Attending and presenting at conferences

Information on research, statistics and publications - tips including how to recruit participants, gain funding, understand your results and get them published.
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Paul Wicks
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Joined: Sun Mar 25, 2007 6:43 pm

Attending and presenting at conferences

Post by Paul Wicks » Fri Mar 30, 2007 8:53 am

Attending conferences is one of the bestways to get up to date on a particular topic, as you can often hear several specialists and researchers speak over the course of the same short period of time. Presenting at a conference is great for your CV and can also help build your conference and teaching/presenting skills whilst sharing your knowledge with those who can apply it. Dissemination is a vital part of the research cycle and without it the results of research are never taken into practise, rendering the research of little value. Presenting at a conference can help you interact with your audience more than publishing papers, and can help you prepare for being examined on a particular topic (eg presenting a doctoral thesis topic before a viva).

Most conferences are single day events, requiring travel, but others may be 2 or 3 days or even longer, and that normally requires accommodation as well (unless you happen to be local to the venue or have friends or relatives nearby). The biggest and most prestigious conferences are often international ones, so the logistics become more complex and expensive.

Funding your conference

Whilst attending conferences is undoubtedly an important part of the education process, there’s no getting away from the fact that it’s a pretty expensive endeavour. You’ll have to consider the following costs:

* Registration - Anywhere from £10 - £500
* Transport - Includes air fare if international but also train, tube, milesage if driving, taxis, and transfers
* Accomodation - This can be an expensive component of your costs
* Poster - Printing and laminating an A0 poster can cost upto £100
* Sundries - Going out for dinner, drinks, excursions, etc.

In terms of where you go this should be discussed with your supervisors at an early stage. One idea might be for you to attend a national conference at the stage of your research when you’ve read the literature and want to get informed about the cutting edge of research. Then, when you’ve analysed your data, you might attend the big international conference and submit your work for a platform or poster presentation.

There are several key sources of funding. Primarily there should be some money in your research grant allocated to attending conferences. In the case of many funded students it’s in the region of £1000 over the course of three years. This should be adequate to attend one national and one international conference at the least. You should still always apply for external sources of funding in the first instance as it’s good practice to submit applications, and you can save the money in your grant just in case a great conference suddenly appears in your last 6 months and you won’t have time to apply for other sources.

External sources of funding include schemes like the Brain Travel Grant from relevant journals or learned societies. There may be a bursary scheme attached to the conference itself for junior researchers, or you may be able to apply to commerical bodies such as VWR International, who make laboratory equipment and fund a travel bursary scheme of their own. In the case of some of these schemes, you may have had to be a member of a particular organisation for a year or more, so it’s best to consider things as early on as you can. A more complete list of sources of external funding can be found by clicking the "Conference Funding" link in the top right of this page or clicking here.

Cost-Cutting Tips: Making the most of your conference funding

1. Check if the conference organisers have secured discounted block bookings for flights and accomodation
2. Try to use your network of contacts (e.g. friends in the airline industry could get you staff discounted tickets)
3. Ask the conference organisers for a discount on registration fees in exchange for writing a conference report on their website or proofreading the abstract book, for instance
4. Let other members of your team know well in advance where you’ll be staying and share accomodation to split the costs
5. Whilst the conference hotel might be the most convenient place to stay, it’ll almost certainly be one of the most expensive too. See if you can find a cheaper hotel within walking distance of the conference venue, or even better see if you can stay with friends nearby
6. Similarly, if you’re on a tight budget and travelling within Europe you could find cheaper travel via coach instead of flying, or by last minute deals on budget airlines
7. Consider the timings of your flights; for instance if you land at Heathrow at 4am you’ll need to get a taxi as opposed to the cheaper train.
8. When booking, check if travelling a day or two earlier or later makes a difference to the cost; sometimes you can save a few hundred pounds by staying for a set period e.g. 7 days
9. Try asking print shops if they’d consider discounting your poster printing fees, particularly if you work in a health-related field
10. Keep receipts of everything and make a note of the exchange rate used both for cash but also for your credit card, the latter may give you a poorer exchange rate and pocket the difference!
11. Check whether there are steward roles available, which will mean you get to attend for free in exchange for facilitating the smooth running of the day
12. Check whether there are any grants or subsidies available.

