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).