Academic Conferences: Why Are They Good For Your Career?

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Summer is upon us and many scholars now turn their attention to conferencing. However, what does conference attendance contribute to your career? Certainly in a job interview you are rarely required to discuss conferences attended, so perhaps they seem a superfluous activity. On the contrary, they can be very useful, and here’s why.

Research active:

Although conference attendance does not count for as much as publication or funding application, it does show that you are a research active member of staff. Speaking at the most prestigious conferences in your field is a real achievement as many papers and panels are rejected every year. Not all academics attend conferences regularly, but many at the start of their career do, and while exposing your research to public scrutiny can be nerve-wracking, most conference attendees are usually friendly and good spirited, choosing to encourage new scholars rather than criticise their work.

Ideas and inspiration:

Presenting your research at conferences is not a one way process. You can learn a great deal from fellow panel members (who may have a close interest in your topic) and from audience members. They might suggest new approaches that you hadn’t considered, provide references to other scholars’ work, or reinforce your ideas in an area that you were unsure about.

Lead to publication:

Conferences are also excellent because giving a paper can sometimes lead to publication, either in a journal or a special edited collection. This will boost your publication profile on your CV but also such an entry might count towards the REF (if you are based in the UK) or towards a tenure application (if based in the US).

Who did you meet?

As well as providing the opportunity to discuss the content of your own work, you might meet people at conferences who are useful to your career in other ways. For example, you might make contact with a publisher who’s interested in your new project. Or you might meet an academic whose department are about to advertise a job in your area of expertise and who remembers being impressed by you at a conference. You might meet scholars who are interested in pursuing a shared area of research with whom you can collaborate in the future. These connections will all be useful in developing your career profile, so make sure you go to the conference with an open mind.

Organising a conference yourself

After attending a number of conferences, you may realise that there is a particular topic of study that has not been covered or that would be enhanced by having a gathering of scholars to discuss it. If this is the case, why not organise your own event? This is difficult to achieve unless you are currently affiliated to a university, but you could help a colleague based at a university organise the event. Organising your own conference, even a single day event, can be tremendously time consuming, but very rewarding as you see the culmination of your hard work. You also have an excellent networking opportunity to get your name known amongst other scholars in the field.

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