The Case for Regularly Attending Conferences

Tina Huesing Doctoral Program

Why Bother Attending Conferences?


Tina HuesingThis year I attended a large academic conference in Philadelphia, PA, and a smaller one in Limerick, Ireland. They both provided much food for thought and reminded me how beneficial it is to attend conferences regularly.

It is good practice to meet with others who share a common interest outside of our own organization to calibrate ourselves. I attend both trade conferences and academic conferences, and where they used to be two different worlds, I now see a few more crossovers: practitioners attending academic conferences and scholars attending practitioners’ meetings. And this is a good thing because it gives us the best of both worlds and makes both worlds better.

So what exactly is it about conferences that makes them so beneficial?

Reason #1: Knowledge creation and exchange.

As I pondered this question, sociologists Neil Gross and Crystal Fleming believe “conferences can be key sites for the social orchestration of academic knowledge and for the intrusion of sociality into forms of social knowledge production.” In other words, conferences are a great place where knowledge is created because people gather and exchange ideas. Knowledge is not only created, but at the same time disseminated and evaluated, and through this process our own thinking improves and that in turn lets us improve our work.

Reason #2: Engaging in conferences helps us develop our ideas and make a wider contribution to the field.

The commitment to present at a conference, whether it is through participation in a panel or giving a presentation, or even attending a workshop, focusses us on a topic and lets us prepare our thoughts. What often starts out as a vague idea is shaped and expressed. Once our contribution has been accepted, we don’t want to embarrass ourselves and we shape our thoughts to potentially make a significant contribution. Our participation is always a gift to our community of interest in the form of sharing research findings or best practices and advice.

Reason #3: Participating in a conference also allows us to gauge interest in our ideas and determine where to go next.

Are we working on topics that are seen as valuable by others? Nobody wants to work on topics that aren’t seen as important. But when others are interested and ask us interesting questions about our thoughts, we return to our desks even more motivated to continue working on the topics that interest us. Opportunities for collaboration develop as well.

Participating in a conference is also a great opportunity to “test the waters” and figure out where you want to go next with your initiatives, ideas and research.

Reason #4: Find mentors.

Guidance or mentoring is often explicitly available. At conferences for practitioners, workshops are offered and sessions scheduled for best practice sharing. At academic conferences, colloquia and mentoring sessions organized by the various thematic divisions provide opportunities for one-on-one feedback. And these sessions are by no means only for beginners! Very experienced people use them to sharpen their thoughts and to try out new ideas.

Then again, you might hear presentations and think, “I could hold a more interesting, informative presentation than this!” or “I could write a better paper than this!” and find that your ideas are more significant, more interesting than you thought.  All these experiences will make you feel as an active, knowledgeable and valuable member of your professional field.

Reason #5: Increase your cultural competence.

Finally, attending a conference that is a little outside your comfort zone allows you to learn about a new culture. Practitioners and academics each have their own professional culture and much to learn from each other. How they approach the issues the world is facing is different. And when the conference takes place in a different country, you also experience that culture and the way your profession is practiced in that culture.

The best ideas rarely develop in a vacuum. Attending or presenting at a conference – whether for practitioners or scholars – can create the environment that allows idea innovation to occur. Rarely do you find that kind new knowledge and new insight at your desk.



Tina Huesing is the Chief Consultant with Wyrmwood Consulting and a doctoral student with the Center for Values-Driven Leadership.

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