Requirements for Conference Participation

If you want to present your research at a meeting, you will want to do a bit of research on the conference and find out:

  • what your advisor thinks about your presenting your research
  • what opportunities exist for research presentations by student researchers
  • what the constraints are regarding meeting participation and presentation
  • what the cost of participation at the meeting will be (including travel costs)
  • what resources (locally or externally) are available to support your participation at the conference.

First Things First: Speak with Your Advisor

The first and most important thing to do is to speak with your undergraduate research advisor to determine whether or not your advisor believes you are ready and able to present your research at a conference and to determine whether or not your advisor can provide the needed financial support (which may be considerable if you wish to present at a national or international conference) in order to underwrite your trip. Before you speak with your advisor, it would be a wise idea to do some background work: Make sure that you are working on a project the results of which can be publicly communicated. If you are working on a project that is potentially patentable or which is supported by industrial funding, you may not be able to present some or all of your work publicly; Summarize your research accomplishments in an abstract (approximately 250 words or less) that shows the quality and quantity of the results you have at this point; and determine how much it will cost to attend the research conference including travel (airfare, housing), registration, and subsistence and what must be submitted (abstract, extended abstract, and/or proposal) in order to make a presentation.


Common Constraints On Meeting Participation


Many meetings are organized by professional associations. In many conferences participation and presentation may be limited to those made by the membership or by individuals sponsored by members. If you are not a member of the professional society, you may still be eligible to present if your faculty advisor or a collaborator is a member of the organization sponsoring the conference. If no one is a member, consider inquiring about student membership in the professional association. Student memberships are often relatively inexpensive and may provide additional perks such as a complimentary subscription to the society's publication or eligibility for student scholarships, travel grants. Presentations are usually limited to work that has not been previously published and/or presented at any other technical conference. At some conferences conferees may not be presenters on more than one presentation.

Conference participation usually requires the conferee to:

  • register; and
  • submit an abstract

We will discuss both of these topics below.

Registration

In general everyone who wants to attend a technical conference, whether or not they are presenting research, must register for the meeting. If you intend to present registration is usually a requirement. If the meeting is sponsored by a professional society, membership in the society may affect the registration fee structure. The lowest registration rates are usually accorded to those attendees who are members of the professional society. In addition, many meetings offer a discount to attendees who register in advance of the meeting as this allows the organizing committee more flexibility in planning and negotiating the conference arrangements with conference center, hotels and/or airlines. There may be full meeting or day rates. Free registration may be provided for spouses.

Registrants are given a badge that they must wear at all times during the conference in order to be admitted to the technical sessions and any official social events. The registration materials may be mailed to you or they may be provided on site.

Even if you are not presenting at a technical conference and/or are not traveling from a distance in order to participate, it is highly advantageous to register in advance. Conferees registering on site often must wait in long lines in order to complete the registration process. "In advance" usually means several months in advance of the meeting.

At some meetings organizers will offer college students a discounted meeting registration rate, complimentary meals, and/or a small stipend if the students are willing to work behind the scenes at the conference. Working behind the scenes can provide you with an invaluable opportunity to meet key professionals in your field and to network with them. This type of meeting opportunity is somewhat rare and generally is not publicly advertised. Interested students are strongly encouraged to contact the meeting organizers well in advance of the meeting - six months out or more.


Abstract


A meeting abstract is basically the same thing as an abstract for a technical paper. It is a succinct (typically 200 words or less) summary of the research that you plan to present in your conference presentation. As such it should outline the research problem, its significance, the methods used, the results obtained and the significance of the results. The work outlined should be novel and should not have been previously presented at any other conference or published anywhere. The abstract can describe work which is in progress at the time the abstract is submitted if the work will be completed at the time at which it will be presented.

If available review the list of key words that will be used in indexing conference abstracts and incorporate as many of these as possible in your meeting abstract. Research methodologies and applications are examples of frequently used key words.

In general speakers are supposed to present the work that they have outlined in their proposal or meeting abstract. Since abstracts and meeting proposals are often approved six months in advance of a conference, meeting organizers understand that presenters will have likely done additional work that they would like to present. This is acceptable at most conferences. However, if you plan to present work that differs significantly from that described in the approved meeting abstract it is important to discuss this in advance with the session and/or meeting organizers.

Meeting Abstract Example

Symposium Title: Sustainability across the Chemistry Curriculum: Green Chemistry and Beyond

Poster Title: Synthesizing conducting polymers employing green chemistry principles

Conducting polymers, important in materials science, are traditionally synthesized using electrochemical methods in concentrated acid or harmful organic solvents. Use and disposal of these reagents is typically dangerous and expensive. In this project designed for use in the freshmen chemistry teaching laboratory, either polypyrrole or polyaniline are synthesized electrochemically by cyclic voltammetry using Green methods, a simple potentiostat, and an electrochemical cell containing monomer, electrolyte, and optically transparent indium-doped tin oxide on glass electrodes. In approximately 1.5 hours, freshmen working individually or in groups synthesize conducting polymers and observe their important optical and electrical properties. After synthesizing the polymer, students design their own electric circuit using the conducting polymer, a battery, and a light-emitting diode to demonstrate the polymer film's conductivity. This method of synthesizing conducting polymers can also be extended to the creation of nanowires and represents a second laboratory experiment we seek to implement in the near future.


Extended Abstract


Sometimes you may be required to submit an abstract and at a later time an extended abstract. An extended abstract resembles a communication. Extended abstracts are short papers outlining the problem investigated, methods used, and the key findings that the speaker will present. Extended abstracts are usually peer reviewed. They are viewed by many researchers as publications. Since prior publication of research normally precludes publication of the work at a later time in the peer-reviewed archival technical literature, you may find that your advisor reluctant to allow you to present your research at venues where extended abstracts are required for conference presentations.


Proposal


At many conferences interested speakers must submit a proposal. Proposals are usually submitted in response to a published "call for proposals". The proposal is generally a three-to-four page long paper outlining the proposed presentation. A good proposal will:

  • Outline your project clearly and clearly outline its relevancy to the themes of the conference
  • Describe results of your project or innovation if available. If outcomes are not yet available, indicate when they will be.
  • Include properly formatted references to any relevant background information
  • Explain how the presentation will be made, including what, if any technology, will be required for the presentation, and the role of the participants in the presentation. Technology frequently used includes laptop hook-up, projection equipment, TV/DVD, overhead projector, flip charts and markers, microphone, etc. Note it is important to find out in advance what types of technology the conference organizers will provide. Don't assume that any of these resources is "standard" and will be supplied - ask!

Peer Review

Meeting abstracts, extended abstracts, and proposals are generally peer reviewed prior to acceptance for presentation. In general, peer review is usually performed by the conference planning committee, a session organizer, and/or one or more individuals who have agreed to perform this purpose. In general, review criteria usually include relevance of the presentation to the overall conference and session themes and the technical quality of the work described. The proposal may also be evaluated based on how well written it is as this provides an indication of how likely the speaker is to be an effective communicator. Since criteria vary widely it is vital that prospective presenters obtain, review, and follow the guidelines for submission of abstracts, extended abstracts and/or proposals carefully prior to submission. The work outlined in your proposal should be novel and should not have been previously presented at any other conference or published anywhere. The proposal can describe work in progress if the work will be completed at the time at which it will be presented.