What's the point in going to conferences as a PhD student?

posted
25-Dec-19, 19:17
Avatar for sciencephd
posted about 3 weeks ago
I’m a self-funded PhD student, so I have to pay for the costs myself if I attend a conference.
Is a conference worth so much money? I don’t think so.
I recently have been to an international conference, which is expensive. The registration fee is £500, accommodation not included. The conference was held in a luxury hotel with nothing else around (in the suburbs), so for the sake of convenience, I stayed in that hotel for the week-long conference. The whole trip cost me around £1,500.
However, I don’t think the trip is worth so much. I didn’t get much from the conference. Before I went to the conference, I had no idea why I should go there but my colleague suggested me to go – he said this was one of the most renowned conferences in our field. But I didn’t know what I needed to do during the conference. I brought my poster there, but no one was really keen to see my poster. The four-hour-long poster session was very boring with so few visitors. And none of the visitors said anything meaningful after I talked through my work. And of course I listened to all the lectures, but it seems bonkers to fork out £1500 to just listen to the lectures, whose content has already been published – why didn’t I just read them online for free? My supervisor was also at the conference, and it seemed people were always flooding to him to get a chance to chat with him. But that means I was alone all the time. So the conference was less than fun for me.
So now I don’t want to go to any more conferences. I need to pay for the trips, but I can’t come up with a good idea why the conferences worth the money.
What’s your opinion on this issue? Why do you go to conferences and what did you get from them?
posted
26-Dec-19, 09:59
edited about 1 second later
by PhDhere
Avatar for PhDhere
posted about 3 weeks ago
I really understand how you feel. I had the same experience attending one of the most prestigious conferences with three Nobel prizes laureates attending and giving lectures there. However, unlike you, I was fully funded to go there but still I felt like the week-long conference wasn't scientifically helpful to justify the cost . Like you said, you can read all their work online for free. From a touristic point of view, the trip was awesome. Poster sessions are always boring like that too and I normally get way more exposure and feedback when I share my poster on linkedin.

That being said, there are some hidden benefits that may not materialize themselves immediately but nonethless affect your way of work. You get to know how people present their work generally in your field, the trends, what they focus on, what kind of questions the get asked, what the audience normally focus on etc. There is always the chance of meeting your next employer in one of these but you don't know it at the time (you have more chance if you are near completion).

My advice to you as a PhD student is not to spend so much money out of your own pocket to attend these conferences. You can always ask the uni or supervisor to fund these conferences (this needs planning ahead) and many scientific societies provide travel bursaries for their members and particularly for PhD students to attend conferences. If you can't get funded, you can attend plenty of local conferences (there are many in the UK) and seminars where registration is free. You will get similar experience, and you will only have to pay for local travel cost.
posted
26-Dec-19, 16:35
edited about 15 seconds later
Avatar for kenziebob
posted about 3 weeks ago
For me the value has been in who I have met. I have met academics in my own and similar disciplines who I might want to work with one day (and my external examiner), other PhD students with interesting ideas and so forth. That being said, I wouldn't spend my own money on attending (I am funded).
posted
26-Dec-19, 21:33
edited about 3 seconds later
by azhan
Avatar for azhan
posted about 3 weeks ago
I'm not really sure, people have been recommended me to do so but I'm not sure if it's worth my money? I don't see any traction, it's not as though it will help me pass my PhD. I guess if you have grants then why not but for the purpose of the PhD, it is not required.
posted
26-Dec-19, 23:00
edited about 2 minutes later
Avatar for sciencephd
posted about 3 weeks ago
Quote From PhDhere:
I really understand how you feel. I had the same experience attending one of the most prestigious conferences with three Nobel prizes laureates attending and giving lectures there. However, unlike you, I was fully funded to go there but still I felt like the week-long conference wasn't scientifically helpful to justify the cost . Like you said, you can read all their work online for free. From a touristic point of view, the trip was awesome. Poster sessions are always boring like that too and I normally get way more exposure and feedback when I share my poster on linkedin.

That being said, there are some hidden benefits that may not materialize themselves immediately but nonethless affect your way of work. You get to know how people present their work generally in your field, the trends, what they focus on, what kind of questions the get asked, what the audience normally focus on etc. There is always the chance of meeting your next employer in one of these but you don't know it at the time (you have more chance if you are near completion).

