How to Find Academic Conferences Relevant to Your Field

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By Dr Catherine Armstrong

Following an inquiry by a jobseeker, this article will describe the different ways that you can find out about academic conferences in your field of study. We all know how important it is to go to conferences in order to disseminate your research and to network with other scholars, but how do you learn about conferences in the first place

Conferences: what are they?

There are generally two sorts of conference. One type is organised by the same group and held annually, perhaps in a different venue or with a slightly different theme. The other type of conference is a one-off stand-alone event. You will use the same sources of information to find out about both initially, but obviously you will know when an annual conference is coming round every year. You should try to get on their mailing list in order to be kept up to date with that conference, and you should note the name of the organiser.

If you enjoy a conference, then make sure you sign up to receive information for subsequent years. Some of these annual conferences are run by large professional organisations, such as the Organisation of American Historians for example, who charge a subscription fee. They also have their own website and publications, so it is easy to keep up with their activities.

How are they advertised?

There are usually two sorts of conference advertising. First a ‘call for papers' goes out inviting proposals for papers from interested parties. This can happen anywhere from a year to only few months before the conference. Then when a list of speakers has been finalised another round of advertising will be made inviting delegates to register and giving information about the programme, accommodation, travel arrangements and so on.

Where can I learn about future academic conferences?

  1. Personal contacts
    As with many things in academia, your personal contacts (i.e. colleagues, PhD supervisor and so on) will be able to tell you about conferences that they run or attend that would be relevant to your subject area. Make sure you ask colleagues to let you know about conferences and reciprocate by doing the same for them.

  2. Academic departments
    If you work regularly in an academic department you will have access to a ready source of information about conferences. Many conference organisers advertise by contacting heads of academic departments or their administrators. Many departments have a notice board or common room where such adverts can be easily accessed. Individual members of staff sometimes (if the building's regulations permit!) use their office doors to advertise conferences they are interested in, so spend some time looking round your department, or alternatively visit the relevant department at your local university.

  3. Electronic mailing lists
    Many subject areas have electronic mailing lists that you can subscribe to that will send you messages about conferences and calls for papers. An example in the Humanities is H-Net, which is based in the U.S. but advertises conferences, workshops, fellowships and prizes across the world. It is also possible to go direct to their website and search lists of conference postings. From the short messages on mailing lists you should get some idea of the subject covered by the conference, its location and most importantly the names and contact details of the conference organisers to whom any further inquiries can be directed. Information might also be given about plenary or keynote speakers (i.e. eminent scholars in the field who have been persuaded to give a paper already to attract more interest).

    Smaller organisations have electronic mailing lists to keep their members abreast of events in their field. They may send out regular bulletins, or simply email you as and when new information comes in.

  4. Journals
    This is a good way of finding out about conferences because if adverts appear in a journal you subscribe to or are interested in then the conference should be relevant to you. Make sure you check the latest issue because journals can take quite a while to reach libraries and their subscribers, meaning there's not much time to respond to a conference advertisement. If you are looking at a printed copy of a journal in a library, the latest issues are often kept somewhere else on a separate shelf so ask a librarian if you can't find them.

  5. Organise your own conference!
    If there doesn't seem to be any conferences of interest in your own field, don't despair, simply organise your own! While this may seem like a huge undertaking, especially for scholars at the start of their career, it's actually incredibly rewarding and great for networking with other academics. Start small and organise a one-day event with perhaps four or five invited speakers. Colleagues, and especially your head of department, will help you to get external and internal funding to pay for the conference because it will be prestigious for your institution to do so. These things cannot be rushed; conference organisation takes a lot of time and you may find yourself attending many discussions about how to run the conference before it finally comes to fruition. Having said that, hosting your own conference will look great on your CV!

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