Your First Conference: Part 2

Your First Conference: Part 2


What should I bring to my presentation?

First, always double check your room location.  Sometimes room locations change or floor plans can be confusing, so try to physically visit the room if possible. Second, almost all rooms are set up with projectors and screens, but you will need to bring your own laptop if you want to utilize a visual presentation. If possible, test to make sure your computer works with the technology provided before your presentation. Third, you may want to bring hard copies of your paper or of key points that you wish to emphasize as part of your presentation to hand out upon request.

Prepare an “elevator speech.” You should have a short, roughly 30 second version of your speech explaining your research that can answer the “so what do you do?” question that you’ll get at the conference.

Send copies of your paper to your panel. This provides the discussants with what they need to give you feedback after the presentation. In turn, respondents should always provide you and the other presenters with written feedback as well as their presentation response. However, keep in mind that your paper should only be sent to the panel chair if the conference requires it.

Dress comfortably, but conservatively. Adhere to the formality of the conference when choosing your conference attire. The dress code for conferences are a little different than for a job interview or other events that require business professional attire; think business casual. Some great go-to options for anyone are:

  • Pants: Khaki or navy pants, neatly pressed are safe business casual for both men and women.
  • Shirt: Polo shirts, blouse, or a pressed long-sleeved, buttoned down shirt are an appropriate choice for this sort of environment.
  • Shoes: Be sure to wear shoes that are in good condition and comfortable. Athletic shoes and flip flops are not acceptable, and heels are uncomfortable during long periods of wear.

How do I get to know people?

Do not spend too much time alone. Mealtimes and snack breaks are a great time to network and meet scholars in your field. If there’s someone you’ve been trying to meet with, see if you can go with them to lunch. If you don’t know anyone, ask to join a group that’s headed to eat. Even if their topics of interest end up being outside of your research interests that can still be a good opportunity to practice your elevator speech, as well as a way to meet different people in your field. Additionally, there is sometimes a specific event for graduate students to meet, so plan to attend if there is one being held at your conference.

Read name tags. Pay attention to attendees in the audience, sitting next to you at lunch, or standing in the hall and consider approaching them. The best way to do this is by showing interest in them and their research instead of trying to sell yourself, make your conversations about them, not you.

Don’t be afraid to approach researchers. A good way to meet people, especially for graduate students/first time conference attendees, is through an introduction. Remember, every researcher was once a graduate student and know what it’s like. If you’ve read a researcher’s book or paper, it’s easy to start a conversation with them by saying that you’ve read their work, and sharing how you found it meaningful to your own research. If you want to get feedback on your research from them, don’t be afraid to ask.

Look for people who look like they don’t know anybody. Keep in mind that people at the conference are in the same situation as you. Look for people who look like they don’t know anyone either and introduce yourself. They are usually easy to spot and often first time conference attendees as well.



Answering audience questions and responding to comments is often the most anxious and dreadful part of the presentation, or even the entire conference. There can be many misconceptions among graduate students about panelists or audience members verbally attacking student presenters—in fact, it’s the opposite. Most conference attendees and researchers want to support graduate students, and often ask helpful questions and make positive remarks about their presentations. However, the best way to prepare is to practice and get feedback from advisors and other graduate students before attending the conference.

What do I do if someone asks me a question and I am uncertain of the answer?

Ask the questioner to restate the question in a different way or provide an example that illustrates what they are asking. This will give you a few moments to think of an answer and the questioner may be clearer in a restatement. Another option is to politely say that you are uncertain and suggest that another panel or audience member may have a good answer; and hopefully someone will be able to offer a good response. If not, the panel chair should interrupt and move the Q & A session forward.

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Your First Conference Part 1: What to Expect

Your First Conference Part 1:
What to Expect

Conferences are a great way for graduate students to learn about academia and expand their network. The conference environment is uniquely suited to providing a forum in which one can present original research and offer feedback, or debate among members of the same field. This is a great opportunity for graduate students to present their own research and gain some valuable feedback.

Below are some tips to help you prepare for your first conference presentation. Keep in mind, the best way to prepare is to check with the chair or respondents of the panel well in advance of the conference so that you can organize according to their suggestions.


How do I get accepted into the conference?

The conference website has all the information about the submission process for that specific event (as requirements may vary). Be sure to examine the registration form and the submission instructions so that you know what is expected of your proposal when you sit down to submit. Most importantly, you need a basic idea articulated clearly in an abstract with an appropriate title. Keep in mind the timeline between your submission and the conference date(s) to ensure that you can cover the points made in the abstract.

How should I decide which sections to submit my proposal?

Again, consult the conference website, there will usually be an invitation to submit that describes the year’s conference theme. Your abstract should reflect the conference theme. Although you likely have a general sense of which panel would best suit your paper based on your abstract topic, the sections listed will be more specific.

Should I volunteer to serve as a discussant or chair of a panel?

No. Neither of these roles are suitable for graduate students. Chairs must assert their authority to keep presentations to their allotted time, and discussants critique others’ work (neither of which a graduate student has nearly enough experience for). However, in rare cases, you may be contacted by a panel organizer to serve in one of these roles if you have particular expertise or to be a part of a discussion among other graduate students.


Can I get funding to attend the conference?

Consult your department about institutional funds available and relevant deadlines/eligibility requirements as early as possible each semester.  You can also look into academic societies (such as Phi Kappa Phi) or related groups at your school who will also help with transportation or lodging assistance.  However, some do require you becoming a member first.

Where should I stay during the conference?

An association can sometimes get the meeting space for free if enough attendees stay at the host hotel, so conferences usually encourage attendees to stay at the hotel where the conference is being held. However, if the conference has to pay for the meeting rooms, then the registration costs go up. For a graduate student on a limited budget, it makes financial sense to stay elsewhere. Keep in mind though, that planning ahead and finding some conference roommates can be a great way to bring costs down no matter where you stay.

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