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NeilEldredGrad School: Make Your First Academic Conference a Success

By Neil Eldred

As an adult student returning to college to attend graduate school, you’ll likely have to present your research at a regional or national conference in your discipline. You may find the idea of presenting your research findings before experts in your specialty intimidating.

However, conferences offer you a garden of opportunities. Plant the right seeds in people’s minds, and you may be accepted into the network of professors and students specializing in your research area. Being a member of this network may translate into collaborative publishing opportunities or a future job. Here’s how to make the most of your first conference experience.


A successful conference experience is born in the preparation you do in the weeks leading up to it. First, worry most about your research presentation. This is where you’re going to make the impression that leads to networking opportunities. A memorable conference presentation hinges on three things:

• A well-written paper
• Solid research findings
• A powerful performance

Complete your paper ahead of time so you can present it before your fellow students and department professors. They can point out problematic arguments and inferences and identify weaknesses in your data analysis. Their questions will also provide clues to the inquiries you’ll face at the conference.

Fix anything that needs fixing and prepare answers to the expected questions. Then practice, practice, practice your presentation. Your goals are to present your research without reading from the paper and demonstrate solid confidence in your research findings.

Getting Ready to Network

You will also prepare by researching the people you hope to meet. These should be the people whose work stands out in your field. Don’t shoot for just the dominate players. These are the people who, unless you are lucky, will give you the least amount of time. Look for the names of those with several articles in your field. They’re the “up and comers” and may be open to collaborating on a project with you in the future.

Once you made your list of who you hope to meet, start researching them. You can Google them, but this will most likely only provide academic information and links to articles they’ve written. What you want is to find things you have in common with each person besides research interests.


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