Organizing a conference

1 Introduction

Conferences can be a great opportunity to have an intensified exchange and debate on a particular research issue of your choice. They allow you to emerge from the solitary working conditions of doing PhD research and make contact with colleagues in your field. The chance to verbalize and discuss your ideas face to face as well as to find out what other students and academics have explored in related areas can be invaluable and further the development of your research.

You may find though that you are so absorbed in your everyday research tasks that the organization of a conference would be too much of a distraction. In this case you can still inform yourself about suitable conferences matching your research interests and submit a proposal for giving a paper at one of them, without having to organize a whole conference yourself. There are increasing numbers of conferences taking place now which are organized by, and aimed particularly at postgraduate students. These tend to be one-day events, drawing largely on speakers based in the UK. Especially in the first year when you are still involved with defining the main directions of your research project, or indeed when you are frantically writing up, organizing a conference could be counterproductive for your PhD progress. Immediately after submitting your PhD might prove a more suitable moment. Apart from participating in conferences set up by other scholars, as a postgraduate student, you may also become involved in the organization of larger, international conferences through departmental colleagues or your supervisor.

If you do decide to follow up on the idea of organizing a conference, discuss the feasibility of this plan carefully with your supervisor, so you won't find yourself after 3 years of PhD research having invested all your energy in organizing a conference and not having completed your PhD. Moreover, avoid trying to set up a multiple-day conference. It will be too demanding at this stage in your career.

So let's say you and your supervisor have come to the conclusion that organizing a conference on a particular topic may be a productive and realistic plan for you (perhaps in collaboration with one of your PhD colleagues), then this will present you with the opportunity to:

  • invite experts you would like to meet
  • compare your research findings with those of others
  • network
  • raise your profile
  • acquire transferable skills
  • enrich your CV by publishing your paper, or editing a volume of conference papers.

In order to support you with the different aspects of organizing a conference we have prepared the following topics as part of this tutorial: