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Five top tips for writing a conference paper

Academia, Ruth Agbakoba

Five top tips for writing a conference paper

© Pexels. 2014. Licensed under the Creative Commons Zero (CC0) license.

© Pexels. 2014. Licensed under the Creative Commons Zero (CC0) license.


By Ruth Agbakoba

This is my first ever blog post for IHAWKES and I feel that it is quite a fitting time for me to reflect and share some of my personal experiences as a doctoral student.  I am a final year MRC DTP (Medical Research Council, Doctoral Training Programme) funded PhD Student evaluating the implementation of the Living It Up project (a digital health and wellbeing service) which is part of a £37 million UK wide programme called DALLAS. I am particularly interested in a) how innovative digital technologies and services can be used to enhance health and wellbeing and b) how such interventions can be routinized into people’s daily lives. The project is supported by NHS 24, Scottish Centre for Telehealth and Telecare (SCTT), the Scottish Government and Innovate UK (Department of Health).

Yes you have guessed it! I can only be a multidisciplinary student! I span 3 colleges of the Institute of Health and Wellbeing (Computing Science, Social Science and Medicine) and I have four amazing supervisors working collaboratively with me on this large scale project. Throughout my doctoral journey I have been encouraged by my supervisors to attend and make submissions to conferences. However given my diverse research area I have had to take into account and be mindful to target a wide range of conferences in order to make sure that I can present my research in a way that appeals to different audiences. You can imagine this can be quite tricky to begin with although I have been blessed and have had conference papers accepted in both Health Informatics (British Computer Society) and Family Medicine (North American Primary Care Research Group). You may be interested to know how this came about.

But first of all let’s address why you should apply to a conference. What are benefits? What do you gain? Attending a conference can help you to network with like-minded researchers and there is a considerable amount of value in engaging with conference attendees as it presents an opportunity for knowledge exchange. This is a key asset which can be made transferable to your research team at base in your home institution. Your PhD is not just about your project, it is about developing the skills to become a competent early career researcher! Attending conferences will ultimately help you to develop skills such as communicating to a wider audience (Domain D, D2) and furthering career development (Domain B, B3) in line with the Researchers Development Framework (Vitae).

Here are my five top tips to consider when making a submission to a conference:

  1. Follow the conference guidelines and template provided – This may seem obvious but pay great attention to what the conference organisers have instructed.
  2. Make your contribution stand out! – What is your contribution? It must be tight, what are you adding? And why is it relevant?
  3. Let others read your paper – I find it particularly helpful to ask a friend who has no idea about my research to have a read to see if they can understand it. This is like gold dust because they are a fresh pair of eyes outside of your research team and it can really help to improve readability of your submission.
  4. Spend a great deal of time on your discussion! – Writing actually helps you to synthesise your thoughts and your research as a whole and it is important to spend time reflecting.
  5. Write your abstract last – Once you have completed your first draft do not be alarmed, you may be required to revise it several times but that is okay! That is part of developing your writing style!

My final thoughts would be go for it! What are you waiting for? Submitting to a conference can also help to mould your general research management skills as you have to work towards deadlines. How do you know which one is best to target? Or which one is right for you? Consult your supervisory team! Plan in advance! Do you have anything worth contributing? Yes of course! Believe in yourself, I like to think about the inspirational speech Sylvester Stallone makes in Rocky Balboa! Good Luck!

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