I have done some research on this, but I still don't know what is carried out in a workshop. What activities are arranged? How are they different from conferences?

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    According to this PHD Comics, you need to call it a "Workshop" if you need to pay extra ;) – justhalf Apr 27 '15 at 14:49
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    Somewhat relevant: as a PhD student in France I must obtain a certain number of "training credits". If I attend something called "conference" I get no such credits, but if I attend something called "workshop" (or "summer school" or whatever) I can get some, basically regardless of the actual content of the thing I'm attending. There may be such bizarre rules elsewhere, and I wouldn't be too surprised if some funding body agreed to fund something called "X" but not "Y" regardless of the content. – user9646 Nov 6 '15 at 18:31

The reason why it is difficult to tell what workshops are about is because it is a catch-all category that many different types of academic meeting are labelled as. To illustrate, let me give examples of the nature of some of the events that I have attended in the last two years that all use the same word "workshop" to describe themselves:

  • A "baby conference" attached to a full-size conference, where the small meeting simply isn't large enough to meet on its own yet.
  • A project meeting for researchers who are all funded by the same large grant
  • A planning and discussion session aimed at helping determine the direction of a field
  • A joint industry/academia fact-finding meeting sponsored by an industry consortium
  • A specialty conference attended by around 100 people
  • A premier conference attended by several hundred people
  • A working meeting by a standards development group

The length of these meetings ranged from a single afternoon to a full week. Their programs ranged from nothing but loosely structured discussion to a full-on tightly packed conference schedule. The level of peer review ranged from non-applicable to minimal to full-on single-blind review and revision.

In short: a workshop is whatever it wants to be, and different ones serve different purposes in the academic ecosystem.

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In CS subfields related to HCI and related topics of communication between users and software, a workshop is almost the same as a conference, that is, there are speakers who give talks about their papers. However, the following differences can be observed:


  • A workshop lasts just one or half a day.
  • A workshop is "embedded" into a conference; it doesn't take place on its own, but it takes place at the day before or after the main conference. Sometimes, conference registration includes workshop registration.
  • The audience tends to be much smaller. This is partially because often, several workshops are scheduled at the same time, and partially, because not all conference guests attend any workshops (especially when the workshop needs to be registered and paid for separately). In any case, it is not untypical for smaller workshops to have just a handful of attendees, each of which will present something.


  • There is less of an expectation of presenting fully finished work. Work in progress, or results based on a preliminary study, are usually accepted, if not explicitly invited.
  • Likewise, remarks about future work can be a bit more central than in normal talks, as the workshop may prove as an opportunity to find collaborators who would like to help tackle the suggestions for future work.
  • While conference sessions typically feature an opportunity for questions and answers on every single paper right after each talk, workshops sometimes schedule an additional (sometimes considerable in duration) wrap-up discussion that is supposed to provide some time for discussing everything that was presented during the workshop, identifying common issues and chances, and possibly developing ideas for further work together.
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Sometimes, a workshop is just a conference, but the organizers decided to call it a workshop instead for one reason or another.

So while a lot of people will have some idea of what the difference should be, in practice the difference can be non-existent, so one will need to look at the details of each individual conference or workshop to decide which will be of interest.

(Note that my entire experience is from mathematics, so it might be different in other fields).

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    It is also my experiences from genetics that workshops and conferences can be indistinguishable. But I will add that workshops (might be) are more directed on concrete tools/methods at hand (albeit no practical training is done), while conferences stretches a bit further into the future with more focus on results and findings. – MrGumble Apr 27 '15 at 10:58
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    I generally agree, but I would add that the term "workshop" suggests an opportunity for learning around a specific theme. For instance, a general AMS meetings with sessions on many different topics is rightly not called a workshop (though, as I recall, there may be specialized workshops as part of the Joint Math Meetings--at the least there are mini-courses). – Kimball Apr 27 '15 at 11:27
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    @Kimball Right, but that is called a meeting rather than a conference. I have attended events that were practically identical apart from the speakers, but one was called a conference and the other a workshop. – Tobias Kildetoft Apr 27 '15 at 16:24
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    Good point, the word "conference" is not officially in the title, though people do still use the word "conference" to refer to it sometimes, whereas no one would call it a workshop. When I wrote that, I was trying to think of large conferences that could not be called workshops, and the Joint Meetings was the first thing that came to mind. – Kimball Apr 27 '15 at 16:51

A workshop is designed to teach something or develop a specific skill while an academic conference is about presenting original research and getting feedback from peers. A workshop doesn't necessarily have to present original research; it is directed more towards teaching and learning in an interactive environment. Active participation from attendees is encouraged in a workshop, and small activities are often conducted to keep the participants engaged.

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    Could you specify your field? Because as can be seen from other answers, this is not a universal thing. – Tobias Kildetoft Apr 27 '15 at 16:25
  • My field is Scholarly Communications. – Kakoli Majumder Apr 28 '15 at 10:52

Most workshops are there to teach you a skill, or set of skills. While a conference is mostly about passively listening to talks and reading posters, in a workshop you are actively engaged in doing something.

This can be learning a new piece of software, learning a mathematical method, how to use a specific machinery or an instrument, etc. There are also going to be talks about the subject: theory, applications and possible more.

Not all workshops are like that - I've been in a one day "workshop" where all we did was sit in a lecture hall listening to people talk about a common topic. In an ideal workshop you would hopefully be actively doing something.

Also, in conferences you are usually able (and expected) to present something, be it a talk or a poster. In workshop this is rarely the case, and the agenda is predetermined.

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    Could you clarify "in workshops (...) the agenda is predetermined", please? While it is true that many attendees of conferences (sometimes even most?) have at least one work to present, in my field, conference agendas are very much predetermined and everyone who presents something can find the exact time and location of the session they present in several weeks in advance. – O. R. Mapper Apr 27 '15 at 8:24

A conference literally means "bring together" so it's just a big meeting of people. In professional life, a conference usually means going to presentations and meeting colleagues. Academic conferences usually mean that you write a paper and receive feedback to make it more publishable.

A workshop can be a conference (because it also "brings together") but as the name implies, it is about using a space as a place to build something hands-on. In the academic case, this typically means new research skills, improving papers, building knowledge and inevitably defending a research position because academics like to fight over ideas and theories. The upshot is that because you are building rather than presenting, it is quite common to see papers in very draft mode or even just some data looking for ideas on analysis. You are meant to help people learn by working collaboratively.

Other "conferences" include:

  1. A Symposium is based on Greek drinking parties, but usually means a number of people try to answer a common question (drinking comes later). It is popular in the humanities.
  2. Colloquium/Seminar is mostly an opportunity to discuss a topic.
  3. A panel is a series of speeches, often moderated by a master of ceremonies.
  4. A "camp" uses Open Space technology to moderate informal sessions about just about anything under a common theme.
  5. A "hackathon" in the academic world usually involves trying to come up with a research question and a way to answer it in a short period of time.
  6. A roundtable involves different experts all having equal time to discuss a particular topic.

Other ideas and definitions about types of conferences are available online as well.

Good luck!

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A Workshop is as the name suggests a shop where we work to produce some products. Here the participants are workers, the methodology used like presentation of papers, question answer sessions, group discussions, debates, group and individual problem solving sessions are the tools/machinery in a workshop. The theme proposed by the organisers is the raw-material and the recommendations/models and answers arrived at is the finished product. Col SK Mahapatra

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    A lot of workshops that I've participated in don't really have any intended products... – jakebeal Nov 6 '15 at 16:08

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