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So I wanted to ask a question about the benefits of attending a conference and then found this: Advantages of attending a conference

I realized from the answers that there are two advantages of attending a conference:

  1. Making connections.

  2. Learning.

While I believe that for the second point, by not attending one can just grab a copy of the proceedings and then he will have a pretty good idea of what happened and learn better (because you really can't learn much from presentations), the first point was harder to compensate for.

Suppose one made connections from a conference, then what are the potential benefits of making those connections? i.e. how to make value out of them?! Because I personally believe that a lot of people make connections but they just end up knowing each other without any collaborations or a value that I can see. Also the majority of the connections would be with researchers and students, not hiring managers so I wonder if there are any value for job search after graduating 4 years from the PhD.

Edit: I've never been to a conference, but I hear what my friends say and also I see couple online videos.

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    ..."one can just grab a copy of the proceedings". Understanding a paper from the proceedings is much harder than listening to its 20 min presentation that highlights the important parts only. – Alexandros May 27 '15 at 14:08
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    Not applicable to four years after graduating, but before graduating PhD students may need to reccomend an external examiner in their field. Conferences are an excellent place to determine suitable examiners. – Landric May 27 '15 at 14:10
  • @Alexandros i think skimming through the introduction and abstract takes much less time. If the goal is just to know what the contributions and general idea are, skimming I guess is faster and better. If the gaol was to understand how those contributions were done, then I guess many people would need to read the paper because you can't really understand that from the presentation. I guess this is what a lot of my friends told me! – Jack Twain May 27 '15 at 14:26
  • @JackTwain: If the contribution is (either best illustrated as, or essentially consists of) an animated graphic or an interactive user interface or something like that, the paper can only ever deliver a vague idea compared to the first-hand observation you are provided with while watching the talk. – O. R. Mapper May 27 '15 at 15:03
  • Another related question: academia.stackexchange.com/q/223/73 – eykanal May 27 '15 at 16:06
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Suppose one made connections from a conference, then what are the potential benefits of making those connections? i.e. how to make value out of them?!

For most people, new connections found through conferences at a later stage become either

  • Potential references
  • Potential collaborators
  • Friends or at least acquaintances

(or, in the optimal case, a combination thereof)

For all of those, it is hard to put a numerical "value" on them, but as you progress with your academic career, you will find that it is hard to be successful in academia without a healthy set of all of the three. Without references that vouch for your scientific merit, it is hard to get any advanced academic positions. Without collaborators, it is hard to write strong papers and grant proposals. Without friends in the community, future conferences become a chore and it is very easy to lose track of where the community is heading as a whole (also, the third item quite naturally leads to the former two items).

Also the majority of the connections would be with researchers and students, not hiring managers so I wonder if there are any value for job search after graduating 4 years from the PhD.

In academia, the notion of "hiring managers" is somewhat suspect. You can definitely meet senior professors at conferences, and those are the ones that decide whether you get a faculty position down the road. Further, never make the mistake of assuming that the "researchers and students" you connect to don't matter, and you shouldn't talk to them - the PhD students from today are the people that review your papers and grant proposals tomorrow (hence the name "peer review").

  • Why does it matter whether I have connected to someone who reviews my papers or grant proposals? – JiK May 27 '15 at 21:26
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First of all, in certain disciplines (CS) conferences are the main publishing venue. Publishing in conferences also means that you must attend the respective conference to present, as shown here. Therefore in such disciplines you have no other choice but to submit to and attend conferences.

On the other hand, networking is much more than what you believe. The people you meet there are also your competitors and your future reviewers at the same time. Making a connection on a personal level and making a convincing presentation and answer related questions with affirmative authority, shows the conference attenders (including your future reviewers) that you really know what you are talking about. Also, showing that you are not an arrogant "newcomer" that wants to push them out of their "territory" but instead you know, respect and admire their previous work, makes your acceptance from their community easier. This in turn, will make your future papers more easily accepted and bring you more reviews to do, which in turn helps you shape the direction of your small scientific area. It also notifies you early on what everyone else is doing. Also, many times even without being co-authors on any paper, you may collaborate with those people on your next paper when they might provide their datasets or binaries or their src code, which might be needed to compare your work with theirs. Again, this informal type of collaboration is easier to be done when you have met those people in person and perhaps shared a beer in the conference banquet or reception.

