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Conferences: To Go or Not To Go?

April 7, 2017

Austin A. Deray

It’s that time of the academic year, the one we both look forward to and dread – it’s conference season. In honor of conference season, this week’s blog should be on conferencing: why you should attend and what to do at a conference. So, let’s get started.

Why Graduate and Professional Students Should Attend Conferences

The answer may seem obvious to some, but conference attendance can yield these 3 beneficial outcomes.[i]

  1. Networking: Conferences are a great place to network. People will get to meet you and you get to meet others. Regional, national, and international conferences are great places to meet diverse groups of people not only in your field, but also in adjacent fields and disciplines. I, myself, have been a member of the Popular Culture Association (PCA) and have been attending our conferences for 5 years. I am now a 2-year session chair and 5-year presenter. I have met and connected with the lead scholars in medievalism and have had the opportunity not only to grow my own knowledge base and professional portfolio, but also to help others with theirs.
  2. Presenting: Presenting is a vital part of the conference experience. Not only are you given the opportunity to get your research out there, but you are also able to get feedback on your research, which in the end will lead to a stronger paper and eventual publication.
  3. Learning: Lastly, conferences are a great place to learn about the current scholarship in your field and in related and non-related fields and disciplines. Since the lead time for publishing a research article in a journal may range from months to a year, conferences are often the best place to hear about emergent lines of inquiry. At PCA, I make it a point to go to as many sessions as possible: the ones I know I will enjoy and ones I know nothing about.

What to Do While Attending a Conference[ii]

I don’t know about y’all, but I love planning and scheduling. One of my favorite things to do is to help students plan their schedules for the next term. Conferences give you a similar opportunity. Conference programs, generally, come out at least a month in advance and will be sent electronically. This is great because you can create your game plan and make sure you take advantage of all three reasons why you attend a conference. You can check to see if you identify any scholars you might want to meet and network with, and make sure you attend their session. You can make sure you check out sessions that not only interest you, but also discuss something you may know little about (these sessions are surprisingly the most interesting.). Also take note of any receptions or socials. Receptions can give you the opportunity to meet others around a shared identity or interest in a smaller setting.

Don’t forget to check out the location of the conference. Conferences can be a great chance to explore new cities. My first time at a Cubs game and the Seattle Great Wheel were when I went to PCA’s conferences in Chicago and Seattle. Check out the city and plan some fun excursions.

So, research the sites and learn some new information. Conferences can be an all-around great experience as long as you plan and make sure to take full advantage of the opportunity. Remember to network, present, and learn something new. Remember to go to sessions other than your own and those in your own field, and remember to take your behind out of the hotel and enjoy an activity you can’t at home.

I hope this was helpful and you enjoy your weekend. Remember to check out next week’s blog, Lewis Forrest II, Associate Dean of University Life, is guest writing a blog on Resilience.


[i] Rutger’s University Graduate Student Blog

[ii] American Psychological Association

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