By: Isang Awah and Po (Sally) Tsai, Faculty of Education, University of Cambridge
Whether you will stay in academia or not, attending conferences might be one of your must-do things during your graduate studies. Attending conferences is a chance for you to meet people in your field, network with academics and peers, and get different ideas which could build into something greater and enlighten your way of thinking in your field of study. Also, by attending other academics’ presentations or workshops, you will become aware of the new trends and will be updated on new findings as well as improve your skills in networking and speaking – all of which will have a positive impact on your career. In addition, if you are going to present at a conference, through the conference proceedings, you can prepare your research in order to have it published by a reputable journal. However, getting the most out of any conference requires some preparation. Based on our experiences in attending conferences and in chairing the organizing team of the recently held 2018 Kaleidoscope Conference we would like to share a few tips that we hope readers will find helpful.
Before the conference
First of all, you need to be strategic with your time. Before you go to a conference, download the conference booklet and choose which sessions, panel discussions and workshops you would like to attend. Generally speaking, delegates base their choice on either the content of the talk or personal reasons such as wanting to support or meet a presenter.
Also, you need to take your business cards with you. Attending academic conferences could provide the opportunity to meet and interact with academics and experts from different countries and various institutions. Therefore, you need to take your business cards in order to swap contact information and develop connections with other delegates, which might lead to future collaborations.
Finally, don’t forget to prepare and rehearse your talk if you are going to present at the conference. Conferences provide the opportunity not only to present your own work to a variety of scholars in the same or similar field of studies, but also to receive feedback from them. Therefore, it is imperative that you prepare for your presentation ahead of time, and that you listen to feedback and constructive criticism about your research as these will make your work better.
During the conference
Be sure you arrive early for the sessions you are interested in, and if it turns out that a session is not quite what you thought it would be, do not feel bad about skipping that session and attending a different one. Take notes during each session, and write down any follow-up you may want to do on the topic or with the speaker. Do give constructive feedback and/or ask questions about things you may want to know more about.
If you are interested in connecting with a speaker, hang around after the session, walk over to them, tell them how much you enjoyed their presentation and politely ask for a business card. This may also be a good opportunity to ask questions that you may not have had the opportunity to ask during the session. If you have to rush off to another session immediately after a presentation, you could use the coffee/tea breaks and/or lunch break to connect with any speakers or delegates you are interested in meeting with.
Conferences provide an excellent opportunity to network with people in your field so be prepared to socialize during break periods and during/after the conference dinner. Always be ready to discuss your research in a succinct and interesting manner. Whilst it is a lot easier to hang out with people you already know, you must make good use of the networking opportunities by talking with people you don’t know yet and exchanging contact details with them. It might help to write a line or two behind the business cards you receive, as a way of remembering what was discussed. Don’t forget that these meetings could lead to future collaborations!
After the conference
As soon as possible, ideally within a week after the conference, reconnect with the people you met at the conference by adding them on LinkedIn and/or sending them emails to let them know you enjoyed meeting them. Additionally, remember to follow up on any action you may have agreed upon or promised to do; this is very important and will help in strengthening the connection made.
Finally, remember to share insights and knowledge gained from participation at the conference with others through posts on social media; you may share video clips from the conference or write about specific things you learned at the conference. If you do share contributions made by specific people, be sure to acknowledge these people in your writing.
Whatever your reason(s) for attending a conference, do make the most of it. We hope you find the conferences you attend exciting and worthwhile, and that they will count among the most memorable experiences of your PhD life!
Isang Awah is a third-year PhD student at the Faculty of Education and Darwin College. Her PhD work explores how much leisure reading children in Nigeria do and the factors that affect their engagement with reading for pleasure. In the past year, she was a member of the Cambridge ThinkLab for The Reading Agency, was part of the team that organized the Xcelerate 2018 Literacy Conference, and served as the co-chair for the 2018 Kaleidoscope Conference. In addition, Isang has served as the chair for the organizing team for the annual National Creative Writing Competition for Children in Nigeria from 2014 to date. In her spare time, she enjoys hanging out with her family and friends, reading novels, and watching movies.
Po Tsai is a third-year PhD student at the Faculty of Education and Darwin College. Her PhD research focuses on identifying levels of teaching skills in Taiwan and investigating the relationships between teaching skills, teacher background characteristics and perceptions, student background characteristics, and student achievement. Her research interests include educational effectiveness research, teacher effectiveness research and teacher professional development. She is particularly interested in the mixed methods approach, incorporating quantitative and qualitative methods. Po served as the co-chair for the 2018 Kaleidoscope Conference.