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Grad School: Make Your First Academic Conference a Success

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When you meet one of the people you want to connect with, compliment their work. Share how it inspired your own research. Use the information you located on them to establish rapport. When your conversation comes to an end, give the other person one of your business cards. Explain that you’d like to learn more about what the two of you are talking about.

Your Presentation

At last, your turn to present will arrive. Arrive at the panel room a little early. Confidently take your place at the presenters table. Introduce yourself to the other presenters. They are probably on your list of people to meet.

You’ll be nervous, but try to listen to the other presentations. Listen for things that are intriguing and take notes. You can use this information to formulate a question or comment as a lead into a conversation after the panel.

When your turn to present arrives, concentrate on appearing professional. Face the audience as you speak, making sure to address them in an audible, clear, and articulate voice. Do not race through your presentation. Make sure you hold yourself and speak in a way that exudes confidence.

After the Presentation

When you finish your presentation, smile and confidently ask if there are any questions. Write down things people mention that you haven’t considered. Thank them. Some professors will offer suggestions of other variables to try. Write them down, and offer your thanks. If someone criticizes your findings, simply say with confidence, “I stand by my results.”

When the panel ends, you must resist the impulse to flee. Instead, talk with the other panelists and audience members. Pay particular attention to the people who seem interested in your work. Find out what they do. Give them a card. Who knows, maybe at the next conference you’ll present a joint paper with them.

After Conference Follow Up

When you return home, think about the people you connected with and identify where chances to collaborate on research exist. Hand write thank you cards to those people. Write one thing about them or their work that inspired you. Include a card with your contact info. Offer to assist them in the future. Mail the cards the next morning.

Touch base with those people every couple of months. Send an article of interest related to their work. Take advantages of any offers to work together on a project. But let them suggest working together.

You made it through your first conference, and you may have laid the foundation for your career. Don’t rest now. Start working on your next conference proposal and paper. You know what to expect now and how to make the most of these events. From now on, take advantage of each conference as much as you can.

Following graduate school, Neil Eldred served in government and worked on aging issues and programs. Currently he’s a freelance writer who makes his home on the Web at

Neil originally published this article on in April 2014.

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