What is so important about a bunch of scientists gathering together to discuss their research? Let 's find out.
The American Psychological Association (APA), defines an academic conference as “a one-day or multi day event during which researchers present their work to each other. Conferences are an important way researchers stay connected to others in their field and learn about cutting-edge scholarship” (Buddie, 2016). Simple as it is, the definition entails more than just a gathering of like-minded individuals that discuss what they’re doing.
Academic conferences have a unique value for their attendees: they represent career advancement opportunities in various fronts. In fact, Due to the perceptions of a high Return of investment (ROI), academic conferences have become a “must” for the scientific career. As the following figure from the University of Edinburgh shows, during a researcher’s career, the only thing that changes in respect to conferences is the role they play. While a junior researcher presents a conference poster or paper, more experienced scholars coordinate panel discussions, or participate as invited speakers. Mid-career and Senior/Advanced researchers organize conferences and participate as leading experts in their field, often presenting the Keynote.
Figure 1. Academic career stages. Source: University of Edinburgh
Publications. Let’s face it, despite the many critiques of the current “publish or perish” model, publications (often measured through the number of citations) remain as the main indicator of academic success. How big is the impact here? Oester et al. (2017) surveyed the attendees of the International Marine Conservation Congress and 64% of the participants acknowledged that the ideas, contacts and lessons learned, led to publications.
Moreover, it’s not just about going to conferences but choosing the RIGHT conference (the qualitative side). Gorodnichenko, Pham and Talavera (2021) found positive links between conference presentations and publications in high quality journals. According to the authors
academic institutions should have effective mechanisms to encourage and support researchers to present in the high-quality conferences. By doing so, both researchers and universities can benefit from improved research performance (more publications in high-quality journals) and increased research dissemination (higher visibility) (p. 242, 2021).
Keep up with the newest research. Conferences provide a platform for researchers to present their work, get feedback, and learn about the latest developments in their field. This can lead to new insights and ideas for further research. Nowhere else an academic is going to find all the researchers that work on their topic.
Networking. These events bring together researchers from all around the world, providing excellent opportunities for networking. This can lead to collaborative research projects, job opportunities, and new professional relationships. In the above mentioned study by Oester et al, a shocking 91% of attendees considered that attending a conference got them networking opportunities with their peers.
Find Respected Speakers in your field. Organizers spend a lot of time looking for scientific leaders in their respective fields to be keynote speakers (I.e., Nobel prizes).
Learning New Information and Skills. Often cover a broad range of topics within a field, which can provide attendees with a wider perspective. This can be particularly beneficial for interdisciplinary research and for understanding the broader context of one's own research. Additionally, they get new skills from “satellite” events such as training programs that take place as part of the conference offerings (known as pre-conferences).
Improve Communication Skills. During a conference you have the opportunity to present your research to your peers. You must be able to share the main ideas of your work in a very limited amount of time. This means that you must prepare beforehand so you are clear and get the most out of the questions other researchers may ask you and the feedback you’re going to get. Practice makes perfect.
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