Why attending academic conferences is important?

In this blog post, I will talk about the importance of attending academic conferences for researchers. I will answer two important questions: Why it is important to attend conference?  and What one should do at an academic conference to get the most benefits?

academic conference

Academic conferences

Academic conferences are meetings attended by researchers mostly from academia,. Typically attendees are professors, students, researchers, and researchers from the government or industry. Academic conferences are different in various fields. But generally, a person who wishes to attend a conference will submit a paper or an abstract to the conference. Then, the paper or abstract is evaluated by some researchers, and if the paper is accepted, the person can attend the conference and present his research work at the conference. Generally, one presents his work as a short talk (10 to 30 min) or as a poster during a poster session.

Why is it important to attend a conference?

First, it is important to understand that different people will attend a conference and their goals are not the same. For the student, attending a conference has several benefits:

  • Getting feedback on hisresearch project,
  • Discussing ideas with other researchers,
  • Learning about other projects in his  field,
  • Practicing giving a talk in front of an audience (this is not an easy task… it requires to explain your work in a simple way in a fixed amount of time) and answering questions about your work sometimes in a foreign language.
  • Connecting with other people in your field that you may work with in the future.
  • Travelling (this is not the main goal of attending a conference but it is always nice to see other places),

For the professors, the benefits are similar. But after a few years of working in the same research community, the focus starts to change from attending paper presentations to connecting with people. Actually, a researcher should not work alone if he wants to be successful. Thus, to create opportunities, it is important to connect with other researchers. In my case, the best part of the conference is thus to meet and talk with other researchers, rather than attending the paper sessions. This year, for example, I have attended the PAKDD conference and it has been great. I have attended some good talks. But most importantly I had discussions with many researchers, including some that I often see on some papers but had never met. This can create some new opportunities.

For researchers from the industry or government, academic conferences are useful to get familiar with the new methods developed in  academia, and sometimes to try to recruit people from academia, and also meet researchers.

What one should do at an academic conference?

Now, I will give some advices about what one should do when attending a conference. The first thing is to prepare your presentation before attending the conference (if you have to give a talk). By doing this, you will not be worried about giving a talk and can then focus on listening to other talks and meeting people.

The second advice is to carefully look at the program (schedule) of the conference to select the events and talks that are the most interesting for you to attend.

The third advice is to check the list of people who will attend the conference to see which people from your field will attend the conference. This can give you some idea about who you may want to try to talk with.

The fourth advice is to try to attend all the social activities and try to talk with as many people as possible.  If you have name cards, bring some with you, and exchange it with other people, or ask for their name cards.

The fifth advice is to focus on attending conferences that are good and relevant to your field. If one attends conference that are irrelevant, of low quality or cover a too broad field of research, then he is unlikely to meet people that will be interesting for his research work, and he may not get interesting feedback on his work. Thus, it is always important to send papers to relevant conferences and journals.

Conclusion

In this blog post, I discussed the importance of attending academic conferences and what one should do at academic conferences to get the most benefits out of it.  Academic conferences are a very important activity to be a successful researcher, as sooner or later in the career of a researcher, it is necessary to collaborate with others on projects, apply for grants, organize events, and other things.


Philippe Fournier-Viger is a professor of Computer Science and also the founder of the open-source data mining software SPMF, offering more than 145 data mining algorithms.

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