Attending university conferences
If you’re considering applying for PhD study programmes, for instance at Faculty of Science at Charles University in Prague, you should know that PhD students are expected to attend conferences from time to time. There might be some differences based on your specific study programme but generally you have to attend a conference at least once or twice to get certain mandatory credits. How does it work?
Conferences are announced months beforehand so that presenters have enough time to prepare and make time in their schedule. Usually, one receives a so-called “call for papers” by email with all the necessary information like stating dates, its venue and announcing the theme. Your supervisor might strongly advise you to attend certain conferences that relate to your dissertation research.
Conferences aren’t for free; you have to pay an admission fee. Actually, you have to pay for everything yourself but don’t worry—your university will return all that money afterwards when you show them receipts/tickets. Conferences are held at universities that organise them so there’s travelling involved and you have to book a hotel yourself, preferably near the venue. You don’t have to take the cheapest motel but booking a five star establishment won’t meet with understanding at the HR department so choose within reason. There’re regular coffee breaks with light refreshments between lectures and one celebratory dinner but otherwise you have to pay for your food.
Conferences usually last 2-3 days during which there are many lectures happening at the same time in different rooms. Choose what interests you; it’s entirely up to you. The only lecture relevant for everyone is the opening one by a keynote speaker who is a prominent guest, a real expert in their field.
It’s an excellent opportunity, if you’re brave enough, to present your own paper—you have to notify the organizers to give you a time slot, of course—but you can attend as audience as well. For your very first conference, it might be better to come just as an onlooker so that you learn what’s expected of you next time.
If you decide to actively participate, you have to send a synopsis of your presentation which will be printed in a conference program booklet. Beware that anyone can attend your lecture. As an unknown name, you’ll probably get only other PhD students as your audience but keep in mind that professors can come as well. Being sloppy isn’t professional and you most likely want to impress your future colleagues.
Even though attending lectures can be very inspirational, the main power of conferences actually lies in coffee breaks. Don’t be shy and approach all those renowned professors and doctors whose work you admire. Socializing is the most important part of university conferences and you want to get noticed. Making connections can open many doors for you in future so be sure to ask for contacts. And get to know your fellow PhD students as well; you certainly don’t have to feel tense around them.
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Presenting at conferences can be nerve-wracking, especially if you’re a newbie, but it’s totally worth it. So send your application as soon as possible!