Graduate Admissions Top Tips

Grad School Applicants: Maximizing Academic Conferences

By: Dr. Kristen Willmott

Grad school applicants are well into the graduate school admissions process and we are assisting with personal statement brainstorming, resume and CV edits, exploring publishing opportunities, and pinpointing which writing samples to submit to grad school programs.

Before you go too far into the grad school admissions process, review the websites of faculty you hope to study with in your targeted programs. Explore the campus and lab facilities and resources you will have access to on campus and check out what current graduate students are researching and learning. Grad school admissions is a two way street and it’s key you consider why you’re a great fit for a program, but also why is the program, and your targeted field of interest a great fit for YOU.

Take the time to research faculty and staff at your targeted programs. Most graduate school applications will require at least a short essay asking some version of  “Why our program?” We advise current graduate school applicants and future graduate school applicants, to start researching the faculty at the programs they’re targeting ASAP. Where to start? Check the graduate school’s online directory to get to faculty webpages. Many often include links to their curriculum vitas –which are terrific little microscopes into what faculty are teaching, researching, which kinds of student thesis and dissertation projects they chair, which committees they sit on at the university, and perhaps most interestingly, which academic conferences they’re presenting at in the near future —that’s a real life opportunity to witness them in action and meet them in the flesh in their environment.


Start attending and presenting at academic conferences this summer and fall. Did you know you can list a conference presentation on your CV as “accepted for presentation” even if the conference is scheduled to take place after your graduate school admissions application is due?

Often you don’t have to travel far to find top conferences in your field (it might even align with a campus visit you’ve already booked) and there’s a discounted student rate (if you’re an undergraduate) or sometimes a one day registration rate if you’re a working professional and attending just one day’s worth of sessions. 


Here are 5 conferences happening this August 2019 in an array of academic fields  —check out what’s in your field and consider registering today. Review the keynote speakers, the exhibitors, and the program schedule online.

  1. August 1-5, 2019: The American Alliance for Theatre and Education is holding their annual conference in NYC. Conference attendees will explore how artists and scholars can be responsive and effective in the current socio-political climate.
  2. August 3-7, 2019: The American Society of Plant Biologists is holding their annual conference in San Jose, CA.
  3. August 9-13, 2019: The 79th Annual Meeting of the Academy of Management will be held in Boston, Massachusetts. The program theme is Understanding the Inclusive Organization.
  4. August 10-13, 2019: The 114th American Sociological Association’s Annual Conference will be held in NYC. The 2019 theme is Engaging Social Justice for a Better World. This is a great one for those with a passion for sociology, cultural studies, gender studies, etc.
  5. August 11-16, 2019: The Ecological Society of America is holding its 104th Annual Meeting in partnership with the United States Society for Ecological Economics in Louisville, Kentucky.



Here’s an example of how attending a conference as a grad school applicant can work in your favor. Let’s say you’re a grad school applicant targeting the University of Wisconsin-Madison and environmental science is your field. You head to the department website and find that Dr. Andrew Bent’s research interests in plant disease resistance (and the lab he runs) align with yours and you happen to live in or be visiting California this August. Check out his faculty webpage, read his journal article that was published June 10, 2019 on plants with a short lifecycle, read about The Bent Lab, and then register for the American Society of Plant Biologists’ annual conference in San Jose, CA. Once you’re at the conference, attend the symposium Dr. Bent is co-moderating at 8:30am on Mon. 8/5/19 on topics including sustainably feeding a growing human population as the planet’s climate continues to warm. Maybe you even hang around after the session to chat with Dr. Bent about what you most connected to in his June article… The conference has a discounted student rate that includes the following:

  • Access to Major Symposia, Concurrent Symposia, Posters, Workshops, & Career Center
  • Access to the Exhibit Hall
  • 4 days of coffee breaks and snacks
  • 2 evening poster receptions with snacks
  • Morning coffee
  • Opening Welcome Reception
  • Final Party

It’s not 100% clear what that included-with-conference-registration “final party” entails, but we certainly hope everyone will arrive in the matching black “Plant Cell-ebration” t-shirts the conference website features. One of the two discounted conference hotels, the San Jose Marriott has a rooftop pool that looks like this. If that’s not a spectacular summer vacay in San Jose, we don’t know what is. How many weekends have you spent poolside chatting up renowned plant biologists?


The bottom line is that there is an academic conference in your targeted field this year, if not this summer. You might just not yet know where to look, or how to find which faculty are presenting, or how to obtain a discounted student rate, or how to maximize your attendance, or how to submit a successful conference abstract to become a presenter and boost your CV, or how to approach a faculty member whom you hope will become your PhD advisor. Let us help!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.