One of the interesting features of academia is the amount of travel to conferences and other events. I am recently started my third year of my PhD, and so far I have been to conferences in Copenhagen, Toronto, Basel, and Montreal. I’ve also been to various events and courses within the UK. The exact nature of the events will vary from person to person, as will how you feel about them. However, there are several common pros and cons:
Cons – Jet lag isn’t glamorous
The reality is that international travel takes its toll. Firstly, it can be time consuming. With conferences usually being 2 to 4 days long, and a day either side for travel, an international conference can easily take up a whole work week. Being away also means you’re away for the whole time, including evenings and any weekend days too. Travelling itself can be tiring, but once you factor time differences and jet lag into the mix, it can be a recipe for exhaustion. On top of the travelling, there is also the conference itself. Conferences are a great time for a lot of things (see below) but they tend to be very busy and require a lot of mental and physical energy. Often there are limits on how much time outside of the conference that you able to stay, and so there may be a limit to how much time you can go exploring.
All of these things put together mean that conferences can leave you exhausted, and take time away from all other important parts of life. This includes home life and non-conference work. We all need a work life balance, and time to rest, however for some of us, it can be particularly challenging to be away from home.
Pros – Seeing cool places and meeting people in person
As I mentioned above, I have been on 4 international trips during my PhD, and there is no way I would have been able to go to those places outside of work. They are wonderful places that I feel lucky to have been able to explore. Even with there only being one or two days to explore, it is an incredible chance to see different parts of the world.
Through these conferences, I have been able to make connections with colleagues, collaborators and peers which otherwise would not be possible. Such connections provide vital support and improve the quality and scope of my work. Conferences and meeting up with other academics is also great fun. There is always some sort of social event alongside the conference, and lots of people to talk to.
It’s all about the balance
Overall, conferences and other international events are hard work but well worth it. Having said that, it is best to plan well and prioritise which events you want to attend. There are usually more events taking place than are practical to attend. My recommendation is that you speak to your supervisor and others in your field. They will be able to tell you what events are the most appropriate for you at each stage in your career. You will also need to consider the options for funding your attendance. Many conference organisations, universities, and professional bodies have bursaries that you can apply to. Some of these will only pay for one part of the trip, e.g. registration or travel, so you may need to do some thinking about who to apply for what funding.