Tips to Prepare for Academic Conferences

It’s that time of the year for academic conferences. Where do I even begin? There is so much I want to write about regarding conferences, but for this post I’ll share my top 10 tips on how to prepare yourself for academic conference culture. I will likely be writing more posts on conferences so comment below if there is something you would like me to expand on. 

I’ve only been to a handful of conferences; I can literally count them on both hands. However, these conferences were not all led by the same organization or school. Interestingly enough, no matter where I go, there seems to similar social behaviours occurring in these settings that make up this ‘academic conference culture’.

If you haven’t been to a conference before, I know this could be intimidating so I hope these tips will help you. On the other hand, if you have been to conferences, I hope you find some comfort or amusement in these tips.

1: How to choose a conference

There are so many types of conferences to choose from; ranging in size, across or spanning disciplines – so, how do you choose? It may be best to start off small, your University will likely have a conference – either your own Department or Faculty. Starting off in a place surrounded by like-minded people may be the best way to go to begin (it is also a good way to keep the costs down if you don’t receive funding). Once you get comfortable, start to expand outside your department, school or even country!

2: Is it worth it?

Conferences can be expensive, sometimes quite boring and are yet another thing that is keeping you away from your thesis, so you have to ask yourself “is it worth it”? What goal will you be accomplishing by going to this conference. This is why it helps to have overall learning goals to go back to when you start feeling overwhelmed about not doing enough or doing too much. Check out my post on learning goals here.

3: When not to go

If you already have written a paper for a class and received positive feedback, this might be an opportunity to share your findings. If you are making progress with your thesis and would appreciate some feedback, this may also be a good time to head to a conference. But do not go if you don’t have something yet to present or if you don’t have the time to prepare. You are just starting off in your career and you want to make a good impression, not to mention – sometimes they aren’t worth your time.  Trust that the time will come.

4:  Business cards 

Should you get business cards? Sure, it’s nice to have them for networking, but these babies cost me $88! Not to mention, half the time I forget them, or just exchange information another way. This might be another time to ask yourself “is it worth it”?

5: Step out of your comfort zone 

Being “on” all day is exhausting, especially for an introvert like me. However, conferences are an excellent time to network and build long lasting relationships. So, step out of your comfort zone, put on your confidence cape and have a face mask waiting for you when you get back to your hotel at night to recharge for the next day.


6: Preparing for your paper

Key word: prepare. I am truly amazed to realize how many people don’t prepare. So if you can prepare, practice and think about the key message you want to convey – you are well on your way to an interesting presentation.

7: Presenting your paper

I prefer a mix between structured yet informal presentations. Presentations were people are clearly prepared but can also talk to the points they are making, away from reading off their paper or computer. Don’t be afraid to spice it up a bit with interesting infographics or pictures, but don’t go crazy and overwhelm your audience. Make sure you keep an eye on the clock. And most of all, confidence is key – draw the audience in with your confidence and they will remember you and your research more easily.

8: Responding to questions

Respond, don’t react. If someone asks a difficult or a self-indulged question (you all know what I am talking about) put on a smile, thank them for their question and respond thoughtfully. Feel free to complain about it later with your close friends and colleagues, in a dignified manner of course.

Comic by @lilidoesherphd

lil does her phd.jpg

9: Participate 

This goes along with stepping out of your comfort zone. Don’t go to a conference thinking you are going to blend into the walls or hide in the corner. Participate in all aspects of the day(s); introduce yourself to people at breakfast, sit with new faces at lunch, attend the socials (even if only for one drink), don’t sit at the back, listen and ask questions! *With one caveat – ask thoughtful questions that will aid in the presenters research, not one that will showcase your own skills.

10: Bring a large bag for free things

Okay this is one that people often joke about, but i’m not kidding. Conference often have food, drinks, pens etc. Now most of this stuff is hit and miss but sometimes you can hit the jackpot. The last conference I went to, I walked away with all these goodies below. I’d say that’s around $10 in savings! This may seem said to the working folk, but as a poor grad student – I’ll take it.


I find most conferences that I am interested in take place in February, March and June. What about you?

Comment below if you have ever been to a conference or are planning to attend one soon!

And let me know if there is anything else you want me to write on regarding conferences.

Until next time,

Christine xo

P.S Don’t forget to use #ScholarCulture #ScholarSquad #ScholarSunday to keep me updated on your experiences as grad students.

P.P.S Applying to grad school for the 2019/20 school year? Check out this FREE eBook on 5 steps to a successful grad school application. Are you in grad school and struggling to find easy lunches to bring to campus? Check out three FREE recipes and full nutritional information here.

2 responses to “Tips to Prepare for Academic Conferences”

  1. Kate

    Thanks for this. I’m presenting at the American Occupational Therapy Association conference next month. I haven’t been to this conference in 15 years, so I’m taking in all the suggestions I can get.


    1. Scholar Culture

      I hope it went well 🙂

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