I have been discussing with friends and colleagues about the strategy to use to decide, in a research group, who has to go to a conference and with who. The issue is: if someone in the research group submitted a scientific paper to a conference, and it was accepted, should he/she go all alone to the conference, or with other group members?

Basically, I found two different way of thoughts:

1) since money is always lacking, and it is important to broaden the scientific discoveries and to have new professional relationships, only the main author of the paper should go to the conference, all alone. If everyone goes to a different conference, the team works will better scatter, and they will get more visibility.

2) since to work as a group, it is important to think as a group and, above all, to team up (if there is enough money), all the paper authors or all the research group should go to the conference. This way the group will team up and personal relationships between the research group members will strengthen.

What do you think? Which school of thoughts do you stand for?

  • 2
    There should be "3) a conference is very on-topic for more than one person from the group". Conferences are not only about presenting one's own work (sic!), but also about seeing work by others and networking. May 6 '13 at 8:16
  • 7
    who has to go — Don't you mean "who gets to go"?
    – JeffE
    May 6 '13 at 13:18

If I

  1. had the time, and
  2. had the money,

I would go to every conference directly related to my field that I could. They are a fantastic way to find out where the tip of the spear is in your field, to network and meet new people, and to see parts of the world you might not be able to see otherwise. Additionally, many conferences have workshops, expos, and special speakers that all add to one's professional development.

Why do I bring all that up? Most, if not all of the time, it is professionally advantageous for everyone involved with a paper to attend conferences. Practically, this rarely happens (at least in my field), simply because funds can't support it, and time commitments make it difficult to travel to various parts of the world.

So, my answer is, send as many people as can practically afford to go, because they will almost certainly gain from the experience.

  • I guess, the question may be whether to go together (e.g. 5 group members on 1 conf) or diversify (e.g. 5 conf, each with 1 group member). May 7 '13 at 9:44
  • @PiotrMigdal If that's the question, I'd probably suggest a couple of people to each conference; i.e., partial diversification. Pick the most relevant conferences to decide which ones to go to. May 7 '13 at 12:47

Seems pretty simple. If the only reason you are attending the conference is to present the paper, then only one person (the presenter) should go. If there is value to the conference beyond that to more people in the group (i.e., other interesting research is being presented, it's possible to setup helpful meetings), then more people should go.

  • 2
    The reality is that not every conference will, given the cost, be useful to every team member. Sometimes a contributor writes a paper as a side project or as a last-minute helper and can get most of the information he or she needs from the proceedings or from others who attend.
    – Irwin
    May 6 '13 at 16:07
  • I was implying that going all together to the conference is always useful for all the team. May 7 '13 at 8:36

@Chris Gregg explains the importance of going to conferences. I will not repeat them.

I would suggest some practical solutions.

If you only have one accepted paper this year. Send as many as you can. Find cheaper airfares, share hotel rooms. Talk to your supervisor to get support. Apply for travel grants else where, for example, see this answer.

Long term wise, write more papers. Get more accepted papers. Then you guys can take turns. For example, half go to this conference, the other half go to the next one. As a group, you can work it out.

Just don't miss the conferences.


Any answer should work for research groups of all sizes. Sending the entire research group does not: in a large group, people will be spending all their time at conferences and none actually doing work, or people with conference-worthy work will avoid going simply because it takes too much time.

Likewise, everyone who is an author can be too many; there is some very good work done where very many people are on each paper (due, for example, to many different skills being needed, and the required skills being provided by people who specialize in different areas).

So even if funds permit, the "everyone goes" answer is not a good answer in general.

On the other hand, going to some conference is a very valuable way to keep up with the field you're in. Thus, a sensible strategy is something like:

  1. Everyone in the group goes to at least one conference a year--that one which is most relevant to what they're doing. There is usually a default conference that is obvious if a more specialized one does not apply. For example, in neuroscience one could choose to go to the Society for Neuroscience conference if one wasn't working in an area where some other meeting made more sense.

  2. The most critical person/people go to any additional conferences that are valuable and where they are presenting. In addition to going because one is presenting, people should go (funding available) when it will be very useful to them, either because they've done the work, or they ought to be doing work in that area so they get up to speed.

The key is to not treat this as a purely social event. It is to an extent, but you're also trying to develop people's skills and increase their exposure / interaction with peers, and neither simpleminded model of "go yourself if you are presenting" or "everyone goes" adequately accomplishes these goals.

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