When the summer holidays approach many academics look forward to conference attendance. But throughout the year you may have been involved in the planning of academic events. The conference circuit is changing partly due to the lack of funding available to many younger scholars, while those who are more established are also having their conference attendance budgets cut.
Why go to conferences?
Networking and getting your work known are the two most important reasons for attending conferences, but also it is good to hear about what others are doing in your field. Organising conferences can look really good on your CV and shows your ability to take leadership roles, as well as managing budgets and teams of people.
Residential conferences versus small events:
Many organisations used to hold annual residential conferences, and of course the largest still do. These are must-attend events that bring together thousands of scholars from across the world. In my field, the main ones are the American Historical Association and the Organisation of American Historians. These are residential conferences that run over 3 or 4 days and take a large team of people to run.
However, many smaller organisations are now moving away from the residential conference. Partly this is because of the cost to delegates becoming prohibitive. As more universities and conference venues offer conference packages, they have become more polished, but also more expensive operations. This means that many residential events over 3 days will cost nearly £300, and that’s before you factor in travel to the venue. Independent and early career scholars often find this cost too much to bear, while many universities are simultaneously restricting conference attendance for academics unless they are speaking.
Advantages of a small event:
Single day workshops can be much more attractive. Organisers try to fit in as many speakers as possible in a short space of time (some organisers now demand 15 minute papers, some as short as 10). However, costs can then be kept pretty low. Often delegates can spare the time for a single day event with academics’ time becoming increasingly more pressured, even over the summer break. So, in summary, you’re more likely to get a good audience by running a small event.
Disadvantages of a small event:
There is often no time for discussion. Breaks are kept to a minimum and delegates don’t have a chance to network properly. Extra activities such as poster sessions, exhibitions or practical activities are often impossible. In order to pack in as much as possible, organisers start the event early, and this means that delegates who might want to attend cannot do so if they need to travel long distances.
So as an event organiser, what’s the best route to take? Many are now producing a varied programme of events, mixing up single days with longer conferences. You can also consider using technological solutions that prevent the necessity of meeting up in person.