

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    Brian Pitt

    October 27, 2009 at 4:32 pm

  5. One result of the recession: decreased (or non-existent) departmental travel funds for graduate students at public universities. This is felt especially hard when you are somewhat geographically isolated.

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    Trey

    October 27, 2009 at 4:34 pm

  6. “I always wondered how much assistant professors working in top 25 programs considered the importance of conference attendance, length of stay at a conference, specialty conferences, and national conferences.”

    Hey, Brian. As the post indicated, there’s variance. Some profs go conferences religiously and spend a lot of time. I go more sparingly, and I’ve recently had to cancel due to scheduling conflicts, recession relate budget cuts, and child issues. It would be good, but it’s not crucial.

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    fabiorojas

    October 27, 2009 at 4:37 pm

  7. “Would I be right in assuming that the importance of conferencing and networking is pushed at a higher status school then one with a lower ranking? The first MA was at small state schools while the one I am pursuing now is at well known university.”

    That seems to me spot-on.

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    Guillermo

    October 27, 2009 at 4:41 pm

  8. I’d guess that the rate of conference attendance among professors of any rank (but esp. among assistant profs) is highly correlated with the size of one’s research/travel budget. Schools outside the top 25 don’t always fund travel as well. Private schools usually have better travel resources than public schools.

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    brayden

    October 27, 2009 at 6:56 pm

  9. Also, for grad students, be on the lookout for “workshops”. In my discipline at least (Geography) there are a number of week-long workshops for advanced grad students and early faculty, usually centered around a theme (Radical Geography; Economic Geography; Climate Change etc.). These are usually paid for, but you have to apply and be accepted. The atmosphere is usually more laid back, but the intellectual engagement, and relationship building is more intense than at a conference. Its a great way to network, and work on your ideas, with an up-and-coming group of scholars.

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    musa

    October 28, 2009 at 1:54 pm

  10. […] Grad Skool Rulz One to Twenty-Three […]

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