I have been participating in conferences since my high school days, first as a mere attendee, but gradually progressing to a speaker. However, there are a few challenges one might face in such an endeavor, like finding a genuine conference that suits one’s interests, writing a good abstract, not missing deadlines, gathering funds for the trip, etc. Here’re some pointers to help you succeed.

Step 1. Finding the right conference

If you google conferences in 2022, you will get an endless list of results. But which one is the best for you? The best way to find the right conference is to join a community or group that shares the latest news about upcoming conferences in your field. If you are on Twitter, try following @AcademicChatter and @PhDVoice or other pages that tweet about such events. You should also keep an eye on any upcoming conferences organized by your university, school, or department. Starting small from your home ground is always the best step forward.

Also, stay aware of what the professional societies and associations in your field are up to. For instance, if you are into space science, communities such as The Space Generation Advisory Council are a must join! 

Step 2. Preparing the perfect abstract

I have faced numerous rejections in life. But all of them have taught me something or other. When it comes to writing your abstract, you must take extra care, as it can make or break your chances of presenting at a conference. Try to keep it short and crisp. Always abide by the rules and stay within the word limit. Avoid using dramatic words like amazing, mind-blowing, wonderful, astonishing, and such. I had a personal experience where my abstract was rejected by a reputed conference because I used some of these unprofessional words.

If you are not a native English speaker, it is advisable to get your abstract proofread by someone who is a native speaker. In case you don’t have someone at your disposal, you may turn to useful tools such as Grammarly.

Step 3. Apply for expenses coverage

Traveling abroad to attend an international conference can put a strain on your wallet. But the good news is that ITMO supports such endeavors by partially or fully covering the expenses of its PhD students. All you need to do is fill out an application, collect all the required documents (you can find them here), and send an email to short-term@itmo.ru.

The roadmap to a successful conference. Image courtesy of the author

The roadmap to a successful conference. Image courtesy of the author

Step 4. Be mindful of deadlines

If your abstract is accepted, congratulations! Now you can officially start preparing for the conference. This means you now need to write a manuscript, prepare a poster or a PowerPoint presentation, book your tickets, apply for a visa, etc. Amidst all that, there is a high risk of missing out on deadlines. To avoid such mishaps, I maintain a special to-do list and set colored reminders on my calendar that send me alerts about approaching deadlines. Here are some apps you can use to stay on top of your deadlines.

Here’s a pro tip – always submit the documents at least two days before the deadline. I am not against procrastination, but technical issues might ruin your plans.

Step 5. Pack your conference must-haves

Once you are done with all the official stuff, it's time to pack your bags. I always carry the following items to a conference: 

  1. Business cards. As mentioned earlier, conferences are massive networking events and the best way to make new lasting connections is by exchanging your contact info. Modern cards usually include links/QR codes to your social media profiles, blogs, pages, etc. Make sure to include them in your cards as well. 
  2. Diary or notepad. At a conference, there will be a tsunami of knowledge and information. Taking notes is an essential practice in such scenarios. So, make sure to carry a writing pad and a pen to every session.

Step 6. Enjoy the event!

After all that hard work, you have now finally made it to the much-awaited event. Have fun and remember to absorb everything. If you are doing a presentation, be confident in your abilities and enjoy your moment. Most importantly, remember to explore the city in between sessions. 

I was extremely nervous at my first international conference, especially an hour before my presentation. I felt inferior and dumb. The delegates who presented before me were so much more learned than I was. To be honest, I felt like fleeing! However, I somehow gathered my courage and went up to the stage, abandoning the idea of what people might think of my talk. 

When I finished my talk, to my utter disbelief, the hall burst into applause! Many learned dignitaries later came up to me and congratulated me for my presentation. What I said became irrelevant. What mattered was the fact that I did it. So, what I learned was the importance of doing things. You will most likely fail in your first few attempts, but those failures will ultimately pave your way to success. 

A conference at ITMO University. Photo courtesy of Megabyte Media

A conference at ITMO University. Photo courtesy of Megabyte Media

So, that’s all you need to keep in mind to ace your next conference. I hope that you learn a lot and network well. For additional queries regarding international conferences and other academic mobility opportunities, please get in touch with short-term@itmo.ru.