Visit this page for some suggested sources of conference funding.

Why present?

So you’ve just spent the last 36 months painstakingly gathering data on whatever it is that you do; your partner has become an expert on the various digestion-related cognitions of people with IBS from listening to your ravings for three years and you’ve almost forgotten what daylight looks like since hibernating in your office writing up for what seems like forever. What’s to be done with your precious gleaming contribution to the scientific literature? You don’t just want to leave it on a dusty shelf in the library, you have to stand on the tallest mountain and shout about it!

A conference is your opportunity to do several things:

* Present your work to others
* Hear about the current state of research in the field
* Meet, greet, and network
* Whilst it isn't a "publication" as such, it is evidence of dissemination if you present your own work

There are probably a large array of conference you might be interested in attending. As a quick guide take a flick through the journals you rely upon most frequently or ask other peers. Your supervisor should have some ideas of where they’d like you to present your work when it’s ready. You’ll submit an abstract in advance and on the basis of peer review you may be allocated either a poster presentation or a platform presentation. Depending on the conference it’s more likely you’ll be doing the former as a student (even if a postgrad or PhD), but some conferences have special sessions for member’s papers or young scientists.

A poster session involves a large poster, typically A0 size, which summarises your work in a clear and organised manner. There may be a timed poster session planned during the conference during which time you’ll stand by your poster and "walk through" your data with other conference delegates. It’s a very good idea to print out a large pile of handouts on A4 and have them in an envelope pinned up next to your poster so delegates can peruse your poster at their leisure. It may also be a good idea to have a stack of business cards handy, particularly if you’re looking for a job in the next year or so! The poster presentation is an excellent opportunity to present your work face-to-face and meet some of the authors responsible for the papers you’ve been reading over the past few months. They might make suggestions or ask questions that will inform your future research, or they might even suggest a collaboration in the future!
more info on posters here

Platform Presentations
If you’re presenting some particularly relevant or outstanding work, you may be allocated a platform presentation or talk at the conference. The actual time designated varies, but is usually between 10 and 30 minutes and uses Powerpoint slides. This is definitely an area where style and confidence of presentation can win an audience over; mumble into the microphone and just read directly off the slides and you might notice people edging quietly out of the side doors. Project your voice, make eye contact with the audience, and try to make your presentation visually stimulating and you should be able to persuade them of anything.
A few tips:
* Get a good night’s sleep and arrive in plenty of time
* Bring your talk on multiple media; USB pendrives are great, but you should also bring a CD-Rom and email it to your webmail account just in case!
* See if you can borrow an LCD projector and see how big your text looks; it’s worth bearing in mind that videos in Powerpoint are extremely temperamental and if you’re going to rely upon them to make a crucial point you should liase with the conference organisers in advance to avoid any embarrassment
* Include your email address at the end of the talk if people want to get in touch
* As a rough guide, you’ll need one slide per minute and most slides should contain a graphic of some kind. Pages of plain text can be very dull!
* By all means, try to be lively and humourous. That said, avoid simply bringing up cliched Far Side or Dilbert cartoons inserted into your slides, and under no circumstances make a crude or offensive joke!
* If somebody asks you a question and you don’t know the answer, say so. Long, evasive waffling answers are very dull to listen to. It often helps to repeat the question so the audience know what you’re responding to.
* Know your audience. Is that guy on the third row that Professor who’s research you’ve just totally refuted? You might want to prepare some answers for hostile questions.
* Don’t be afraid to state your opinion and try to give your impression of the wider picture rather than simply presenting your data and saying "more work needs to be done in this area".

