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This resource offers advice for postgraduate students attending a conference for the first time. It was originally written by Maddy Thompson for the RGS-IBG's Postgraduate Forum.


1. Preparing for your presentation

We all know the old saying that practice makes perfect. Well it’s true! The better you know what you want to say, you’ll find presenting easier (and maybe even more enjoyable). Try to finish your presentation at least a week before the conference and don’t be put off by the term ‘paper’- you only need to write a paper if the conference specifically requests (although writing your ideas down always helps if you want to publish afterwards!)


2. Deciding what to wear

Luckily, geographers aren’t exactly known for their dress sense! Usually in geography conferences, anything goes – jeans and t-shirts are more than acceptable. If you’re ever unsure, smart casual is always a good option! But remember to stay comfortable, as conference days can be long!


3. Registering

Get there early if you can, and be understanding, organisers may often be overwhelmed trying to register 100s of delegates. But don’t forget! Important information is usually given in registration packs.


4. Choosing and attending sessions

Look at the program as soon as you get it to see which sessions are most relevant for you. Nothing directly relevant to your research? How about a methods or philosophies session? A field you haven’t read about before? Something new may make you think about your research in new ways.

Contribute! Ask questions, suggest literature! No one wants to deliver a well prepared talk and be met with a room of silence, so make sure you help presenters get feedback (and they may do the same for you).


5. Presenting your paper

Always arrive early! This gives you a chance to upload your presentation as well as introduce yourself to the chair and fellow presenters. Double check the session format – will questions come straight after your talk, or is there a larger discussion after all talks?

Tell them you’re a PhD student! Let them know your ideas aren’t fully formed yet, everyone in the audience will have been in your position before!

And relax! It doesn’t matter if you forget something!


6. Responding to questions and comments

While you’ll spend the most time preparing for your talk, most people find the most constructive part of a conference is the question and answer section. To make the most out of this, make sure you have a pen! Write down questions and suggestions as they come, don’t rely on remembering them later.

Be open to critique. Critical comments are not a personal attack. It may be hard to hear, but these comments will either help you to see your research in new ways, or prepare you for criticisms in your viva.


7. Networking

Probably the most important part of a conference. This is your chance to meet others in your field, as well as to meet the wider academic community – your future employers and colleagues.

Take part in networking activities, but remember, breaks, lunches, conference dinners, and informal drinks are usually the best time for networking. Keep your name badge on! Business cards are always useful, although conference programs usually provide a full list of emails.

Don’t feel afraid to approach the ‘big shots’! They were in your position once, and usually enjoy discussing new and emerging research.


8. Get involved on Twitter

Most conferences now have a dedicated hashtag, so use it! You can ask questions to key notes, post photos, advertise your own session and find out about schedule and session changes and the conference highlights.

This is also a great way to network – follow and tweet to other delegates to let them know you enjoyed their talk.


9. Visit the sights

Yes, you’re there for a conference, there to present your ideas and/or listen to papers on subjects you’re interested in. But conferences can become intense!

Don’t feel worried about nipping out for a cuppa, or for exploring the city you’ve came to! We are geographers after all, so don’t miss out on opportunities to experience new places!


10. Reflecting on the conference

So you’ve made notes for all the talks you attended. Now what? Don’t just put them in your drawer never to see light of day again!

Use your journey home to collect your thoughts. Write a summary of the conference, a list of suggested readings, and save all the contact details from your business cards!

For any more information, refer to our in depth guide on conference attendance.


About the author:

Maddy is one of the organisers for the mid-term conference at Newcastle. She is a PhD student in the Geography Department at Newcastle University. Her research is funded by the ESRC and uncovers the geographical imaginations of Filipino nursing students and graduates. This project explores how geographical imaginations can be understood as a determinant of migratory aspirations, and she is interviewing both aspiring migrants and aspiring stayers. Maddy also has a concern with the gender discourses surrounding Filipino nurses and Filipino nurse migrants. More broadly, Maddy is interested in postcolonial and feminist geographies, social and cultural geography, and interdisciplinary migration research. Her interests include travel, music and rugby league.