Academic conferences 101


If supervision is about inculcation into academic culture, how do supervisors explicitly assist their students to make the most of conferences?

  1. Select conference with student

Do you talk with your student about the relative merits of different conferences, which potential future collaborators will be at each one, where publishers of relevant journals may be, which special interest groups might be most advantageous, and where the student has the best chance of having an abstract accepted?

  1. Draft abstract with the student

Supervisors need to explicitly teach the way to write a conference paper abstract that complies with conference requirements, and review student drafts before submission. It’s great to deconstruct great abstracts together. You don’t just want your student to be accepted, but also to have an audience on the day! The most important thing is that contribution to the field, and what listeners will take away.

  1. Attend the student’s presentation

Yes, even if there is something else fabulous on at the same time. This is non-negotiable, and part of the generosity and ethics of care inherent in the supervisory relationship.

  1. Organise to socialise

Arrange to meet the student at particular social times/events and invite someone you would like them to meet too. Scaffold conference socialising! Actually introduce the student and say something about their work that will interest the other academic.

  1. Model interaction with publishers

“Oh, you know how we’re thinking about a new text for that core unit- come and have a word with Sarah at Routledge about what she’s got coming up.” I used to be a project manager for a publisher. Publishers are academic’s partners! Introduce students. Show them how to order inspection copies!

  1. Pre-plan which sessions to attend

There is nothing worse than being trapped in a long session that is not what you expected, with poor presenters. Help your student strategically select a conference program that will engage and delight.

  1. Plan some possible post-student paper audience questions

Help your student anticipate some possible questions and talk about strategies for responding. Let the student know that they can always throw to you if they get completely floored. This is particularly important if you feel gender may be an issue here. As a female ECR, I have been shouted at by a male academic asking me a question at a conference, in an extremely aggressive way.

  1. Plan some questions for the student to ask other presenters

Talk about strategies for asking conference questions, draft some thoughtful questions and make sure your student aims to ask one at each session! Again, gender may be an issue. Students need to know their questions matter and no single person should take the floor at question time.

  1. Reach for the stars!

If there is someone special at the conference, go up with your student to say hi and ask questions, make a comment etc! This is one of the best things about conferences, that you can meet the people whose names are on your beloved, dog-eared books! Then you can be star-struck together! No need to play it cool; we don’t share enough of the excitement and thrills of being an academic with our students.

What other explicit conference-maxing strategies do you use with students?

Some of these ideas have been generated by involvement with #FEAS: Feminist educators against sexism.


Author: becomingaphdsupervisor

Dr Lucinda McKnight is a lecturer in curriculum and pedagogy at Deakin University.

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