Also, as stated in my previous answer here, you also totally miss the other social aspect of conferences. You will get to see a new place (you would not see otherwise) for only 20 minutes of work and all expenses paid. This is in most times a wonderful experience and you should probably not miss it.

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    I actually have a problem with the point that my papers could be easily accepted in the future if the people like me. Shouldn't only the quality of my papers be the only criteria in being them accepted or not?! Regardless of the person's behavior, either arrogant, bad or narcissist. – Jack Twain May 27 '15 at 15:08
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    Unfortunately, I'm not a PhD student but planning to do research in my own free time and will try to publish papers without being affiliated with a Uni nor a professor. Thus I was really just trying to find out if it really pays off to attend the conference if attendance was optional. I didn't know that some conferences forces you to attend in order to publish. Thank you! – Jack Twain May 27 '15 at 15:10
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    I believe that most conferences in most fields will not publish a paper in their proceedings unless someone (not necessarily an author) presents that paper at the conference. The other option is to try to publish a paper in a journal, as opposed to a conference. – mhwombat May 27 '15 at 15:59
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    @JackTwain: Certainly the quality of the paper's content should be the only criteria, but it would be naive to doubt that in the real world, a reviewer's personal feelings about the author could play a role. – Nate Eldredge May 27 '15 at 16:41
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    @JackTwain I'm with Nate on the matter personal feelings. In an ideal(ized) world the quality of the research and paper would be the only criteria. Unfortunately we live in the "real world" where petty feelings are quite often the deciding factor. Scientific history is littered with examples of such behaviour. So our (only) choice is to grin, bear it and try to improve the situation (if that is even possible). – Nox May 28 '15 at 9:38
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When I look at a conference that I have attended, two main metrics emerge to describe what benefits I obtained there:

  • What is the longest time afterwards that I am thinking about something learned at the conference?
  • What fraction of the time was I unable to attend the talks because I was taking care of business networking?

The first metric was something I learned from my advisor, and it served me very well as a graduate student. This you can sometimes learn from papers, but the best talks of a conference are often either keynotes (which typically aren't in the proceedings) or else go above and beyond their papers to offer insight, context, and motivation that often doesn't formalize well or may not be present on the page at all.

The second metric has emerged for me over time as I have matured as a researcher, because there is so much to do and so little time at a conference. Among the important types of things one does while networking at a conference:

  • Get insight into how others in the field outside your intellectual bubble are thinking about things
  • Float ideas and get them critiqued
  • Meet potential new collaborators, negotiate potential collaborations
  • Get to know colleagues better both as fellow scientists and as people
  • Arrange for invited lectures or other visits, both as host and guest
  • Organize plans for future workshops, special symposia, special issues, etc.
  • Make plans for sabbaticals, hiring, student placement
  • Meet program managers, plan grant-writing
  • Actually work on collaborations with otherwise-remote collaborators

Some of these don't apply quite as much as a graduate student, but it's never too early to start getting to know your field and your colleagues at a more informal level, and much of the rest can emerge organically from that as you find likeminded individuals who share interests.

In short: learning is great and useful, but networking is the biggest reason for and benefit of conferences, so far as I'm concerned these days.

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First off: one clever trick is to take notes at the conference and use them as part of the survey or literature review for your next paper. This isn't quite the same as social connections but it's food for thought.

Back to your question: Often people go to conferences to chat about things that aren't going to turn into research papers, but you never know when you might meet a future collaborator at a conference, or a friend-of-a-future-collaborator. In my current job, I work with/for someone whom I was indirectly introduced to in this way. Another key collaborator is someone who I met at a conference, and then bumped into again online. Sometimes it happens the other way around.

In short, networking is "necessary but not sufficient" and conferences are one good place to do it. Another is to get invited to give a talk in a local seminar series (often the next step after the conference).

It's important to realise that nine out of ten possible "connections" don't take off, at least not right away. Still, even the ones that are dormant can be helpful later, since you'll know more about who's who, and what they are up to. And you get to know more about the sort of people you would and wouldn't want to work with.

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