I’m starting a PhD but I’m disabled and can’t travel. This means I won’t be able to present my work at conferences. Has anyone had experience this? Will it negatively impact on my research?

My tutor is aware but I’ve already had a sponsorship declined because I can’t travel to training courses. (I agree that the rejection is unlawful but as I'm only just starting out I cannot risk offence.)

My intention is to publish work. I can never travel far from where I live. I'm aiming to work either in my local university or local industry. Networking and conferences just isn't possible. They would have to come to me. It's a shame because I'd love that aspect but I'm working within my limitations and trying to change my life.

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    Please mention the field. In most fields, conferences are not mandatory. But are you perhaps in computer science where conferences are the most common way to publish?
    – GEdgar
    Commented Jun 21, 2019 at 11:46
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    And what country? Some places it might be required to make accommodation.
    – Buffy
    Commented Jun 21, 2019 at 12:02
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    @GEdgar Even in Computer Science, it's only expected that one of the authors attend, and co-authored papers are the norm. So publication isn't a problem: the issue is networking. Commented Jun 21, 2019 at 21:52
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    Refusing to sponsor you because your disability prevents you from travelling sounds a lot like unlawful discrimination. Commented Jun 21, 2019 at 21:58
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    Commented Jun 22, 2019 at 7:21

4 Answers 4


Conferences can be useful, both for presenting your work but also for networking.

Some conference organisers will be willing to let you present by videoconference, if you explain the reason. Others will not want to do that - perhaps for good reasons, perhaps for really bad ones which may or may not be legal. You can also have your paper presented by a co-author, which means that you can certainly get your work included at conferences and into proceedings - but if you don't do it yourself, you don't gain much recognition.

The networking side is much harder, as you can't do that by videoconference - at least, unless you or a funder invested in a telepresence robot or similar. Not being able to network effectively is certainly a disadvantage for your future career, but should not be an insurmountable obstacle, and should certainly not prevent you from doing a PhD.

You don't mention where you live, but in many jurisdictions having a sponsorship declined because of disability (where the disability does not prevent you from studying at PhD level) might be illegal. It certainly sounds deeply unethical to me.

  • Agreed. Depending on the country in which the student is located, this brings up serious disability issues. In my experience, conferences are becoming better at accommodating researchers -- even providing on-site childcare.
    – Parrever
    Commented Jun 21, 2019 at 18:35

Though presenting one's work at conferences is important, I would not say it's vital. What is more important is publishing. There's a well-known saying in academia, "publish or perish", which means that in order to be - and stay - relevant in your field, publish often.

Not everyone can make it to a conference because of other personal priorities or paywalls. I know of one PhD student who won't travel abroad because he has an ethical issue with flying. Published papers are far more easy to access the world over. I have personally never attended a conference but I've been published several times during my master's and PhD, and am starting to get citations. If you cannot travel to conferences, try to put extra effort into something else, like familiarising yourself with the publishing/peer review process. Reading Laura Belcher's excellent book "Writing Your Journal Article in 12 Weeks" could be a good start.

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    The publishing/peer review process is something asker will need to be familiar with regardless of whether they go to conferences. I'm not sure why you're suggesting it as an alternative. ("OK, you're a vegetarian. Try to put extra effort into something else, like familiarizing yourself with breathing.") Commented Jun 21, 2019 at 21:55
  • I'm not suggesting it as an alternative, I'm suggesting she get more involved. Some of my peers don't care for publishing much at all, other care about it a lot. I was suggesting she do the latter.
    – C26
    Commented Jun 22, 2019 at 19:43
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    If you mean that she should put more energy into journal publications, you should say that, and I think it's reasonable advice. What you actually say is that she should put more energy into finding out how the publication system works. Commented Jun 22, 2019 at 20:07

I am a 5'th year Ph.D. student and could not attend multiple conferences due to Trump's travel ban. I do not believe it affected my Ph.D. progress/experience in any meaningful manner. Many conferences will help you to present your papers remotely and Twitter is an effective way of building a social/academic network.

To summarize, it is nice to be able to attend these events, but certainly not necessary.


After submitting two multi-person proposals to a conference (SIGCSE), I got pregnant, with a due date close to the conference. Both proposals were accepted. If I remember correctly, one was for a workshop and one for a panel. I requested and received permission to present by pre-recorded video. As it happens, both presentations were on the day that I gave birth. Given that my inability to travel (due to my voluntary choice to get pregnant) was accommodated, I don't see why your inability to travel would not be.

As others have mentioned, this needn't be an issue for multi-person submissions, although I wouldn't necessarily advise you to cede your right to be the presenter. For single-person submissions, you could include a note that because of your disability you are unable to present in person, but you are capable of pre-recording of presentation or being available by Skype (if you can be), or you could wait until after your proposal is accepted. I think many people are happy to accommodate people with disabilities. Please don't assume they will not because you had one bad experience.

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