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I work for a technical company at the interface between engineering practice and research. Since we have to deal with academia on a daily basis, I have seen many calls for "Abstract submission". Generally these calls are associated with some sort of academic conference that is focused on a particular topic. It is also subject to deadlines and regulations. Several universities, research institutions and even private/public entities might be participating at these conferences.

My question is this: What can you actually get from submitting an abstract? Why do these conferences even request abstract submission? What do they get from it? Why are abstract submissions important and why do people do them?

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    In addition to what's already explained in the answers, let me add that many conferences print a booklet of abstracts and give each registered participant a copy of it. That helps the participants decide which talks to attend. (For conferences with multipage abstracts, what I called a booklet is really a full-sized book.) – Andreas Blass Jul 4 '17 at 16:55
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You submit an abstract to a conference if you would like to give a talk there. The abstract is then used to determine whether or not you get that chance (based on how interesting/relevant/sound the abstract is judged for that particular conference). So for the conference, this lets them filter (a bit) the talks that get presented there, for the author, this is the prerequisite for being allowed to give a talk.

Giving a talk at a conference is a means for a researcher to disseminate their research ideas and to advertise themselves. Discussions following a talk can lead to future collaborations, and giving the right talk at the right time can lead to eg a postdoc position.

"Talks given" is also a typical category on a CV, so even beyond the immediate talk, the fact that you gave the talk can be beneficial in competing for jobs.

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    "What can a talk bring you as a researcher?" In some branches of science, conferences are the main places where research is published. – GEdgar Jul 4 '17 at 12:10
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    Another benefit of giving a talk is that it lets you see much clearer what issues there still are to address, and what the strengths and weaknesses of your idea are. – sgf Jul 4 '17 at 12:35
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    @user32882 "Giving talks" (and listening to them) is the main formal activity that takes place at a scientific conference. That's why the conference exists at all - the talks aren't just an interesting sideshow! – alephzero Jul 4 '17 at 13:57
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    @user32882: Scientific Conference are not like sales conference where vendors present their stuff. – Marianne013 Jul 4 '17 at 15:31
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    @LyndonWhite High energy physics is not one of those fields where conferences are the main avenue through which research is published. And accordingly(?), conference submissions are not considered as valid as journal publications. Actually, in HEP one does not generally submit a full paper to a conference; we submit an abstract, a slideshow (for the talk), and perhaps afterward a proceedings which is a ~4-page written summary of the research described in the talk. – David Z Jul 4 '17 at 21:55
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Following up the comment - giving a talk is not just a CV line. For most academic researchers, access to funding to attend a conference depends on being a presenter at that conference. So giving a talk is essentially the ticket to hearing what other people are working on, identifying potential collaborators, and keeping up to date.

Journal papers are not really sufficient, publication tends to be slow (though in some disciplines, initiatives like ArXiv is correcting that) and talking with someone is often better than reading a report to understand what they have done. Personally, I always find at least a few talks at conferences that are interesting and give me new ideas but I probably wouldn't have read the paper because it wouldn't have appeared in any of my searches.

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Writing an abstract to a conference by itself will only give you the chance to speak at that conference. As others noted, you can put the conference talk on a CV and access funding to go to the conference because your talk is accepted. Some institutions and even grant agencies would count the number of your talks and conference papers -- each for its own abhorrent reasons.

But, there are many other benefits one can get from giving the talk.

  • early career scientists (PhD students and young postdocs) get a chance to present their own research and practice for thesis defenses, future job interviews, etc. One gains a lot of confidence from giving a good (or even decent) talk.
  • one learns to present their research subject to different types of audiences, depending on the conference. I've often seen great work flying past the ears of the audience because the speaker was too technical, but I've also seen technical people labeling research as "easy" because the speaker avoided technical details.
  • a good talk can be heard by a future employer (especially in academia) and they would sometimes offer the speaker a job in their lab, especially if the speaker mentions that he's looking for a position;
  • a talk at a conference can also mean a chance to disseminate good quality research that would otherwise be buried in the pages of journal (even a good one);
  • in places where scientists are quite isolated from the international community, conference attendance and talks help break that isolation, and even start collaborations with other researchers;
  • I personally like giving talks only to give a chance to researchers I won't otherwise meet to comment on my work and even give some helpful suggestions. It is often that the discussion continues after the session ended or at the dinner table.
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It really depends on the conference. Contact the chair and speak to your colleagues to ask what benefit you might gain from attending the conference.

Some conferences, though in my experience in the humanities and social sciences, just ask for an abstract (a few hundred words) outlining the contribution of the intended talk. In those conferences, they pick which talks to have based on the abstracts. Then, after the conference, they invite a number of the best talks to write up their work as an article to be published in a journal.

In my field, computer science, most conferences require you to write a whole paper (usually 4-10 pages, depending on the conference and the size of your research contribution) to be able to give a talk at the conference. As @JenB says, most academic institutions will only pay for their research staff to go to a conference if they have published a paper there.

Now, some of the conferences that require a whole paper, will require an abstract to be submitted a week or two before the paper deadline. This is normally for logistical reasons, so they can pre-allocate which reviewers will review each paper.

  • Why might one want to go to a conference? To learn about the state of the art in this research field, and to network with the other researchers in the field, to maybe form collaborations.

  • Why might a researcher want to publish and present at a conference? To disseminate their work, get feedback from their peers, to promote their institution, and also for the reasons above.

  • Why might a employee of a company want to present at a conference? (I've not been in this situation, so take with a pinch of salt!) To disseminate their work (as much as their company allows), to promote their company, and also for the reasons above.

  • Why might an academic conference want industry attendees and presenters? To help cross-pollinate the work of academia and industry, so they can both learn from each other. To enable networking and industrial collaborations. To facilitate partnerships that might bring industrial money into academic research projects, or gain access to research council funding that requires industrial collaboration.

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    +1 since for some conference, the "abstract" you're submitting is the whole thing, just in a very concise form and perhaps missing some of the minor-but-longer details. – einpoklum Jul 5 '17 at 20:49
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All of the other answers are correct, but may also be missing the fundamental misunderstanding here. Academic conferences are not like (some) commercial conferences, in that there is not an existing programme - perhaps of invited industry figures - that these talks add to. The talks that come from these abstracts are the only, or at least the main, content of the conference.

Perhaps more significantly, wheras at many commercial conferences the goal is networking, and the programme of presentations is of minor importance (a cynic might day that it is mostly there to provide an excuse to attend that will satisfy the accountants), at academic conferences people are actually there for the talks - although of course networking can be an important component too.

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