A view on conferences: (ii) Abstract submission and conference attendance: a chicken and egg issue?

In a recent post by kjhaxton, it was discussed whether once an abstract has been submitted for a conference, the decision to attend has essentially been made (or that the decision to attend is made before submitting an abstract). In this blog post, I want to discuss an alternative situation, based on my experience over a number of years.

In my field we have an international conference every two years, which alternates between a European and non European location. This field has historically had a strong participation rate from Eastern European and former Soviet Union countries. Although the situation has improved somewhat, many scientists from these countries have had great difficulty in obtaining funds to cover the costs of conference attendance. Conference organisers therefore try to obtain funding which is then competitively applied for. The grant awarding bodies that we approach stipulate conditions, normally that applicants must have had a paper accepted for the conference. So potential conference attendees submit abstracts first, and then apply for funding. There are invariably more applicants than the available funding can support, so some applicants will be disappointed. But the accepted procedure here is to submit the abstract first, and find out later whether conference attendance will be possible.

Another example relates to my own personal experience. A few years ago I submitted two abstracts for a conference which I was interested in, and had the funds to attend, but I decided that I would only attend (and use my limited resources)  if at least one abstract was accepted for an oral presentation. Unfortunately both were accepted as posters, so I didn’t go, because I wanted to get maximum exposure in return for the registration costs.

Finally, my subject group organises an annual conference and awards student bursaries to enable PhD students to attend. To qualify, an abstract must have been submitted and accepted for oral presentation.

In conclusion, in my field at least, the principle of submitting an abstract to a conference before the decision to attend has been made is well established. Having submitted an abstract, subsequent non-attendance may be based on financial reasons, or (as in my example above) the accepted mode of presentation (although that may be less common).

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3 thoughts on “A view on conferences: (ii) Abstract submission and conference attendance: a chicken and egg issue?”

  1. Back when I was a postdoc, the holders of the purse strings would not let me go to a conference unless I was giving an oral presentation. I can’t say I blame them. When funds are limited, using them for maximum exposure seems reasonable. Apart from the UK national conference in nuclear physics, I tend not to go to a conference unless I have a talk.

    A few years ago I organised a big international conference here at Surrey. As soon as we had decided who would get talks and who posters, I got a lot of emails from people regretting that they would not be able to come unless they had a talk. Certainly seems pretty normal in my area.

  2. Hmmm, well I had never actually contemplated doing this, because I have never been in the position to hold my own purse strings, therefore abstract submission was with the good grace of the boss and with the notion that money was available for the conference should the abstract be accepted. That being said, we often got the grad students to submit abstracts before the work was done to give them an incentive to do it faster.

    Would I do it now? I don’t know, but to comment further would be to comment on my capacity to do ‘conference presentable research’ rather than my capacity to submit an abstract then think about funding. Simply, at the moment I have nothing that is in anyway presentable, so its a non-starter anyway. Somewhere back when I started writing about conferences I had participation at conferences by young academics in mind – for whom the networking opportunities would be invaluable but who, for one reason or another, were not in a position to take advantage of the funding opportunities in any substantive way (i.e. independent research too embryonic to present/resources too limited to churn something out in the time available). It results in an absence from the field – a period of time between postdoc and independent publication where you aren’t making or sustaining connections, or being exposed to the key players in your field. It is also (hopefully!) a temporary problem, one that will disappear once the capacity to get research done and done well is increased. Then I’ll think about playing the game this way!

  3. I’m so glad to have found your web page. My pal mentioned it to me before, yet never got around to checking it out until now. I must express, I’m floored. I really enjoyed reading through your posts and will absolutely be back to get more.

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