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Academic Conferences

The Benefits of Conference Attendance

You’ve probably heard this already from professors in your program, and we’ll say it again here (though we hate to nag). Regular attendance at professional conferences is essential for anyone who is planning a career in academe, and can help you to build skills that are useful even outside of it. You might ask: “Why is this?” Here are a few reasons.

Making Connections

Making connections with others in your field is very important to becoming a successful academic. You want people to know your name and your work. This is true not only for graduate students, but for faculty members as well. When you go up for tenure, your institution will likely ask scholars in your field to give a thoughtful assessment of your work. So, begin cultivating the skill of connecting with people early in your career. If you’re worried about how to connect with people in professional meeting settings like receptions, read the article “How to Work a Room Like You Own the Place” from Forbes magazine.

Developing Your Own Ideas

Meeting others and hearing about their work will help you get ideas for the directions in which you’d like your work to go, as well as ideas for potential collaborations. This is probably the best reason for participating actively by attending conference sessions and events (that is, not blowing them off to enjoy the many splendors of Honolulu, Las Vegas, or even Kalamazoo).

Improving Your Presentation Skills

Presenting your work is probably one of the best reasons to attend a conference. Learning to present with confidence and in a way that connects with your audience is a skill that will serve you well no matter what your eventual career path might be.

Tips for effective presentations:

  • Observe time limits.
  • Practice, practice, practice! Don’t improvise too much.
  • Avoid fidgeting and keep hand-waving for emphasis to a minimum.
  • Check out the room in advance (test out technology).
  • Talk clearly, slowly, and at an appropriate volume.

For more information and resources on making effective PowerPoint’s and presentations, see our writing resources and visit the GC Writing Center.

Seeing how people in your field present their work and how they field questions from the audience will help you to hone your own presentation style in a way that’s appropriate for your field. Do people always use PowerPoint? Do they read? What kinds of images do they show, if any? For those engaging speakers that you see, what helps to make their talk more enjoyable for the audience?


The one drawback of conference attendance is that it can be expensive. Below are some ideas about where to look for funding. Plan ahead.

You may consider checking some of the following sources for funding opportunities:

  • The Office of the Vice President for Student Affairs offers travel funds (up to $300) to full-time doctoral students who are within seven years of their first semester of enrollment. Students must be presenting a paper or poster, or actively participating in the conference to receive funding. Attendance alone is not funded. Funding is awarded in the spring and the fall (the fall includes the summer proceeding it). Funding is limited, so be sure to apply as soon as applications can be accepted. Students can receive only one grant per academic year and must be listed as being affiliated with “The Graduate Center, CUNY.” For more information, go to the student resources section of the GC website and be on the lookout for the annual “conference presentation support” document (usually posted on the right, under “student forms”).
  • If you have been consistently teaching at CUNY, you may be eligible for a professional development grant from the PSC-CUNY. If you are uncertain as to whether you qualify, you should get in touch with them.
  • Does the conference or professional organization itself fund graduate student travel? Be sure to search the conference/organization website for possibilities (and deadlines).
  • Our colleagues at the library have put together a great resource on funding. They have provided links to many searchable databases, in particular Pivot, Grant Advisor Plus, Foundation Grants to Individuals Online, and the grants databases of Duke University, UCLA, and Michigan State University. The H-Net announcement list is also a great resource for those in the humanities and social sciences.
  • If your travel could be coordinated with a visit to a nearby archive or library, it might be worthwhile to do so, as those places sometimes have a small amount of funds available for visiting researchers.

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