I went to two conferences last year, one in England in the summer and the other one abroad in China. By then, I had done some pilot interviews and reported the early findings in the two conferences. The first conference I attended was in July 2012, called ‘Co-Production of Knowledge: Social media, STS and …’ in University of York. I gave a presentation ‘Shall we use social media for research?’ The second one was in December 2012 in Macau and it was China New Media Communication Association Annual Conference, in which I presented ‘Use of blogs, Twitter and Facebook by PhD Students for Scholarly Communication: A UK study’.
The two conferences gave me quite different impressions. The conference in York had scholars from all over the world and I talked to a few early career researchers from European institutions who examine similar issues, such as open access to data and using social media to promote research. Whilst in the conference in China, the participants were mostly from China and a few were from universities in Southeast Asian countries such as Singapore and Malaysia. Surprisingly, I met many master students from mainland China. Apparently it is common for Master students to go to academic conferences. One reason is that Master degree in China usually takes 2 years (used to be 3 years) to complete. It gives these Master students more time to do research and present their work which makes them equivalent to MPhil students in the UK.
v Good for practise presentation skills.
If you think about presenting in a big theatre room, it can be quite nerve-wracking. Luckily, I was not too nervous after all the practices with my teaching work. Listening to other people’s presentations all day makes you reflect on your own presentation skills when you see ‘bad presenters’ who read out every line on their PowerPoint slides, while the good ones talk without scripts.
v Improve writing skills
The Macau conference required a full paper (5000 words) to be submitted two months before the conference. One benefit of having a deadline is to push you to write a proper paper. It helps you develop writing-for-publication skills early in your PhD process which we will need sooner or later for submitting peer-review publications.
v Networking with people and build up network for future collaboration
While meeting other early career researchers who are doing similar research, it is important to keep communicating because you may have a good project to collaborate in the future. I connected those on Twitter and we comment on each other’s Tweets regularly. In this network, as we all use Twitter to publish our work process, it is like being in each other’s working life.
v Amazing food in Chinese conferences. One benefit of going to conferences in China is the food. It is probably a norm in Chinese conferences that participants go to big lunches and dinners in amazing hotels and restaurants. In the Macau conference, all the lunches and dinners were free and sponsored by local authorities. Some of the dinner locations in Macau had beautiful views as well as luxury sea food.
I really enjoyed attending the two conferences last year and made good connections with academics in the similar fields. The one downside was that I was sick at both conferences which sabotaged my participation to some extent. I got food allergy and had to go to the hospital A&E in York at the first night. I had to wait for 3 hours in the hospital to be seen by a nurse and by 2am I was too tired to wait to be seen by a doctor, so I left. The hospital was quite far away from the university and the taxi fees were expensive. I also had to skip conference dinner the next day in case the food didn’t agree with me again, thus lost opportunity for networking.
In December, before I left for Macau, I caught the notorious Norovirus from the UK and ended up being nauseous all week during the conference. Another thing to note when you go to a conference in the far-east is the jet lag. I had to skip some presentations to take a nap. Although I still managed to go sightseeing in Macau during the evenings with other participants and enjoyed the conference.
Therefore, as we say in China, ‘Health is the capital of revolution.’ Make sure you take care of yourself when you go to a conference, then you can enjoy yourself and make the most out of it!