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What is a conference and should I go to one?

You may have heard about your tutors and the academic staff who support you, going to conferences to present and learn about the latest research and thinking. Perhaps you have been to a conference yourself? But if you have not, what are they? And why should you want to go?

By Professor Ian Turner - 22 November 2018

Conferences are, aside from academic journals, the most important way for researchers to present and discuss their work and exchange information. They are of enormous benefit for a number of reasons!


Conferences often have multiple parallel sessions (concurrent talks) and generous time for coffee breaks and lunch. These are integral parts of the conference experience allowing you to talk to and hear from as many people as possible. Nothing beats hearing a different perspective on a problem you have pondered for some time. Conference attendees are normally very open to networking and sharing, which is great if you introverted personality type. International conferences attract delegates from across the world as well as the UK. Perspective and viewpoints from different institutions, countries and cultures are always valuable.


Conferences are often a mixture of keynote lectures, paper talks and workshops. Very often presenters are talking about the very latest thinking and findings in their areas. Conferences are a great way to understand the latest developments in your area, spot emerging themes and update your knowledge ready for your next teaching or research activity.


Conferences are great feeding grounds for new ideas, many a research project has been generated over networking at a conference. I love what I call ‘nuggets’; the small comments made in a talk or a paper that almost a ‘throw-away’ comment but starts an avalanche of ideas in your mind. That’s normally when I pick up my phone and get on Twitter!

You may be thinking this sounds great and might even have seen a great conference that you would love to attend, but can’t. Don’t worry! Most large conferences now have a dedicated hashtag and many academics are very prolific on Twitter. If you follow the conference hashtag you can often find the main themes and findings of the conference, links to slides and research papers, and some scholarly debate. On some occasions when you get deeply immersed in the social media activity it can actually feel like you are at the conference.

If you are interested in attending a conference you should speak to your personal academic tutor in the first instance. There are lots of conferences, many of which offer student travel bursaries and grants (sometimes in exchange for writing a blog about your experiences). There are also some opportunities much closer to home! The Centre for Excellence in Learning and Teaching (CELT) runs an Undergraduate Research Scholarship Scheme (URSS) that allow students to engage in their own research projects and present at the URSS conference here at Derby. This year the conference will be taking place on 27 November from 12.30pm. 

About the author

Professor Ian Turner
Professor in Learning and Teaching in Higher Education

As an Associate Professor in Teaching and Learning, Dr Turner supports teams and individuals across the University with their learning, teaching and assessment activities. He also teaches on biology and forensic science courses and has won external recognition for being an outstanding teacher.

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