I am applying for my PhD to start this Autumn. There is a conference coming up soon with a theme which is very relevant to my PhD topic and I would like to submit an abstract for it, write the paper and then develop parts of it for my PhD at a later stage. Is it OK to write a paper for the conference and then later use parts of it for my PhD seeing as it is so relevant?

EDIT: For a little more information, this is for a conference on music and the research has not been carried out yet. Additionally, the area that is being researched is one that has very little scholarly coverage. Due to this, the focus will not be so much on looking for a particular kind of result, but any result that will arise from literature review/qualitative interview data. Interviews have not been conducted but there is quite a bit of time to do so, I feel. I understand if this were a scientific conference that submitting an abstract would be a little risky, but seeing as this is the humanities, I think there is more room for interpretation.

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    Are you not supposed to have already written the paper before you can write an abstract for it? – Tobias Kildetoft Jan 21 '17 at 14:45
  • From what I can see, there are two ways of looking at this. In theory, yes you are correct, but in reality - and seeing as a lot of the conceptual material is already in place as part of the PhD proposal - I think it would be doable. – C26 Jan 21 '17 at 16:01
  • How far away is the conference? Do you have the data and results but are just pending a write up, or are you yet to get this? – kwah Jan 21 '17 at 18:10
  • I am yet to acquire any data. The conference is about five months away, so quite a bit of time to get some qualitative data, I hope. – C26 Jan 21 '17 at 18:15
  • In my field this is very common. Generally, you submit an abstract to an international conference, which is followed by the full manuscript later. It is a means to get your research (especially if it is cutting edge) out first (as opposed to waiting months for a paper to be published). Generally, anything you publish during your PhD will be used in thesis write up. – Shinobii Jan 23 '17 at 20:44

During my PhD, I witnessed that professors, researchers and PhD students submitted to conferences for the reason that you mention in your question. The only problem that you can have is if someone use your work and summary to develop and organise their study plan and design, since you don't have any experimental data yet.

Secondly, I think since you are from humanities, you don't really need to worry about the risks, because it is pretty common to present historical (review) and future perspective of some filed, on conferences for humanities field.

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  • Thank you for this, I like this answer. With regard to someone using my work to further their study plan, I am not too worried about that since by the time the conference happens I am due to have a paper published which sets out my first inroads into taking on the topic, whereas the PhD is a macrocosm the same. I should have some data to present by the time the conference takes place as well. And yes, I think this would come under the banner of future perspectives. You've outlined things quite nicely. – C26 Jan 25 '17 at 22:18
  • @C26 thank you very much, I think I forgot to mention one thing, if PhD program require some number of conferences to attend or participate by you,(most of them do, especially humanities) if this conference that you plan to present is before school year, I mean, day you start PhD program, in this case you cannot use it as a count for your PhD graduation. – SSimon Jan 26 '17 at 12:03
  • that's OK, it's all important and relevant experience. The further I go to develop my research beforehand, the better, I don't mind if it doesn't go towards the conference count. Thank you very much. – C26 Jan 26 '17 at 13:25

I think norms probably vary by field. In my experience, this would be totally fine.

I work in a business school, and the expectation is that various parts of the dissertation will be published both while and after you work on the PhD. Doctoral students also present intermediate results from their dissertation work at conferences to get feedback.

However, do be sure that the conference does not take copyright for the work presented, or you may tie your hands in terms of publication later.

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    Thank you. I will check regarding the copyright situation. I did include in my PhD proposal a couple of sentences regarding writing a paper for the conference which would then form part of the PhD itself. My supervisor looked through the proposal and said nothing about that section. I suppose no news is good news there? – C26 Jan 21 '17 at 16:06

You can do it, and people (including myself) do this - submit abstracts for still unwritten papers - regularly. There are, however, some pitfalls you should be very aware of.

1) Potential or existing collaborators

If you have collaborators, you generally want to be in agreement that results are in a state suitable for presentation, before you submit to a conference. Your presentation will not only reflect upon yourself, and your collaborators may have reservations about presenting unfinished work. You say you are a beginning PhD student. If you already have a supervisor, it is very important that he or she agrees that the results should be presented. It could also be the case that the supervisor does not think that the results are important enough to present, in that case: listen.

2) Ethical implication: research is not fully predictable

It is quite dangerous to submit abstracts for results of research which is not carried out yet - still people sometimes do. You are often faced with having to submit an abstract maybe half a year before the conference, and you are full of confidence that the results will work out in that time. Here's the thing: Sometimes they don't. If they always did, it would not be research. I have personally seen good people been caught in this trap: Your results did not work out, but you have a pressing deadline to present these results. You could therefore be inclined to maybe fudge the results a little bit, to make them look nicer. Just always remember that this is scientific misconduct, and can never be excused. Consider if it is better not to put yourself in a situation like that.

3) Swallow your pride

You may think that these results are the most important thing the world is yet to see, or perhaps a close second. Other researchers will disagree. Since you are still pre-PhD, it is very likely that your abstract will not be accepted, because even though we would like to think otherwise, titles and affiliations matter. If your abstract is rejected, and you still have the opportunity to go: go anyway! Giving a presentation is by far not the most important thing for a fresh PhD student to do at a conference: learning, networking and asking questions are. It may also be that you are offered to do a poster presentation instead of a full presentation. If so, take it. Even though such presentations are often seen as "lesser" than talks, you will still get to discuss your research with more experienced people. This can be quite an eye-opener, and also serve as a good learning experience for giving talks later.

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  • I updated the OP, thank you very much for your answer. Seeing as this is a humanities conference, I am not sure that such a focus on particular type of result is relevant, though if it were scientific yes, it could get me into hot water. But that is my fault for not being as specific as I should have been in the OP. I have no collaborators, but your third point is very useful and gives me a good perspective on the attitude I should adopt on approaching this [and other conferences in the future]. Thank you very much for that. – C26 Jan 24 '17 at 10:38
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    I don't have experience from the humanities myself, but I would be surprised if the same rule of thumb: "research is not fully predictable" does not apply. If it was, there would be no point in doing it. – nabla Jan 24 '17 at 13:36

It seems you are simply getting an early start on a style of thesis in which the contents is just peer-reviewed papers bundled together. If this kind of thesis is accepted at your institution I can't see this being a problem (especially if relevant to your PhD work).

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The answer for this depends very much on your field. There's also a little ambiguity in your question - is it merely the paper that hasn't been written, or has the research not been completed yet.

In many medical and biomedical fields, the expectation is that conference results are not necessarily from published papers. Indeed, many conferences either insist that the results are not yet published, or will embargo any publications until after the initial presentation. Additionally, the conference and the paper venue may (and often are) decoupled.

However many of these conferences also insist that the results are finalized, and forbid "in progress" abstracts or abstracts talking in vague terms about what will be shown, rather than showing the results.

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