Why attend conferences? In-person encounters

The European Group of Organization Studies (EGOS) Symposium 2022 took place on the WU Campus in Vienna. (Photo: Marilyn Poon)

I follow quite a few academia-related accounts on Twitter (the hazards of doing digital methods). Just before embarking on my first conference this summer, I came across a tweet by a PhD student (in an anonymized fashion) asking: what’s the big deal about going to conferences anyway?

I gave this a little thought prior to my departure and had set a couple of ground rules for my own in-person attendance at PHILOS (Philosophy and Organization Studies) and EGOS (European Group of Organization Studies). These trips were graciously funded by the 1669 Travel and Research Funds at the University of Innsbruck. The rules are:

  • To socialize
  • To comment on presentations
  • To follow up with scholars whose work has inspired me

Attending a conference is an opportunity to not only gain feedback on your work, but also to learn about the state-of-the-art research in your field. What are the current debates, in which stream of existing work does your research interest fit? And what do you have to say about it?

PhD students or early-career scholars are confronted with daunting challenges. Designing your research, with the goal of actually publishing it often seems insurmountable. Yet, this is now the benchmark for a PhD degree. But conferences can help with that. You simply must know what the current debates are to make a valuable contribution. For me, encountering others who are also facing similar challenges was extremely valuable.

A publication is the typical final output of basic research. Reading such works happens in hindsight of the process, the choices the researcher (or team) makes seem linear and logical, or even obvious and simple! At a conference, it becomes apparent that each paper is the product of a chosen path based on specific decisions made by the author(s), usually with lots of detours and revisions! We are not alone in facing these challenges, not at all!

As a PhD student, it is important to find or create opportunities to present your work in progress. Looking beyond your own departments, there are several doctoral colleges/research platforms at the University of Innsbruck that may provide opportunities to present as well. I am a member of the doctoral college #OrganizingTheDigital, which is part of the research area EPoS (Economy, Politics & Society). These programs have shaped my research trajectory, and gave me a sense of belonging to the community that encompasses both professors and students; within the university and beyond.

Working your way up to conferences means seeking out those which are suitable for your research. You may also consider submitting work to paper development workshops. Facing some challenges related to digital data, I joined a pre-colloquial workshop in addition to my presentation at EGOS. I found it extremely informative to not only get feedback but also to see how others researchers deal with the selection and analysis of data. Towards publication, I will now convincingly justify the specific choices to readers (and reviewers). It’s not simple but definitely doable!

Reflecting back on other ground rules I have set, attending the conferences in-person definitely made it easier to ‘socialize’. Meals, drinks, and parties make it a bit easier to start up a conversation. Next, I did earn a few points for providing feedback, but I have to work on that. Camaraderie in academia is built on our willingness to show our vulnerabilities, and willingness to be kind and supportive of each other’s development. A big part of attending conferences is reading other people’s submissions, in order to join the conversation. Lastly, by following up with emails to people who have given me helpful feedback, I hope to engage in new conversations on shared research interests.

For more details on the 1669 travel and research funding that is available from our university.

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