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An academic conference or symposium is a conference for researchers (not necessarily academics) to present and discuss their work. Together with academic or scientific journals, conferences provide an important channel for exchange of information between researchers.
Conferences are usually composed of various presentations. They tend to be short and concise, with a time span of about 10 to 30 minutes; presentations are usually followed by a discussion. The work may be bundled in written form as academic papers and published as the conference proceedings. Usually a conference will include keynote speakers (often, scholars of some standing, but sometimes individuals from outside academia). The keynote lecture is often longer, lasting sometimes up to an hour and a half, particularly if there are several keynote speakers on a panel.
In addition to presentations, conferences also feature panel discussions, round tables on various issues and workshops.
Prospective presenters are usually asked to submit a short abstract of their presentation, which will be reviewed before the presentation is accepted for the meeting. Some disciplines require presenters to submit a paper of about 6–15 pages, which is peer reviewed by members of the program committee or referees chosen by them.
In some disciplines, such as English and other languages, it is common for presenters to read from a prepared script. In other disciplines such as the sciences, presenters usually base their talk around a visual presentation that displays key figures and research results.
A large meeting will usually be called a conference, while a smaller is termed a workshop. They might be single track or multiple track, where the former has only one session at a time, while a multiple track meeting has several parallel sessions with speakers in separate rooms speaking at the same time.
At some conferences, social or entertainment activities such as tours and receptions can be part of the program. Business meetings for learned societies or interest groups can also be part of the conference activities.
The larger the conference, the more likely it is that academic publishing houses may set up displays. Large conferences also may have a career and job search and interview activities.
Academic conferences fall into three categories:
- the themed conference, small conferences organized around a particular topic;
- the general conference, a conference with a wider focus, with sessions on a wide variety of topics. These conferences are often organized by regional, national, or international learned societies, and held annually or on some other regular basis.
- the professional conference, large conferences not limited to academics but with academically related issues.
Increasing numbers of amplified conferences are being provided which exploit the potential of WiFi networks and mobile devices in order to enable remote participants to contribute to discussions and listen to ideas.
Organizing an academic conference
Conferences are usually organized either by a scientific society or by a group of researchers with a common interest. Larger meetings may be handled on behalf of the scientific society by a Professional Conference Organiser or PCO.
The meeting is announced by way of a Call For Papers (CFP) or a Call For Abstracts, which is sent to prospective presenters and explains how to submit their abstracts or papers. It describes the broad theme and lists the meeting's topics and formalities such as what kind of abstract (summary) or paper has to be submitted, to whom, and by what deadline. A CFP is usually distributed using a mailing list or on specialized online services. Contributions are usually submitted using an online abstract or paper management service.
- Abstract management
- Convention (meeting)
- Scientific journal
- Plenary session
- Poster session
- Professional conference
Professional conference organisers – trade bodies
- Association of British Professional Conference Organisers
- International Association of Professional Congress Organisers
- International Congress & Convention Association
- Professional Convention Management Association
- Meetings Industry Association - UK conference organisers
- Meeting Professionals International
- Conferences and Conventions: a global industry by Tony Rogers. Books.google.com. Retrieved 2012-07-13.