7 reasons why every PhD student should attend academic conferences
Read about the issues that affect today’s PhD students in an article from an Insights takeover by Postdoctoral students from the London Arts and Humanities Partnership, of which Routledge is a cultural partner.
While for some attending a conference means getting a break from research, for most students it means leaving the library or the lab and wasting precious time on an activity that appears to have little to no impact on one’s work. PhD research can be extremely demanding and, depending on your subject, quite isolating. Attending events where you merely listen to other people’s speeches – which you may or may not understand or agree with, does not always seem to be the best time management strategy. Think again!
I used to almost completely refrain from going to conferences, as I did not feel like they would have an immediate impact on my work. To me, conferences were venues for established scholars and researchers to flaunt their ideas. It was only after the London Arts and Humanities Partnership (LAHP) summer camp that I realized how vital it is to attend conferences and other extracurricular activities related to your field. During the one-week camp I came up with so many reasons why conferences are extremely vital for your research, so I’ve selected the seven most important ones and listed them below for you:
- Meet peers
At conferences you get to meet like-minded people who share your passion and interest. How awesome is that?! Many PhD students tend to spend their time at the library and the lab – alone, but at conferences you get to see who else is researching in your field, you can network and even make new friends.
- Meet professionals in the field
Attending a conference means that you can meet more advanced researchers, as well as established senior professionals and scholars. Listening to talks and presentations can open up new ways of thinking about a specific topic or even give you a new idea, one that you had previously not though about. Also, as most post-conference events are usually informal, you can get the chance to speak to the presenters in person, ask for their opinion and (if you’re lucky) even get their advice or contact information for further discussions.
- You get to ask questions
Most talks are followed by Q&A sessions, which give you the opportunity to ask all the questions you may have on a topic, and you usually get really useful and stimulating answers.
- Innovative ideas
Conferences are places where many academics and researchers ‘test’ their ideas, put them out there for the audience, in order to receive critical responses. This means that you’ll get to hear groundbreaking ideas, discoveries and theories on a subject, which you’re unlikely to find in an existing publication.
- Practical advice
Some conferences, like the LAHP summer camp, don’t just offer discussions about new (and sometimes abstract) ideas, but they also offer practical advice on more hands-on issues such as getting your research published, or on audience engagement and impact.
Conferences. like the LAHP one, often offer practical advice which is then followed by practical workshops. These are really useful as you get to test out the new information and ideas that you’ve been offered with your peers in an environment where you can freely and informally ask any questions you might have.
- Overcome fears
Over the course of the LAHP summer camp, I have come to realise that established scholars as well as early career researchers have something in common: fear of talking to new people, anxiety about presenting ideas or asking questions. Now this does not necessarily apply to everyone, but many people sometimes feel that way. Conferences are the ideal environment to overcome these fears. It is important to keep in mind that we’re all here for the same reason. We’re all interested in the same subject and we’re here to share ideas, rub minds, meet new people and generate new thoughts.
I hope I have given you enough reasons to go online, search for conferences and start attending them. You have nothing to lose, only something to gain.
My name is Alessandra Bassey and I am PhD candidate at King’s College London. My research, which is entitled ‘From Text to Stage: The conflicting positions of Shakespeare and his plays in stage in Germany between 1933 and 1945’, looks into the translations from text to performance of Shakespeare’s plays in Germany, examining the often-conflicting positions the bard held under Adolf Hitler’s rule of tyranny. I have obtained a Master’s Degree in ‘Shakespeare in History’ at University College London (UCL), and studied English Literature and Italian for my Bachelor’s Degree at the University of Greenwich. Get in touch via firstname.lastname@example.org.