To Conference Or Not To… There is no question

There is lots of guidance available on publishing academic papers. Sharing your research at conferences, however, is the relative unknown. And this can make the prospect quite daunting. Zakiyya sheds some light on the topic, sharing a few of her experiences and offering tips she has picked up along the way.

You’ve spent weeks, months, years perhaps, sitting at your desk or in the lab before finally getting some findings you’re proud of. Time to share them. Having your work accepted at your first conference can be both exciting and daunting. Whilst I’m not a big fan of public speaking, I have thoroughly enjoyed my time “conference-ing”. Presenting at conferences has taken me from Mumbai, to Mackinac Island and even Melbourne. Here are some of my musings on why all PhD-ers should truly embrace this opportunity to travel alongside their research, some tips I’ve picked up along the way, and general thoughts on the whole experience.

1  –  Pressure

Boat Pier Mackinac Island
© Zakiyya Adam

At my first conference, I wore a blazer, attended every keynote, session and workshop on the schedule, and took diligent notes on talks not even remotely related to my subject area. By the end of it, I was pretty exhausted. However, the reality is that conferences aren’t actually that stuffy or prescriptive. At most of the conferences I attend, smart casual seems to be the dress code; if you’re unsure, conferences usually post photographs from previous events on their website, so take a look and gauge what would be appropriate. Conference days can be long and no one expects you to attend every session, I now find it’s better to sometimes skip one that isn’t relevant to your research if it means you’ll be more refreshed and attentive at the ones that are.


Ultimately, there isn’t a correct way to dress or to schedule your time, the key is to find an approach that you find comfortable. The more at ease you are, the more you’ll actually get out of the conference, and the more you’ll enjoy it!

2  –  Networking

Food dish at The Pantry Restaurant
© Zakiyya Adam

I used to think that you need to have something smart or meaningful to say in order to approach someone during one of the breaks or at lunch. You don’t. I have found that the academics whose papers I’ve spent months reading are just as friendly and approachable as my peers. So just relax, there are no rules to networking. But there are lots of interesting experiences to be had!

In Hong Kong, I joined a table at lunch and had a really interesting conversation with the lady next to me; as we were leaving, I asked if it was her first time attending the annual conference only to find that she was the President Elect of the Society! Maybe I should have known that – thankfully, she didn’t mind at all!

None of the conferences I’ve attended have been hierarchical, and most academics seem to enjoy chatting to PhD students about their work, offering tips and guidance. I actually learnt about a new data set that formed the basis of my first study from a Professor that I spoke to over coffee in Barcelona. At the very least, networking at conferences has provided me with some great food recommendations from local attendees!

3  –  Holiday-ing

Granada Sunrise
© Zakiyya Adam

You’ve spent a long time travelling to get to the conference, it’d be a real shame not to explore the city! I usually like to add a couple of extra days onto the trip – you just have to cover your own hotel and subsistence costs for this period – but it’s also possible to fit in some sightseeing around the conference itself. I walked to one of Granada’s most popular viewpoints to catch the sunrise last year – it’s usually incredibly crowded at sunset but I had the place almost to myself in the morning – and I made it back to the hotel in time to have breakfast before the conference got started – a morning well spent!

A lot of conferences have planned activities, usually walking or cycling tours around the city. These can be great for meeting people in a more informal setting. And if the conference doesn’t have anything organised, then why not make plans with other attendees to do some sightseeing after the day’s talks – chances are that most of the people are visiting the city for the first time and are as keen as you to explore. Or just go solo. Solo travel might sound a little scary but it’s actually amazing!

4  –  Inspiration

© Zakiyya Adam

I find conferences invigorating! I come back full of ideas and ready to make real progress on my work. Even talks on seemingly unrelated topics often get me to think about my own work differently.

I go to conferences to share my completed work, and I come back inspired to do more.

Conferences. Have you been to any? Have any of your own tips or thoughts to share? Tweet us at @ResearchEx, email us at, or leave a comment below.

by Zakiyya


Zakiyya Adam is a final year PhD student at the Warwick Institute for the Science of Cities (WISC). Her research looks at commuting behaviours and subjective well-being. She worked as a civil engineering consultant for a few years before beginning her postgraduate journey. You can follow her on Twitter here: @AdamZakiyya

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