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Academic conference tips every researcher should know

Wondering what the different types of academic conferences are? Want to improve your networking skills? Or perhaps you need some academic conference presentation tips. Whatever it is, we’ve got you covered with a whole range of academic conference tips to help you get the most from your next conference.

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Our 15-minute podcast for researchers, produced in partnership with Vitae, explores these topics and offers up some expert insight. Listen to it below and read on for the key highlights…

Read the Academic conference tips podcast transcript.

Why are academic conferences important for researchers?

Attending academic conferences is a great way to develop your research career. They offer the chance to network and meet new collaborators or co-authors, learn about the latest research developments, and understand what’s happening in your field. 

Presenting at a conference also gives you the opportunity to make yourself and your work better known among colleagues. You can receive vital feedback to improve your research and it can lead to a whole host of new opportunities.  

Types of academic conferences

Academic conferences come in all shapes and sizes (and often have different names too, including research conferences, academic congresses, academic meetings, or symposia). They can be small local meetings right through to global events with thousands of attendees.  

And while some conferences focus on highly specialized topics within a single discipline, interdisciplinary conferences can bring together a broad variety of perspectives from academics, the industry, and practitioners across several disciplines. 

“[That’s a] choice you make about conferences,” explains Pat Thomson, Professor of Education and a well-known academic blogger who was interviewed for our podcast. “Whether you go to a very big general conference or a small focused one. In my field, for example, in the US, it’s nothing to have conferences of 15,000. And at the other end, you’ve got the small invitational conferences that may only be 40 people or a couple of hundred.” 

A range of sessions can take place during conferences. Typical formats include:

  • Keynote (or plenary) presentations – often by a well-known speaker. Most delegates attend these. 

  • Panel sessions – with multiple presenters often discussing the same or related topics 

  • Poster sessions – a researcher explains a poster they’ve produced displaying a summary of their research, usually a mixture of text with images, graphs, tables etc. 

  • Conference paper presentations – Researchers present a paper and get feedback. These are usually grouped into topics or parallel streams. 

Often there are also workshops with training on research skills such as public engagement or how to get published in academic journals.  

With so many different conferences to choose from, and with time and funding often limited, you need to think carefully about which ones you’re going to get the most out of. Researcher Daniel Simpson shares this advice

“To identify relevant conferences and workshops, sign up to as many subject-specific mailing lists as you can find. […] Event titles can often prove misleading. I have sometimes located an event with a promising title, only to encounter something completely unexpected. This can be avoided by looking into the backgrounds of the speakers and the content of their papers.”

Tips to get the most out of your next conference?

Signing up for a conference is just the start. As the time for the conference draws closer, whether you’re presenting or simply attending, you need to make sure you get the most out of it. Here are some tips to help you navigate your next conference… 

Do your research – why preparation is key

Really getting to know the sessions at the conference you’re planning to attend, as well as who the speakers and other attendees are will help you get the most from the conference when you arrive. 

“It’s helpful to read the conference program beforehand, so you can be strategic about what you might want to go and listen to,” says Pat Thomson. “Reading the abstracts and doing a bit of research about some of the people [presenting] can be helpful when you’re still getting to know who people are.” 

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“Do a little bit of research into what the conference is about,” agrees Michael Rayner, Dean of Research at the University of the Highlands and Islands, speaking on the podcast.  “Look at the sessions, be careful about your choice of the parallel sessions. And do look at them early because they get booked up and you can therefore make sure that you get the choices you want to go to.” 

And your research can even help get your networking off to a good start. 

“A tip that was given to me was before you go, search for everybody online and connect with them, so you’ve done the networking first,” explains Julia Reeve, a Teacher Fellow at De Montfort University. “So, you know what they look like. You know the people who’ve got similar interests to you.” 

Network like a pro

Networking with peers and making new connections is a big part of any academic conference. But this doesn’t come naturally to everyone, so it’s important to consider ways you can make networking a little easier for yourself. Here are some top tips for networking at academic conferences:

Arrange meetings in advance

If you have people in mind that you want to meet at the conference, then get in touch with them beforehand and set up a time to meet. Plan what you want to get out of the meeting so you can make your conversation as productive as possible.  

For example, are you looking to co-author an article with them? Do you want feedback on your paper? Or have you seen a job opening at their institution that you want to find out more about?

Use social media

Social media is a great way to build networks at conferences – before, during, and after.  

