why doctoral researchers should get support for conferences

I’ve recently been told by a number of doctoral researchers that their institutions are pretty mean about funding them to go to conferences to give papers. I’m pretty scandalized by this as it seems to me that it ought to be an expectation that during doctoral research ‘regular’ scholarly behavior is encouraged, if not required. This post offers some pointers that might be used to argue why funding doctoral researchers for conferences is a really good idea.

Giving a conference paper serves multiple purposes for the doctoral researcher. Here’s five:

(1) It gets you out of your university and into the more general community of scholars. This means that you can meet your reading list face to face. You can see how people whose work you use perform in person, and you can also sidle up to them and start a conversation. Even if all that happens is that you say you like and use their work, this still gives you the opportunity to speak to them again or email them afterwards.

(2) The conference is also the place to try out your ideas and to stake a claim in the field. Your paper signals the area you are working in, and begins to set out the kinds of contributions you might make. This potentially creates networks for you – people whose work is in related areas know about you and they may very well ask for your paper or your contact details. I know of some people whose work has been cited on the basis of a first conference paper, while others have been invited to write papers and chapters.

(3) The conference paper is a good way to put some data and findings and theory together to try out a scholarly argument. It may be that you go on to do some more work on the paper and send it off for publication. Or it may be that writing the conference paper puts you in a better position to write the chapter – or both of these.

(4) And then there’s what giving the paper actually accomplishes. The conference paper is not the same as the conference presentation. The conference presentation is the opportunity to perform as an expert scholar. You have to embody a researcher identity – even if you don’t feel like one. You get to say some of those words which before you’ve only written. You have to speak authoritatively about own your research question and its findings. You also have to handle comments and queries which are literally the first steps into an academic dialogue.

(5) The conference paper is an opportunity for your supervisor to support you to develop scholarly practices. It’s also a potential opportunity for them to help you to write the paper afterwards – this means they get a publication too and the institution gets known as a place that is good at helping doctoral researchers build a career. These are both important, not only for recruiting more doctoral researchers but also in audit exercises such as the British REF.

Can you add to this list?

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About pat thomson

Pat Thomson is Professor of Education in the School of Education, The University of Nottingham, UK
This entry was posted in conference papers, conference presentation, doctoral education, identity, research education and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to why doctoral researchers should get support for conferences

  1. Simon Bailey says:

    I couldn’t agree more with this, and I certainly miss the extra cash the ESRC used to put up for me to attend conferences as a doctoral student. The list is pretty comprehensive, there is so much you can achieve both materially in terms of words on a page, and personally, in terms of the identity and community building. Perhaps one to add is that if you choose the right conferences they can feel like they are set up favourably for doctoral students, special events are sometimes put on, and you can get some really good audiences who seem genuinely interested in you as a new and distinct voice in the field, and who are often forthcoming with advice. If your supervisor knows one or two people in the publishers exhibitions then that can be pretty handy as well!

  2. Further to the comments by Simon, both you and Pat have touched on this, but this is really important for a newby like myself: this process is also a confidence boost.
    I am yet to be baptised in the fires of conference (just started), but am sure the whole process (knocking knees thinking about it) will only add to my personal development as an academic.
    Yes, there will be challenges, yes, there will be some remarks or questions I won’t manage well, but iteration and reflection will surely help me as an individual grow from these experiences.

  3. Pingback: Doctoral nostalgia « rat tales

  4. I’m experiencing this myself at the moment. I’m nearly 9 months into the PhD process and have just, within the last week, received notice that my first 2 submitted abstracts have been accepted. No funding from the dept. unfortunately to get there…

  5. I’m very much in support of Pat’s argument here. My own School certainly provides support for doctoral researchers to attend conferences, though of course we do expect to be selective in what we will fund. We use exactly the reasons Pat lists in persuading our doctoral researchers to give papers at conferences, and spend time schmoozing with ‘the reading list’. However, I do worry that this might be unsustainable if we – like the rest of the sector – continue to recruit more and more doctoral students.

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