How to prepare for attending an academic conference?

So you have a paper accepted for presentation at an academic conference and you wonder how to prepare for attending the conference? In this blog post, I will discuss this topic.

Making a travel plan

For an international conference, the first thing to do before attending the conference is to check for the travel requirements. Travelling to several countries or territories require to apply for a visa and obtaining a visa can sometimes take a long time, and require to have various documents ready such as an invitation letter. Thus, it is better to start the process of applying for a visa early if needed. One may also require to obtain the approval from his university or company to attend a conference. If one cannot attend the organizers, he should also let the organizers know about it or arrange someone else to replace him.

After ensuring that you can enter the country/territory where the conference is held, the second most important thing is to have a transportation plan. For international conferences or domestic conferences that are far away, one should reserve an airplane/bus/train ticket early, as prices may increase and less choices may be available over time. Generally, I would recommend to arrive at least one day before the conference at the city where it is held.

You may also want to pay for a travel insurance and check if some vaccines are required. Travel insurance can sometimes be purchased with your airplane ticket.

Then, one should also book an hotel room early. When a conference is held in a famous city, sometimes the most affordable hotels or those that are the closest to the conference may become fully booked quickly.

Preparing your talk, and giving a good talk

If you are planning to give talk (a presentation of your research work) at a conference, you should prepare your presentation BEFORE the trip. I have previously written a blog post about how to give a good oral presentation at an academic conference and another one here. You may read these blog posts which gives many advices rabout how to prepare and deliver a good talk. Then, after your presentation is ready, if you are using electronic slides such as PPT slides, you want to put them on your laptop, on a USB drive and perhaps also keep a copy in your e-mail to avoid any problem.

If one has to present a poster at an academic conference, he should also prepare the poster in advance and keep some time for printing it.

Preparing a networking plan

In my opinion, the most important reason for attending an academic conference is to meet other researchers because all the papers presented at a conference can be read online anyway. To take advantage of the networking opportunities offered by a conference, you may look at the list of attendees before attending the conference and make a list of people that you would like to meet and discuss with. Meeting other researchers is important for the career of a researcher as it allows to exchange ideas and also develop collaborations and look for opportunities such as finding a post-doctoral, researcher or faculty position.

Close Up Photography of Yellow Green Red and Brown Plastic Cones on White Lined Surface

At a conference, many people will ask you where you are from? what kind of research are you doing? It is also good to have a short 30 second or 1 minute answer ready for these questions, as it may help to start some discussion. It is also good to bring your business cards if you have some, and it is useful to invite the people that you meet to connect on your profesionnal social network website like LinkedIn so you may want to install it on your phone. By the way, if you don’t already have a website, or profile on LinkedIn or on academic social networks like ResearchGate, it is a good idea to have one for your career so that people can find you online.

When you participate to an academic conference, you should also look at the schedule and make a plan of the activities that you want to attend to use your time well. And especially, you should not miss the networking activites like coffee breaks, banquet, reception, and poster sessions to talk with other people. Also don’t be shy. If you don’t know anyone, then remember that most people attending the conference also probably don’t know anyone and will be happy to talk with you.

Taking the airplane

If you fly to a conference, it is important to prepare your luggage well and what you will carry in the airplane. I generally prepare a luggage and also a backpack or small bag that I bring with me in the airplane. In that latter bag, I carry:

  • My passport, a printed copy of airplane tickets (because you may have to show your return ticket when arriving in another country), visa or other required travel documents, and travel insurance.
  • Computer and accesories (usb, charger, laser pointer, mouse, adapter to connect computer to a projector, etc.), cellphone.
  • Earplugs (for the noise in the airplane), headphones and adapter for using it in an airplane (because headphones provided in airplanes are sometimes quite bad),
  • Pens (always useful for filling forms when arriving in another country)
  • International power plug adapter (you should check if needed before travelling) to be able to use your electronic equipments
  • Cash, debit cards, credit cards, and other valuables items (jewelry, etc.).
  • Medicines (if needed)
  • Book (if I want to read in the airplane)
  • I also bring a very thin sport jacket to put in the airplane in case it is too cold (but you can also ask the air attendant for a blanket ).

I then put all other things in my luggage. For a conference, it is important to bring some nice clothings but it also does not need to be highly formal either.

Before entering the airplane, you should also choose your seat when checking in. In an airplane there are some good seats and some bad seats. For a long flight, I prefer to have an aisle seat (a seat beside the walking alley) because if I need to go to the washroom or walk a bit, I don’t need to ask other people to let me pass (they may be sleeping), and there is no one besides me on one side. The second best seat is the window seat, because there is also no one besides you on one side and you can lean on the window to have a rest. The worst seat are the seats where you sit between two persons because you may be squeezed between two persons and you can’t enjoy the window view and still need to ask other people to pass if you need to go to washroom or walk outside.

Arriving at the conference

When you will arrive at the conference, the first thing to do is to register at the registration desk. Then, you can enjoy the various activities of the conference.

Conclusion

In this short blog post, I gave some advices about attending a conference that I hope will be useful, especially to those attending an academic conference for the first time. If you have some questions or if you think that I forgot to mention something important, then please leave a comment below!

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Philippe Fournier-Viger is a full professor  and the founder of the open-source data mining software SPMF, offering more than 170 data mining algorithms. If you like this blog, you can tweet about it and/or subscribe to my twitter account @philfv to get notified about new posts.

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