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I am a PhD student and got a workshop poster (only poster based on abstract, no paper, at one of the workshops co-located with the major CS conference) accepted at the top-most conference in my field (NIPS, Computer Science).

Since I am not a full-time student, I am supposed to fund my own travel, accommodation and other expenses. The conference venue is in Canada while I am located in Asia, so the expenses are quite large. The deadline for student travel grants for the main conference has already passed and the funding for workshop student travel grant has not been yet announced.

I have the following questions with regard to this:

  1. Is it worth it to attend such tier-1 conferences only to present a poster which won’t be published/indexed/not included in proceedings?

  2. I would need to attempt to publish in such conferences at least once during PhD and since I am self sponsored, expense for that too would be upon me.

  3. My advisor says: “Go and have some exposure, meet and network with new people.” But he is aware that I am self-sponsored so he is not too pushy but has asked me to go. Does such networking really happens when I would be only an attendee for first five days of the conference and having a poster demo during the last day of the conference.

If my questions seems too vague, please let me know. I would try to be more clear and concise.

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    I don't understand question 3. Yes, networking happens at conferences, but why don't you stay for the whole thing? You don't have to leave because the poster session is done. You should, if you can afford it, stay and see as much of the rest of the content of the conference as you can. Go to talks, attend workshops and tutorials, etc. – Bill Barth Nov 12 '15 at 17:07
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    I am not sure I understand. You got a workshop paper (a paper accepted at one of the workshops co-located with the major CS conference) or a poster (short) paper accepted at the main conference? Workshop and poster papers are not the same. – Alexandros Nov 12 '15 at 17:15
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    Nitpick: "at the top most conference in my field (Computer Science)" - typically, each conference-based subfield in computer science has its own top conference. Case in point: You write "only an attendee for first 5 days of the conference", whereas in my CS subfield, 5 days is already an extraordinarily long conference - most last only for two or three days, including some of the top ones. – O. R. Mapper Nov 12 '15 at 17:24
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    Some conferences have the opportunity to apply for sponsorship of students to attend: you may wish to check whether this is the case for this conference. – jakebeal Nov 12 '15 at 17:28
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    In my experience, many attendees leave before the end of a conference. So it is undesirable to present at the end. – Anonymous Physicist Nov 12 '15 at 22:10
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Firstly, congratulations on getting your poster accepted. If you don't go, I hope you are able to find someone to present the poster on your behalf (this is actually quite common).

In terms of deciding whether or not to go: it depends on your situation.

Some things you should consider:

  1. Your financial situation and how much the cost will be. On top of the flights, you need to pay for registration, accommodation, meals, a travel visa (if applicable), and local transportation (e.g. to and from the airport).
  2. Your career stage and future goals. Are you planning to stay in the field? Will you have future opportunities to attend similar conferences? This affects how valuable going would be to you.
  3. How much networking you will be able to do. Do you know other people attending the conference? If you don't know anyone, it can be difficult to network. But if you know someone there (e.g. your advisor) who can introduce you to people, that can make things much easier. You should also have some idea of who you want to network with. I will sometimes decide whether to go to a conference based on knowing who will be attending and who I want to network with.

Your advisor will know your situation better than I do and can give more specific advice. So, if you are uncertain, you should talk to him more about it.

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If you decide to go, since the airfare will probably be a major expense, please set up an itinerary to visit one to three departments you are interested in getting to know better, somewhere in the vicinity of the conference. Once you've chosen the departments you'd like to visit, here's how you broach a visit:

Dear Prof. So-and-So,

I will be in your area during the month of March, to attend such-and-so conference. I am currently a fourth-year PhD student at y University, studying under Prof. Z. I would be interested in visiting your department/institute during my visit to North America. If you like, I could give a talk about xxx (give a one to three sentence description).

Sincerely,

Of course, if your advisor has a connection and can arrange an invitation for you, so much the better; but if he does not, please don't let that stand in your way.

If they take your bait and ask you to come and give a talk, plan to spend two days in that town, meeting with people and hearing about what they are doing.

Read up on current research going on in that department before arriving.

  • Yes, this would be a good idea. – Peter Slattery Nov 13 '15 at 5:29
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I think that Sam has given you some very good points to consider. I have attended three conferences and spoken to many others about their views on conferences. Based on my experiences and what you have outlined, I would advise you not to attend the conference for the following reasons:

  1. It will be very expensive. That is ok if you are getting your moneys worth, but I am not sure you will.
  2. In my experience most conferences involve superficial networking and do not provide sufficient contact to create long term relationships. People meet, make small talk, and then go their separate ways. Sometimes if they have common ground they make plans to work on things but usually distance will prove too much of a barrier for the plans to work out.
  3. No-one important will likely want to talk to you about research opportunities if you are just a PhD with a poster. There will be many people competing for the attention of the successful researchers and you will be at the bottom of the pile. In some ways you are probably better not to approach those people until you have something to excite them with - as I was told before, you don't want to "go out half baked," as you may only get one chance to make a good impression.
  4. Many people who attend conferences actually treat it as something of a holiday and don't attend much of the conference proceedings.This means that fewer people that expected are actually available to talk to.

I am happy to expand on these points as needed if you want to know more about why I feel the way I do.

Also, despite what I have said, Canada is a cool place so that is one argument for why you might choose to visit and fit in the conference on the side :)

  • A bit cynical but mostly on point. – user8001 Nov 13 '15 at 5:25

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