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I have been invited to a symposium related with my research field within a conference devoted to a broad area in Mathematics, not really associated with my field. This symposium is organized by a researcher that I met in previous, well-established and respectable conferences.

The problem is that I have never heard before about that conference to any colleague in my field, if we exclude the emails sent by the conference organizers asking researchers to attend or to organize a symposium within the conference (I have received myself a lot of them in my email spam folder). Indeed, I am really confused about the reputability of the conference itself, and I tried to find it out without too much success in this closed question.

I have decided not to attend the conference given the information that I have at hand, since as a young researcher I want to stay as far as I can from potential predatory conferences. Also the funding money for attending conferences is limited and I think I will get a better value for it on another conference.

Now, my question is regarding the way and etiquette for rejecting the invitation. My initial idea was to be honest and tell the symposium organizer about my reason to not accept the invitation (not feeling confortable in that conference), without making up any excuse such as problem in the dates or whatever. But maybe in that way I will hurt his/her feelings, something that obviously I do not want.

What will be a honest and polite way of rejecting this invitation?

  • I also was close to attending this very conference but never did. My reasoning was as yours: Better value at other venues… – Dirk Jan 5 '15 at 16:08
35

You basically said it best yourself:

the funding money for attending conferences is limited and I think I will get a better value for it on another conference.

This seems to me like a perfectly acceptable reason which needs to be enough for any reasonable person. You can't go to every conference where somebody you know asked you to go, and this one isn't high enough on your priorities list.

(personally, I would not lecture the other person about what you perceive as a spam conference that (s)he is involved with - just say friendly and truthfully that this specific conference is not of great interest to you, and that should be it)

29

Just say "no thank you" or say nothing. You don't have to make an excuse to not attend a conference symposium. You appear to be a junior researcher, so I'm assuming you were invited to participate not to give a keynote address or be honored otherwise. The symposium organizers will have invited more people than they can actually host since they know many will decline. There's no need to antagonize your colleague by accusing them of being involved in a sketchy conference or worse accusing them of being associated with something predatory.

  • Thanks for the answer, @BillBarth (+1). Certainly I am one among other people that the symposium organizer has potentially invited. But it seems to me a little unpolite to do not reply his/her invitation or to answer with something like "no, thank you", at least without providing a minimal explanation. I agree with your last sentence. – epsilone Jan 5 '15 at 15:57
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    I think that it is not polite to give no answer if you know the guy who invited you. – Dirk Jan 5 '15 at 16:29
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    Well, if you feel morally compelled to say more than "no thanks" or "I can't make it", that's on you. I still believe that this is one where you don't want to bare your soul on the subject, and a shorter response declining is better than a longer one explaining your reasons. – Bill Barth Jan 5 '15 at 16:51
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    I interpreted "say nothing" as "don't answer at all"... – Dirk Jan 5 '15 at 21:58
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Thank you very much for the invitation to this conference. It seems like a very interesting event. I will not be able to attend, but I wish you the best of luck with it.

Yours, etc. ...

This is polite but firm. Like Jake says in the comments, it is possible to increase the apparent (or intended) sincerity of the message by being more specific about why you think the conference will be interesting. And it is true that you are unable to attend because you have given higher priority for your limited travel budget on other events.

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    ... and then I realize I have been taking messages like these at face value for all these years... – drxzcl Jan 5 '15 at 19:26
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    @drxzcl The wonderful thing about this sort of low-content message is that it is also often said sincerely. I, at least, always have more things that I would like to attend than that I reasonable can attend. – jakebeal Jan 5 '15 at 20:03
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There's no polite way to say, "I believe your conference has no value, and isn't worth my time."

So I'm glad you are asking for an honest and polite method to decline, rather than an open and polite method to decline. I don't believe you can be open, honest, and polite in this case.

I don't believe you can honestly express regret that you cannot attend, but you can at least express a wish that the conference be successful, or that they achieve their goals with the conference and speakers. If you expect to check on the conference proceedings afterwards, whether out of curiosity or professional interest, it might be worthwhile expressing that as well.

"Thank you for your kind invitation to present at conference XYZ. While I must decline, I do look forward to reading the conference proceedings."

Keep it short, simple, and straightforward.

If this is a close friend, and you believe they are headed down the wrong path, it's probably worthwhile to follow this up with a phone call (no need for this conversation to be in writing!) and express your underlying reasons. If you are on the fence, call them prior to sending the refusal and see if they have evidence that it isn't or won't turn into a predatory conference.

The reservations you have may be valid, but expressing them when you decline the invitation is unnecessary and impolite. Keep those reservations to yourself, and only share them if asked, or if they are a close colleague or friend and you wish to save them from later difficulty.

0

In today's world, it is difficult to predetermine an outcome of a conference, unless you are aware of the list of the participants. In the research field, every bit of new information is valuable, thus you might not be exact at outweighing the symposium, based on limited information.

Advice:

  1. Politely request your inviter to give you extra information, the usual 5Ws. If any of the who, when, what, where, how are not coherent, then depict them and inform him that you did not feel attracted because of A,B,C.
  2. If financially, it does not match, be specific and tell him that you do not have the financial means.

A researcher is a civilized person and would not be hurt by valid reasons.

NB: Having emails in Spam boxes does not mean that they are spams. It just means that their email server is not green listed on your email's red flagging.

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