What to Expect and Conference Etiquette

Conferences can be overwhelming and stressful, whether you’re a first-time attendee or a regular. This page is primarily aimed towards those who haven’t attended AOS (or many conferences in general) in the past; however, many returning attendees may benefit from advice or reminders. These answers are largely based on our own experiences and observations of common mistakes as well as what we have seen to be effective and strategic. Please contact us to add anything we missed!

When will I know whether my paper was accepted?

Generally, acceptances are sent out by mid-January. You should have received confirmation that your abstract was received shortly after the October deadline. 

Advice for First-Time Presenters

So you submitted an abstract, it was accepted, and now you are preparing to give your first AOS paper–congratulations! If you are terrified, that is totally normal. A lot of that anxiety may simply be not knowing what to expect. We strongly recommend attending AOS for at least one year prior to when you anticipate giving a paper so that you will be familiar with the format of talks, the type of questions that are generally asked, and the overall atmosphere. Plus, if you get to know the people who regularly attend AOS or attend the conference with friends, you will at least have some familiar faces in the audience when you give your first talk, and that may ease the experience somewhat.

Papers for AOS are 15 minutes long with about 10 minutes for questions. Let me say this again: papers are 15 minutes long.* Please, please, do NOT exceed this time limit; it is disrespectful and unfair to the people following your talk in a session, who may end up being deprived of their full time and/or question and answer session, even if their own papers are the appropriate length. If everyone in a session goes over time, sometimes the coffee break has to be skipped, and nobody wants that. We actually recommend writing your paper to be 14 minutes long just in case your pace slows slightly, there are issues with technology, you lose your train of thought, etc. If not, no one will object to a paper that is a minute shorter than expected.

So how do you avoid exceeding the time limit? Easy–prepare and practice! If you prefer to write out your entire talk, that means 5-6 pages double-spaced, depending on your reading pace. You may be able to exceed 6 slightly, but we guarantee that 7 is too long to read in 15 minutes at an understandable pace. The trick is to read not too slowly, and not too quickly. If you prefer to read from notes, this balance is even more difficult and you will just have to practice giving the talk until you have a feel for how much fits into 15 minutes. Practice is part of the reason why we are focusing so much on the time limit: the number one reason why students exceed the time limit is a lack of preparation and practice. A lack of preparation shows. There are very few people who purposefully write longer papers simply because they don’t care about the limit (those people tend to be senior professors, and even they don’t get away with it, so please do not attempt this!). In many cases, too-long papers were written last-minute, in a hurry, with no chance to actually hear how it sounds aloud before presenting it. There is nothing less professional looking than a presenter standing in front of an audience and rambling from notes without reaching the point before their time is up, or frantically starting to read their prepared paper faster, skipping over entire pages before the exasperated chair finally cuts them off. These scenarios are not limited to graduate students but they will certainly affect our career prospects more profoundly than a faculty member’s. Instead, you should come in with a polished, practiced paper that you can deliver at a normal pace, looking up from the paper as much as possible, and without reading monotonously. We suggest writing your paper well before the conference and then practicing in front of your peers, your advisor, whoever will listen, your mirror, etc. until you are comfortable.

*There are rare exceptions where a paper has been withdrawn from a panel too late to reallocate the time given to the panel, and so each presenter could take more than 15 minutes without going over time. If this happens to your panel, contact your chair before assuming that you can take additional time!

Preparing for the Question and Answer Portion

So now you’ve put together your amazing paper, it is just under 15 minutes long, and you are ready to present it. But maybe you are still worried about the question and answer portion. You should certainly be prepared to answer any question about your topic and defend your argument, and it will help to think out possible questions with your advisors or peers ahead of time. Most of the question and answer portion is out of your hands, however, and really depends on who is in the audience. Very few people ask questions combatively or make aggressive comments to presenters (and please do not be that person yourself), especially since it is rightly viewed as poor taste for more senior members to attack graduate students or young professionals who are just starting out. If there are experts in your topic, they may ask very nuanced questions, while others may ask more general, interdisciplinary questions. Regardless of who is asking a question or making a comment, consider this advice: smile, do not stand aggressively (i.e. do not cross your arms), maintain eye contact, listen attentively to the question until they are done speaking (do not interrupt), thank them for the question, and then take a moment to collect your thoughts before answering courteously. If the questioner is being combative for some reason, you will gain more from keeping your composure–no one wins when the discussion becomes combative, and that is not the purpose of a question and answer session anyway. 

On the other hand, if you are watching a paper that you strongly disagree with, please communicate your comments or questions respectfully as well, or consider approaching the speaker in private after their talk is over to discuss your concerns. Collegiality is key.

Handout or PowerPoint?

Whether you want a handout or PowerPoint or no supplementary material is entirely up to you. If you are planning to have a handout or PowerPoint for your presentation, please plan in advance. For handouts, it is difficult to predict how many people will attend your talk and you should not count on printing services to be adequate in the conference hotel. We have seen it happen many times that a large number of people expect to use the printer at the conference hotel for their handouts, the printer runs out of ink after the first afternoon, and numerous people are left without handouts for their talk. Plan to bring handouts already printed, if possible. If you use a handout do not forget to put your name on it so that it can be properly credited.

Alternatively, you may be interested in PowerPoint to avoid this problem (and perhaps to have less of an environmental impact). You will have to mark on the form you submit with your abstract that you intend to use PowerPoint, and keep in mind that this is not a guarantee, since a lot depends on the number of people requesting a projector and what the hotel can handle. Make sure that there is a computer being used during your session so that you can bring a copy of your PowerPoint presentation on a USB drive (preferably saved as both a slideshow and as a pdf) or bring your own computer with the appropriate adaptors if you have a Mac. 

Can I take photos of a presenter’s PowerPoint slides or record their talk?

No, photography of slides and video recording are strictly prohibited unless you have received permission from the speaker directly in advance. This is because slides and talks often contain unpublished material and ideas and using recordings without permission could constitute academic dishonesty. Always be careful to credit properly anything you learn in a conference presentation, in general.  

What is the dress code?

There is no official dress code for AOS. In many fields, is is quite normal that institutions advertising for a faculty position will conduct interviews during the major conferences, and so conference attendees tend to be dressed in formal interview wear. At AOS, formal interviews are not conducted, but you should still dress in a somewhat formal manner. After all, it is likely that some of the people in the audience will one day be deciding whether or not to hire you for a position at their university, reviewing your work, or inviting you for lectures, so you want to present yourself as professionally as possible. That said, full suits are not obligatory (nor prohibited). If you are presenting, you should take extra care to make sure you are dressed appropriately and seriously. We are not going to provide any gender-based or normative clothing recommendations here–just use your best judgment! Or, if you are worried, do some research about which business casual looks would work best for you or ask your friends to evaluate a few outfits. In general, make sure your clothing is free of wrinkles, clean, does not have visible holes or stains, and fits well. 

Do I have to stay for an entire panel or session?

No, you are not required to stay for an entire panel or session, but please be quiet when entering and exiting a room. 

Look at these happy, well-dressed AOS grad students!