How to Chair at a Conference – as a PhD student

Now you may be wondering, “Why bother chairing a conference track? I’m just a student and happy to present a paper or poster.”  Think again! You can make valuable contacts, and develop your confidence. Here are my suggestions as to why to chair a track and how to do it effectively.

Why Chair a Track?

  1. Find your Viva examiner

You may well be reviewing papers from experienced academics in your field of study. Chairing a track gives you the opportunity to work together beforehand. I’ve found a few potential Viva examiners from chairing a conference.

  1. Practise your paper reviewing skills

As a track chair, you will be expected to get to review and prepare questions on all the papers presented in the track. You should explain the theme that connects all the papers and summarise the papers effectively.  This is good practice for becoming a journal reviewer.

  1. Get spotted by a publisher

I’ve recently been invited to publish by a journal editor who attended my paper presentation. Because I was also chairing the track, we worked together beforehand, and I got to understand exactly what her journal is looking for. I was able to tailor my presentation of the paper to meet her journal requirements.

How to Chair a Track

  1. Present a paper at the conference

You should always try to present a paper or poster, if you want to chair a track at a conference. Even if you are not asked to chair a track, presenting the paper will give you valuable experience of discussing your work with experts in your field.

  1. Ask the conference organisers

Conference organisers can find it hard to find track chairs, especially for the last session of the conference. Send your CV to the conference organisers beforehand, and offer your services. Be prepared to stand in at short notice.

Inject your personality

There’s more to chairing than informed questions and keeping the speakers on time – see the cartoon above by Steve Macone and Lindsay Moss Try to add humour or bring chocolates or pens. Salford Business School has a great range of promotional material for PhD students going to conferences).  Make sure your track ends on a high, and you are likely be invited back next year.

More advice and suggestions for how to chair a track effectively here:

Photo 1: Udeni Salmon getting ready to chair a track at the 2016 EURAM conference in Paris in July 2016, at the  l’Université Paris-Dauphine. Coffee is always important part of being a track chair! The Latin in the hall above me, means “A mind unfettered in deliberation” and is the NATO motto. NATO were housed in this building from 1959 to 1966.

Euram Conference Chair