Attending conferences is considered one of the perks of working in academia, for a variety of very good reasons:
- networking, meeting new people
- cutting edge research results and new directions
- advertise your own research (while networking)
- (often) nice venues
In some domains, such as computer science, conferences are (becoming) the main exchange site of top work. In some other domains, conferences are considered entertainment. Next to this quality ambiguity, there are some downsides:
- travel costs can weigh on budgets of smaller research groups
- conference papers more likely to be dismissed by hiring committees than journal papers
A consequence of the first downside is that many groups only allow researchers to attend conferences if they have accepted talks/papers, which is difficult in top venues. A consequence of the second downside is that some researchers prefer to submit top work to top journals rather than top conferences.
I do consider the second con relevant to the question, as this is one of the reasons for ending up wanting to attend conferences without having any accepted papers.
Given the ups and downs, I would like to assess the importance of attending top conferences (even without accepted talks/papers) for both individual researchers as well as their research groups.
My field is machine learning, but answers concerning other fields are more than welcome.