Ross Curran is a PhD student at Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh, where he is an active member of the Intercultural Research Centre. His primary research interests focus on improving volunteer management practises in the third sector, while he has published papers exploring PPT in the developed world, and authenticity consumption at tourist sites in Japan. His PhD thesis is concerned with fostering greater utilisation of the heritage inherent in many third sector organisations.

So you’ve been accepted for a conference (hopefully somewhere exciting!), and your conference paper is ready to be presented to an assembly of your academic peers. Whilst one of the principal benefits of an academic conference can be the constructive criticism a presenter receives on their ideas, the opportunity to develop an academic network of researchers within your field is arguably as important. Such a network can offer research related advice, authorship opportunities, or even enhance future career prospects. But navigating this quite daunting process can seem a challenge, especially for those PhD students at an early stage of their studies, and those attending a conference by themselves. As daunting as it might seem, taking some simple steps before, during, and after the conference can facilitate expansion of your academic network.

Pre-Conference

  • Make sure you attend the conference with an ample supply of business cards. It may seem obvious, but being caught short can result in awkwardness, and missed connection opportunities. Also, bear in mind that in some cultures (particularly Japan’s) the exchange of business cards is viewed as an almost ceremonial process. It’s also useful to ensure your online academic profile (e.g. Researchate, LinkedIn, Academia.edu) is up-to-date, accurate, and detailed in your business cards.
  • Online social networks or discussion boards related to the conference, or the particular research area can be useful places to pre-network. In other words, start conversations with fellow attendees, you’ll likely gain some useful tips on convenient places to stay, transport advice for the conference venue, and perhaps find a friend for coffee.
  • Scour the conference website for information related to organised dinners or social events. There may be a need to sign-up for these in advance so don’t miss out!
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Conference

  • Speak to everyone. Conferences are designed with networking in mind, everyone will be happy to engage in networking, and there are some excellent opportunities to do so (as evidenced by the frequency of coffee breaks!). Organised breakfasts/lunches or dinners represent ideal opportunities to get to know the other attendees. Make a good first impression, and remember this initial meeting is exactly that, a first step to developing a hopefully longer-term relationship.
  • Attend poster presentation sessions if possible. These tend to be less formal than their full-paper presentation counterparts and can be conducive to networking both with presenters, and other audience members.
  • Examine the conference programme forensically. Consider what tracks are most relevant to your research and where the conference attendees with a research interest most closely aligned to yours will be, thus increasing useful networking opportunities.

Post-Conference

  • Follow up on the contact information you collected. This could involve connecting via sites such as Researchgate, LinkedIn, Twitter, or Academia.edu, but can also involve something as simple as sending an e-mail to a presenter informing them you enjoyed their presentation and asking a few questions, with the hope of generating a longer-term relationship.
  • Depending on the location and nature of the conference, you may have made contact with researchers holding similar interests who study or work within a reasonable distance to you. Consider suggesting lunch to discuss some ideas arising from the conference further, or even to bounce your own research ideas off each other.