For Students, Attending Academic Conferences Can Be a Launching Pad

2020 has been a year of challenges, forcing the cancellation of numerous academic conferences across the United States and abroad. As fall 2020 and spring 2021 conference planning is underway, many student conference attendees are skeptical of the benefits of conferences, particularly those held in nontraditional formats such as hybrid or entirely online. For those of you who are just entering a Master’s or Ph.D. program or advancing through your studies, but finding yourself on the fence about attending NECoPA 2020 or any other conference, we’ve compiled a list of benefits of conference attendance for you to consider. These benefits can be realized even if you’re not presenting at the conference. But if you are planning to submit an abstract for your presentation, we have developed a track within the conference structure just for grad and Ph.D. students to present their work and gather feedback.

While these conference attendance benefits are easily realized during in-person annual meetings, NECoPA 2020 is working diligently to ensure that you will experience the same benefits in an online platform. Why does this matter so much? At the heart of NECoPA 2020 is the idea that sharing ideas across geographies, disciplines, methodologies, and theoretical lenses provides students, academics, and practitioners the ability to strengthen their research and thus strengthen their careers, all while improving public administration practices which translates into healthier societies

1. Learning Opportunities

You don’t know what you don’t know but conferences can help you discover what you want to know. Conferences are an opportunity to hear about the new cutting edge research in your field that might be of interest to your specific research. Hearing from others allows us to connect their research to our own, making it more applicable to a broader audience, and who doesn’t want to be doing relevant research in the eyes of the rest of their field?

As a student, conferences provide you with a unique opportunity to learn about new methodologies or ones you haven’t seen in detail in your coursework. By asking questions about these topics and methodologies, you may discover better ways to conduct your own research. If you’re in the early phases of research, attending other conference panels can help you to develop lists of papers you’d like to read in the future to inform the scope of your research. Finally, conferences are a chance for you to sharpen your interpretation skills. By listening to these brief presentations, you’ll learn to rapidly interpret results and evaluate methodologies.

The Takeaway: as a student, you’re inherently curious. Conferences are a place where your curiosity can run wild. Take advantage of the opportunity by asking questions, taking notes, and connecting what you hear during other presentations to your own research or coursework. In an online format, it’s even easier to connect with presenters after their panels are over so make sure to take advantage of those opportunities.

2. Networking Opportunities

For many students, networking is a daunting endeavor during a conference. While it’s not easy to approach experienced researchers, the benefits of doing so are immense. By expressing an interest in others’ research, asking questions, and making connections both socially and academically, you can open the door to research collaborations, working relationships, potential dissertation committee members, and future job opportunities. You can make these connections by attending workshops, reading the work of panelists before attending their presentations, asking questions during panels or approaching researchers after, and sending follow-up emails the week after the conference.

Again, networking during an online conference may seem difficult, but it may actually be easier to secure some time with others than during one conducted in person where physical distractions may limit your capacity to connect.

The Takeaway: if your networking skills need to be sharpened, an online conference lowers the barriers between you and researchers you’d like to connect with. Take advantage by sending private notes and emails during and after the conference to schedule some time. Putting yourself out there is the first step toward developing relationships that can open doors for your career in the future.

3. Benefits of Presenting Your Work

While the most obvious benefit of presenting at conferences is the opportunity to improve public speaking skills, there’s much more to be gained from feedback from other academics. If you’re just starting out and have a research question, a methodology, a theoretical frame, and a literature review, you can benefit from feedback from the audience. More experienced researchers may be able to direct you toward more appropriate methodologies or resources, suggest a different theoretical lens, or recommend a particular article or researcher that is relevant to your research. If you’re in the later stages of research and have results, feedback from the audience might come in the form of what to do to get ready to publish your work, where to publish, or statistical tests or analysis that you should include.

If this is your first conference presentation, NECoPA 2020’s online platform will make it easy for you to overcome nerves while you present from the comfort of home. If you’re not presenting at NECoPA 2020, there’s plenty to be gained from watching how other students present their work, whether it’s final results or just a research plan. Take notes on how they organize slides, how much text is present on each slide, and how they use transitions throughout the presentation. Learning from the successes of others’ presentations can make you a stronger presenter both for conferences as well as for presentations you’ll make during your academic program.

The Takeaway: conferences are what you make of them. If you’re looking for feedback on a particular topic within your research, tell the audience that. Be open to feedback as it can make your research stronger. And if you’re not presenting, listening and noting presentation techniques, not just the information encompassed within them, can be valuable for your future presentations. If your interested in presenting your work at NECoPA 2020, we have a conference track specifically for grad and Ph.D. student presentations to facilitate networking between students and encourage more constructive feedback.

Take the Next Step

Are you ready to get started and motivated to take full advantage of NECoPA 2020? Students are the future of public administration so we want you to present and attend in November. You can review our Call for Proposals and submit your abstract for review by August 3rd. Even if you’re not ready to present your own original work, there’s so much for you to gain from attending NECoPA 2020, and with our online platform for this year’s conference, the conference fees for students have been reduced. You can register to attend here. We’re looking forward to seeing you at the virtual NECoPA 2020 in November!

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