Academic Conferences as Learning Sites: A Multinational Comparison of Doctoral Students’ Perspectives and Institutional Policy

Omolabake Fakunle, Mollie Dollinger, Joyceline Alla-Mensah, Blair Izard
International Journal of Doctoral Studies  •  Volume 14  •  2019  •  pp. 479-497

The aim of this paper is to explore trends and motivations for doctoral students’ participation in domestic and international conferences. We draw on doctoral students’ perceptions and experiences from four contexts (USA, Scotland, England, Australia) to further explore variations across different global contexts.

There is increased recognition of the importance of conferences within doctoral education. Yet very little is known or understood about doctoral students’ participation and motivations for participating in conferences.

Our sample includes doctoral students from four institutions studying in a School of Education. We used an online survey and follow-up focus group interviews to investigate doctoral students’ perceptions and experiences of conferences.

There are few studies on doctoral students’ participation in conferences. This study contributes to the literature on doctoral students as it investigates the trends and rationale for doctoral students’ participation in national and international conferences. We highlight the importance of conferences as learning sites for doctoral students. Furthermore, our research highlights dissimilarities and ambiguities in the provision of support for doctoral students’ regarding what we describe as the social aspect of their researcher learning and development, in this case, in networking activities.

Our findings show that a) at both the individual (doctoral students) and institutional level, there is an implicit understanding of the importance of networking and yet programs rarely formally require conference attendance; b) students’ motivations to attend conferences may be mediated by their career aspirations and supportive structures (i.e., funding); and c) conferences support doctoral students’ learning and confidence in future networking.

Our recommendations to doctoral education training programs and/or supervisors are to explicitly discuss and promote networking and/or conference attendance, and to find ways to support students to engage in networking outside their immediate study environment.

Our recommendation to researchers is to further investigate the importance of networking behaviors and experiences on doctoral student training and/or career outcomes.

This research highlights the importance of recognizing the learning needs of doctoral students who are expected to work in a complex, globally connected society as part of the reality of higher education in the 21st century.

Results from the study could help inform a larger study on the trends and motivations of doctoral students’ networking across all disciplines.

doctoral education, doctoral/PhD students, networking, academic conference, academic workforce
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