Summer means conference season in academia. From casual graduate symposia popping up across campuses, to the vast annual international gatherings of scholars in one dedicated field, there will be the congregation of academic minds. Whilst undergraduate marking looms like an unmovable mountain in May, come June and July academics will be packing suitcases and embarking on trains across the country, and indeed airplanes around the world. It’s a romantic image to think on such an international scale. But before that, there has been the search, which for most academics today begins online, alone.
Finding a conference can be a challenge, especially when you are starting out in academia. There are just so many possibilities out there. Since beginning my PhD I have attended and presented at some great conferences and some truly dire ones. I have spoken in a room to six people, and an auditorium of 200. There is a really great article by Cornelia Oefelein that details different kinds of conferences, which adds to the picture.
Over time, I have learnt that where and how you search changes the kinds of conferences that you will find. Below, I detail my favourite places to look for conferences and what they are especially useful for, alongside the disadvantages. As a humanities scholar these are biased towards the arts and humanities disciplines. I also maintain that perhaps the best place to find out about conferences is by talking to friends and colleagues.
1) Online Conference Database
Advantages: Of the numerous sites out there, H-Net’s Academic Announcements is my favourite conference database. It offers a convenient way to narrowing down the vast number of conferences out there. Tick boxes and filters mean that you can choose to search for conferences with “Call for Papers” (CFP) that are still open (i.e. you will be able to present) or for conferences that are open for registration. You can search by location, subject or keyword terms. Another good place to look if you are in English Studies is the University of Pennsylvania’s CFP database. It isn’t as beautiful as H-Net but it does have a load of conferences for literature / Digital Humanities scholars.
Disadvantages: Cast too wide a wide net, and you’ll be inundated with conferences and feel overwhelmed.
Advantages: If you are looking for a one-day conference (or symposia as it is sometimes called)Eventbrite is a great place to start. Events listed here are often organised by groups of people at one institution, so it can be a really easy way of getting involved in otherwise closed circles. I recently attended a graduate conference at University College London on the theme of “Dissidence” via Eventbrite. People attended this particular event from all across the UK, testament to the potential reach of this platform. These events have the benefit of being public too, meaning that you might get a wider and more diverse audience for your paper = win!
Disadvantages: The events here only usually last for a day, meaning that you miss out on the potential to make stronger connections over a few days.
Advantages: Some of the best conferences I have been to have been recommended by colleagues on Twitter who’ve spotted a CFP elsewhere. Twitter allows you to expand the power of personal recommendation to a wider circle of peers. “Following” people in your field, and looking at the conferences which they are organising / attending / tweeting about is a great way to find places to get involved.
Disadvantages: You need to be able to discern between a meaningful recommendation and an automated plug. Like the conference databases, there is an over-abundance of information on Twitter.
4) Institutions / Organizations
Advantages: The biggest conferences are hosted by large organisations. Following these centres via membership, mailing lists, RSS feeds, or social media provides an excellent way to stay in the loop in regard to conferences. These large events pull a greater number of colleagues, have world-leading experts and tend to have the largest catering budget!
Disadvantages: They can be competitive to present at and so applying for these is more likely to result in rejection. Try not to be disheartened though, as sometimes they also result in success and an excellent chance to disseminate your ideas.