My advice to you as a PhD student is not to spend so much money out of your own pocket to attend these conferences. You can always ask the uni or supervisor to fund these conferences (this needs planning ahead) and many scientific societies provide travel bursaries for their members and particularly for PhD students to attend conferences. If you can't get funded, you can attend plenty of local conferences (there are many in the UK) and seminars where registration is free. You will get similar experience, and you will only have to pay for local travel cost.


Hi PhDhere, thank you for your informative reply. I’m curious how you get more exposure and advice for your poster on LinkedIn. Do you have lots of connections on LinkedIn in your field of study? If so, how did you do it? I’ve tried to connect to famous people in my field on LinkedIn, but they just ignored my request. If not, then is your profile visible to everyone? Are their comments on your poster usually positive?
Also, you said there's a chance of meeting future employers, but how should I interact with those people during a conference? How do I make them remember me?
posted
26-Dec-19, 23:07
Avatar for sciencephd
posted about 3 weeks ago
Quote From kenziebob:
For me the value has been in who I have met. I have met academics in my own and similar disciplines who I might want to work with one day (and my external examiner), other PhD students with interesting ideas and so forth. That being said, I wouldn't spend my own money on attending (I am funded).

Hi Kenziebob, thanks for your reply, but I'd like to know more about how you interact with those people. When you see the academics you're interested in, how do you make them get to know you? And how do you impress them and make them remember you? Are you in touch with them after the conference? If so, how do you do that without making them feel uncomfortable?
posted
26-Dec-19, 23:13
Avatar for sciencephd
posted about 3 weeks ago
Quote From azhan:
I'm not really sure, people have been recommended me to do so but I'm not sure if it's worth my money? I don't see any traction, it's not as though it will help me pass my PhD. I guess if you have grants then why not but for the purpose of the PhD, it is not required.

Hi azhan, I also went to the conference because someone recommended me to do so. Now I'm very regretful - I feel my money is wasted! Just don't go to a conference because someone tells you to do so! Money is easily gone, but it's difficult to earn so much money by teaching undergrads....
posted
01-Jan-20, 11:10
edited about 6 seconds later
Avatar for MARKRONSON
posted about 2 weeks ago
I think attending conferences helps us to get some more insights.
posted
01-Jan-20, 11:46
edited about 2 seconds later
by tamecat
Avatar for tamecat
posted about 2 weeks ago
Hi sciencephd

I am a part-time self funding PhD student. Part of the criteria for me to pass is to do a poster and presentation at conferences. I was lucky as my supervisor funded both conferences that I attended. Have you asked your supervisor for any financial support to go? My experience is they have pots of money around.

I find conferences are useful to see what is going on in my wider subject area and to learn about new techniques or analysis that could be useful for my project. I personally don't want a job in academia (I have a full time job already) so don't need or really want to network but conferences are one of the places to do it. At my last conference was one of the top academics for my subject area and he was very approachable. Perhaps you need to be a bit bolder and just go and start a conversation with people. Then in the future if you could email them to say 'we met at the XXX conference and I'd like to ask more about...'.
posted
04-Jan-20, 17:23
Avatar for sciencephd
posted about 2 weeks ago
Quote From tamecat:
Hi sciencephd

I am a part-time self funding PhD student. Part of the criteria for me to pass is to do a poster and presentation at conferences. I was lucky as my supervisor funded both conferences that I attended. Have you asked your supervisor for any financial support to go? My experience is they have pots of money around.

I find conferences are useful to see what is going on in my wider subject area and to learn about new techniques or analysis that could be useful for my project. I personally don't want a job in academia (I have a full time job already) so don't need or really want to network but conferences are one of the places to do it. At my last conference was one of the top academics for my subject area and he was very approachable. Perhaps you need to be a bit bolder and just go and start a conversation with people. Then in the future if you could email them to say 'we met at the XXX conference and I'd like to ask more about...'.

Hi tamecat, happy new year!
My supervisor has no money for me. That's why I had no choice but spent my own money on the trip.
I think you're right that I should strike up a conversation with someone I'm interested in next time at a conference (if it's not that expensive).

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