Aside from your actual presentation, there are plenty of other opportunities for learning and networking at conferences. If you’re relatively new to the team it might be a good idea to stick close to key people within your department who you don’t normally get to spend time with; your colleagues will be more relaxed and have time to talk over collaborations and future plans when back home they’re rushed off their feet. If you’re already strongly embedded in the team you might want to go further afield and start introducing yourself to other delegates; everyone should be wearing nametags so it’s a good time to put a face to the name of authors you’ve read. If you haven’t felt confident enough to ask a speaker a question during their talk you can always find them in the coffee break where you’ll probably get a longer and more detailed answer.

The Networking Masterclass
If you’re preparing to finish your research and the next key step for you is a job then you might want to take the networking up a few gears! Before the conference go through the delegate list if you can and circle people you’d like to speak to and why. You could colour code the list according to whether they might be a source of funding, if you want to work in their lab, or if they might know someone that they could recommend you to. If you’re in this stage of your career then the coffee and lunch breaks are probably more important and exciting than the talks themselves! Introduce yourself, say what you do, and who you work for. A little namedropping doesn’t hurt but don’t overdo it. Sometimes a nice smile will do the trick! Whilst you want to be sociable and friendly you’re also talking to people for a purpose; be explicit in your aims. E.g. "Ah, Professor Murtagh, I really enjoyed your talk on the neurochemical markers of negative schema clusters, in fact I’ve just completed a PhD with your old protege Dr. Talbing on that very subject! I’m planning to finish by the end of this month and then I’ll be applying for postdoctoral positions, you don’t happen to know if there are any coming up in your department?". Again, business cards come in handy here but of course senior people will be receiving a lot of these. There’s nothing to stop you from printing off a sticker and putting it on the back saying something like "Final year PhD in neurchemical markers of negative schemas, interested in postdoctoral work" just as a reminder. The memory does tend to decline in the later years after all... An excellent way to initiate contact is to offer to email them a copy of your talk/poster/latest paper. That way it’s easy to establish a dialogue that they can pace in their own time and see some written evidence of your skill. Plus you get an email address to correspond with.

Other tips
- Forgotten someone’s name completely but don’t want them to know? Ask them to write down their email address for you, it’ll either contain part of their name or give you enough of a jog to recall it.
-If you’ve run out of things to say or you’ve just eyeballed another crucial target on your hitlist have a few stock phrases on hand to extract yourself from the current conversation, e.g. "Well it was great speaking to you, I’ll be sure to send you that copy of the paper you wanted as soon as I get back..." but make sure you’ve taken their contact info.
- Feel free to disagree with others or even despise them entirely! But don’t do it too loudly or controversially in communal meeting areas, you really have no idea who’s in earshot.
- You don’t have to straight-out ask people for favours directly; it might be worth suggesting that you’d really value their career advice and wondered if they might know someone who could help you out. If they’re receptive to you they will take it from there.
- Maintain your existing relationships. If you’re going to meet somebody at the conference that you’ve met before try emailing them a week beforehand to remind them of what you discussed last time and suggest you have a coffee at the conference.
- If someone gives you their business card it might be a good idea to scribble a couple of notes to yourself on the back of it to remind you what they do so when you get back home you haven’t forgotten!
- Be nice to everybody! That annoying undergrad yipping at your heels during your poster talk might just happen to be the daughter of a respected Professor you need to cultivate!

If you have any more conference tips you’ve picked up over the years, please add them to the wiki.
Note: If you have a suggestion about how to improve or add to this wiki please post it here. If you want to discuss this post please post a new thread in the forum. There is information about the structure, rules and copyright of the wiki here.

Content checked by qualified Clinical Psychologist on 28/01/2018 BlueCat
Last modified on 28/01/2018
Last edited by BlueCat on Mon Jan 29, 2018 12:11 am, edited 1 time in total.
Reason: Checked and a few points added

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