“Most conferences nowadays have some sort of hashtag ‘back channel’ going on,” explains Dr. Kieran Fenby-Hulse, Assistant Professor in Research Capability & Development, speaking on our podcast. “If you’re not on Twitter, you’re not part of that conversation. It’s like a room that you can’t go into at the conference.”  

Social media presents an opportunity to engage with others in preparing for the conference, meeting people beforehand, and discussing ideas and learning while you’re there. It also offers you the chance to get to know people before you get to the conference.  

“I would say knowing people off Twitter makes going to a conference 10 times less scary,” affirms Kieran Fenby-Hulse.   

Most conferences have a conference hashtag (e.g. #ScholarlySummit). Use this as a platform for discussing ideas raised during the conference, as well as to make connections during and afterward.

Prepare a 30-60 second ‘elevator pitch’

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Preparing a short summary of who you are and what you do can be incredibly helpful to get you started during networking breaks. This can be as simple as thinking of answers to the following:

  • What is the key question that your research addresses?  

  • What is your approach?  

  • Why does your research matter and what real-world relevance does it have?  

Avoid using specialist terminology that others outside the discipline won’t understand – not everyone at the conference may have an academic background or the same expertise as you. 

Academic conference presentation tips

Presenting a paper at a conference can be a valuable way of raising your profile as a researcher. It’s also an opportunity to get valuable feedback that can improve your research. 

“Very often we go to conferences and we’re told we should network and we should make contacts and that sort of thing,” says Professor Susan Brooks, director of research and development at Oxford Brookes University. “And as an early career researcher, often you feel quite lost and you don’t know anybody. If you give a presentation, suddenly everyone knows you.” 

Of course, it’s normal to feel nervous when presenting your paper at a conference, especially if you haven’t done it before, so here are some academic conference presentation tips to help you do it well:

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Introduce yourself

Presenting a paper at a conference can do wonders for your professional profile. Make sure you include a short introduction to yourself at the start of the presentation. Someone in the audience may be a future collaborator and you want to make it easy for them to find you afterward. 

Keep it simple

As researcher Charlie Berry noted in her blog post, “Your article can explain the importance of your research for your field in much more depth than a conference paper.” 

Often the most engaging presentations are the simplest, so you may want to focus on one aspect of your research rather than trying to present the full study. Use simple language and remember you’re delivering a presentation not reading an article. 

“I think sometimes we make the mistake of thinking that what we talk about has got to be terribly complicated and detailed,” explains Susan Brooks. “Whereas actually, it’s often the presentations where people have made things very simple, but very engaging, that stick in your mind.”

Managing the question and answer session

Some people consider the question and answer session the scariest part of delivering a presentation. Here are some key things to bear in mind:

  • Remember you are the person who knows your research best, most likely you’ll have a better grasp of the questions than you may think. 

  • Don’t worry if you can’t answer every question. Thank them for asking the question and follow up with them after. Chances are they’ll be grateful for you taking the time to investigate the question and for carrying on the conversation. 

  • Use the feedback to make your research even better. Read how one researcher turned her conference paper into a prize-winning journal article. 

For more advice on giving talks about your work, read ‘Presenting your research effectively and with confidence‘. This guide includes the top 6 tips from past winners of the Vitae Three Minute Thesis® competition. They’ve each had to explain their work under the pressure of a strict time limit and in front of hundreds of people, so they know what they’re talking about. 

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Academic conference poster tips

Poster sessions are another way of sharing your research at academic conferences. These often take place during networking breaks or lunch and normally there are multiple people presenting their posters at once. As with conference paper presentations, delivering a poster session can be a great way of sharing your work and increasing its profile.  

Here are some dos and don’ts to make them effective.


  • Prepare a 2-3 minute overview or elevator pitch explaining your research, then use this to guide people through your poster.

  • Be prepared to speak to a broad audience. Not everyone will be knowledgeable on the topic, so think about how you’d explain your research to someone outside the field. 


  • Ignore the design. Think about what visuals will attract passers-by and make them want to find out more. Use bullet points, headings, and images to help make it easy to read and understand. 

  • Make it too text heavy. Your poster should be a visual aid, not a full page of information. Make sure text can be read from a couple of meters’ distance. 

Learn more about how to make a poster then write a paper on Pat Thomson’s blog.

Where to next?

If you’ve found these blog useful make sure you listen in full to the podcast episode. And for even more helpful tips, you can look at: 

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