How to Survive an Academic Conference

Whether you’re dreaming of becoming a professional in academia or for some reason your professor just really loved your paper and thought you should submit your abstract, conferences are a lot. And by a lot...I mean... A Lot. I just got back from my third conference, so I’ve collected a couple of tips and tricks that might help you survive your first.

  1. 1. Go to What You Can

    You may only be presenting at one panel, but there are panels going on that feature interesting and fascinating scholars who have done just as much research and work as you. Make sure you take the time to go through your program and visit as many panels as you can! There’s guaranteed to be something that sparks your interest. You may even find something that will help with your future work or make you think of something you’ve never thought of before. 

  2. 2. That Being Said, Take Care of Yourself

    While you should definitely attend as many as you can, it can be a lot to keep your brain actively working from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.. You’re constantly thinking of questions to ask the presenters and taking notes, which  can take a toll on your brain and your energy. Make sure you grab food, even though conferences don’t give you time for a proper meal. While a lot of times you’re in a new town, save tourism for later because you need the sleep as well.

  3. 3. Stay Longer Than the Conference

    If you’re funded (and if you’re going to a conference, make sure you get as funded as possible!), then stay longer than the conference lasts! You aren’t going to have time during the conference to see or do anything. I just went to a conference in Chicago and I didn’t get to see anything. The only thing I was able to do was eat at Giordano’s. Give yourself the day before or the day after (or both!) so that you can be a classic American tourist without stressing.

  4. 4. Network, Network, Network

    Networking is something that is very important when you go to academic conferences. If you plan on going to graduate school or  looking for job opportunities, you want to make those connections. If you hear a paper that talks about something you’re looking into, get the presenter’s email! If someone goes to a school you’re applying to, get the presenter’s email! Talk to them after the panel and ask if you can get coffee. When I was at my last conference, I managed to talk to two PhD students at my top school and connect with them. Networking can get you so many places and it will help you if you make the steps.

Academic conferences are exciting and they’re so much fun. My time at conferences have been some of the best times of my life and have given me so many things to think about, both in my personal and academic lives. Each conference gives me something to take away and transforms me. But, it’s a lot. There’s a lot of brain power that goes into conferences, and I hope these tips can help you get the most out of them the same way I have.