I'm supposed to give a presentation at an academic conference in the coming days but have fallen ill. What is the best way to send my regrets? Should I also send a doctor's note? It doesn't provide details of my condition but does have other personal information such as date of birth and home address. I just wonder if any of this is the conference organiser's business. At the same time, sending an email without proof that I am truly incapacitated doesn't seem like it's enough either. I'm still not sure what to do about the presentation I'd prepared - whether or not to send it anyway etc. I'm trying to focus on getting better, but I am worried that this medical issue will ruin my good name. Any advice would be appreciated.

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    A completely different bur related issue is whether you can get refunds for the plane tickets you bought but didn't use. The obvious answer should be "yes, you should be entitled to", but sometimes there are people in administration whose job seems to be making everyone else's life difficult... Nov 8, 2013 at 12:51
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    People normally present at conferences because they want to, not because somebody is making them do it. As far as the organizers are concerned, you have no incentive to lie about why you can't make it. That's why there would be no need for a doctor's note.
    – David Z
    Nov 12, 2013 at 19:17

2 Answers 2


Just tell the convener that you will be unable to present due to unforeseen circumstances. That is enough and will be understood — there can be many reasons and it won't be a first time. He/she will be glad that you inform him/her at all — it happens all to often that people simply don't turn up without giving any information at all. The convener shouldn't need a doctor's note.

That being said, is any co-author travelling to the conference, or perhaps a colleague familiar with your work? If yes, you could ask one of them if they are willing to take over your presentation. I've done this for colleagues and although I wasn't able to answer detailed questions from the audience, it's still beneficial both for me (visibility to experts in the field) and to the first author.

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    In addition to that, I think you should ask the organizers if you can send a video presentation, and/or attend via Skype. Showing them that you are keen to present your work to the attendees will be appreciated. You don't want them to think that you were just after getting your paper published and that's it. Nov 12, 2013 at 18:43
  • @MohamedKhamis Interesting suggestion. I've never seen that (I'm in the geosciences).
    – gerrit
    Nov 13, 2013 at 8:49
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    Too late now but don't say "unforseen circumstances"! Just say that you're ill. "Unforseen circumstances" is generic and sounds evasive -- it gives the impression that just couldn't be bothered attending, and couldn't even be bothered coming up with an excuse. It's not like "I'm ill" is some kind of private information that you can't share. Feb 22, 2014 at 9:58
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    @gerrit Both of those come under "family emergency"; the second could also be "something's come up with my children and I really need to be here". I just don't see any reason for giving no explanation at all. Feb 23, 2014 at 10:17
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    I agree. Unforeseen circumstances should be enough and will be understood. However, if you are feeling comfortable saying more (e.g. I am ill, family emergency, ...) do so. If you don't want to say more just stick with unforeseen circumstances. @MohamedKhamis The few video / Skype presentations I have seen were horrible and most of them took quite a lot of time and effort to get set up. However, that might be different in CS. Aug 16, 2014 at 9:45

Just inform the organisers as soon as possible, they might want to rearrange the programme accordingly, and therefore might to contact other authors to see if they agree to change their scheduled slot. You don't have to provide proof, as gerrit says, things like that happens quite often.

In addition to gerrit's suggestion to see if a colleague could present your talk, you could also check with the organisers if you can present your work remotely (if your illness allows for it). I attended a conference recently where one author presented his slides through a Skype conversation, and another talk was presented as a video, while the author was available in the end for any question. Although it's not ideal, it's still better than not presenting your work at all.

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    Personally I'd even prefer skype, google hangout or similar if that allows answering the questions to a colleague, colleagues are not very informative in my experience. Be aware, though, that usually the Internet connection is saturated due to the number of users...
    – Trylks
    Nov 8, 2013 at 12:16
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    Be careful when trying to do a video presentation. I've seen some people (who were faculty candidates) try this and end up with absolutely horrific videos that probably did more harm to their chances than good.
    – aeismail
    Nov 8, 2013 at 18:01

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