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I am applying to doctoral programs in the US, and I am wondering:

Is it advisable to name the keynote speaker of the local conference where I presented a paper recently?

The keynote speaker is a well-respected expert in my field, and I thought of mentioning his participation in order to highlight the merit of this conference in my statement of purpose. It seems to me that only a conference with a certain level of importance would be able to get such a reputable expert as a keynote speaker.

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If the conference is well-known enough, then it isn't necessary to name the keynote speaker, because the conference will be recognized regardless. If the conference isn't well-known in the field, name-dropping is going to come across crass and not very helpful.

So in either case, I don't see any advantage to name-dropping.

  • Thanks. But would it hurt? I want to name it because the conference is local and I think a conference has a reputable expert as a keynote speaker only if this conference is important enough. – Megadeth Nov 5 '14 at 12:09
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    @Kurt "a conference has a reputable expert as a keynote speaker only if this conference is important enough" This reasoning is a stretch. – xLeitix Nov 5 '14 at 12:18
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    @Kurt the speaker may be there just because he happens to live close, be in the area, or be friends with the organiser; not necessarily because the conference is good. – Davidmh Nov 5 '14 at 13:08
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    @Kurt Or because they got a nice speaking fee---see my answer below. – jakebeal Nov 5 '14 at 14:03
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In addition to aeismail's answer, and to stress his point a bit further, you should probably not do this. There are a number of reasons:

  • It provides only very weak support for the story you are trying to sell ("This conference was really quite good, because ... at least one important person attended when they paid all costs for her/him."). Really, there are way too many reasons why a famous person might attend a meeting. Maybe the conference organiser is an old friend of the famous person? Maybe the meeting is at a nice location, and the famous person just wanted to have a nice beach vacation, all expenses paid? Maybe the famous person simply was unaware that the meeting was in fact terrible until it was too late?
  • It sounds like you are absolutely desperately fishing for something good to say about this conference. A reader will wonder why you found this typically irrelevant tidbit of information so important that it had to be mentioned specifically. Is this really a train of thought that you want to invoke?
  • It is just not something that is typically done, and doing something against convention in your CV / application material always has at least a small risk in itself that it will not be looked favourably upon, for reasons that you cannot always predict. A good example for this is the h-index. Two or so years ago, I would always report my h-index, basically assuming that people would either ignore the info (if they don't believe in bibliometrics) or value the information (if they do). In the meantime, I figured out that there is a significant group of people that I would really anger just by mentioning the h-index, and so implying that it has any relevance whatsoever. I am not saying that mentioning the keynote speaker of a conference is the same, but it is sometimes hard to know in advance who will be annoyed by what.

And, most importantly, I think the chance of this information having any positive impact is so small that it is not worth the paper space, even aside from the reasons above.

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Do not add the keynote speaker to a listing. Unfortunately, the quality of a keynote speaker has nothing to do with the quality of a conference. The problem is that even top people are often willing to lend their name to a dubious venture for money. Low quality or predatory conferences often attempt to puff themselves up by trying to bring in famous keynote speakers, especially ones who are well known but past their prime. In fact, you should be very suspicious of a conference if it has good keynotes but unknowns on its program committee.

If the readers respect the conference, it will stand on its own. If it is not good, nothing will save their opinion.

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    Let us be fair: not only for money. It can happen that the presenter is a close friend or collaborator of one of the organizers. Also, the presenter may be on a "tour", building relationships benefiting his program, his institute or any other political reasons, or just came to a large conference somewhere in the neighborhood, and therefore accepted an invitation for a talk in a satellite-conference. A local conference has limited budgets and reach, therefore has fewer "star speaker" and lower quality than a international conference, but it doesn't automatically mean it is a predatory one. – Greg Nov 7 '14 at 2:50
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If you had a nice conversation with this speaker at the conference and admire her work, that might be worthwhile to include on an application in a section where you're explaining your interest in the research topic.

However, it's probably better to be extra careful about naming the keynote speaker or other prominent researchers that you haven't been directly involved with. Depending on how you write your application, you run the risk of implying that you are connected to their work. This is something people hiring PhD students pay attention to and will check up on. If they contact this person and they haven't even met you, that is not going to reflect well on you as a prospective hire.

The fact that a respected individual attends a conference or agrees to speak at a meeting is not a tacit endorsement of everyone else that attends the conference.

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