Career development · Conferences · Ecrag Member's blog

Turn your research into a holiday: Conferences abroad

Ever considered that your research could land you sipping cocktails on a beach in Australia?! Yes even as an early career researcher! Here’s how our very own ECRAG-er Gemma Taylor did it:

During the first year of my PhD I attended a “Cafe PhD” meeting. Gemma Knowles, a second year PhD student was presenting about her experience of travelling abroad for research.  I remember reflecting on Gemma’s presentation and I concluded that such opportunities were only for very lucky PhD-ers.  I thought that students deemed able to present internationally must have world-changing research and huge spending pots.  I certainly did not think that I would have the opportunity to travel to a conference abroad.

I’m now in the final year of my PhD and I have presented at two conferences abroad.  Contrary to previous assumptions – it turns out that you do not need luck, world-changing research, huge pots of cash, nor do you need international connections to present abroad. The prerequisites to present abroad are the same as the prerequisites to present at any conference.  All you need is a little bit of money, a good quality project and the time to fill in the application form.

Boston, USA

My first abstract was submitted to present in Boston, USA at the Society for Research on Nicotine and Tobacco (SRNT)  annual conference; as recommended by my supervisor.  My abstract submission was successful and I was selected to present a poster for my project titled “A meta-analysis of change in mental health after smoking cessation.”  The presentation format was informal therefore I had the opportunity to speak directly with international leaders in my field.   As my project was in its early stages, I found that discussing the results with other academics was very informative to the project’s development. Also, travelling with fellow UK tobacco researchers was a fantastic opportunity which developed research and personal relationships within the group. And a little added bonus – we had the chance to explore the area. We attended a Boston Celtics vs. Toronto Raptors basketball game (Toronto got creamed!) and went to the famous Cheers Bar.


Sydney, Australia

The second conference abroad I attended was in Sydney, Australia.  I found out about this conference at SNRT from a tobacco treatment specialist (Dr Colin Mendelsohn).  I submitted two pieces of research: the meta-analysis and my second project “Assessing the association between smoking cessation and change in mental health, using propensity score matching (PSM)”.  Both of my abstracts were accepted; the meta-analysis as an oral presentation and my PSM analysis as a poster presentation.  This conference was similar to Boston, in that the networking was amazing, and the research was world-class. However, this time I travelled on my own which left me feeling the pressure; I did not have the safety net of my supervisor and colleagues. At first, travelling alone did not phase me and I was very excited about the opportunity to deliver a talk about my research.  However, as the presentation date came closer I became very nervous!  On the day of my presentation I had an early morning pep talk from my supervisor and then made my way to the conference.  I was quite nervous before I went up on stage – but once I began my nervous state disappeared and my presentation went as planned.  I had some really interesting questions and positive feedback from the audience. Traveling alone to present to a foreign audience really boosted my confidence as a presenter and promoted networking outside of my research group.


To summarise…

My experiences attending international conferences have been very positive.  It has widened the audience for my research and has enabled me to develop international research connections.  Also, these opportunities have provided me with great feedback and constructive criticism, which in turn will better my PhD and prepare me for my VIVA (hopefully!). These are invaluable opportunities and in my case they were enhanced by presenting abroad.

I would recommend to other PhD-ers:

1) Find a conference you’re interested in attending

2) Budget some of your conference money to attend an international conference

3) Check out the delegate list to see if any leaders from your field will be attending (this will increase your chances of networking, and also mention this in funding applications for travel expenses)

4) Speak to your supervisors, they will be more than happy to help

5) I also recommend travelling alone to enhance your future role as an independent researcher and presenter

Gemma Taylor MSc MBPsS


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