Five Reasons CS Students Should Attend a Conference This Year

IEEE Computer Society Team
Published 02/23/2024
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5 Reasons Students Should Attend a ConferenceWith all the questions competing for your attention every day—from exams to your next steps in life to what’s for dinner—the question of whether to attend a conference might not be anywhere near the top of your list. But maybe it should be.

Stepping out of your day-to-day routine and into a conference can be one of the smartest choices you make this year. Why? Following are five reasons that attending a conference can boost your vision of yourself and your future career, and seed meaningful relationships to support you on the road ahead.


Reason 1: Build Your Network

Networking comes first because it’s part of almost every aspect and benefit of attending a conference. Whether it’s a long-admired tech researcher or a peer who shares your Dr. Who obsession, when you’re in a defined space packed with people who have the same passions, chance conversations can lead to opportunities, collaborations, and friendships.

Conferences also offer the chance for more intentional connections. Reading recent papers by people who will be presenting in your areas of interest will give you a context for their talk and for follow-up questions. Although chasing down speakers is a recipe for stress—and awkward interactions—you might find opportunities to organically connect after their session. If not, you can always send a post-conference email asking a thoughtful question about their work.

And, while it might seem obvious, be sure to exchange contact info with people you talk with, even if they’re not in your specific field. They could become friends, and they also might know someone who could help you down the road.


Reason 2: Expand Your Knowledge

Learning isn’t exactly a novel activity when you’re a student—and it might not seem that compelling in your rare off hours. But attending a conference offers knowledge in many different forms and areas, from keynotes to tutorials to late night talks at the pub.

Listening to peers and seasoned professionals discuss interesting ideas–from real-time data analysis for drones to applications for snake-shaped robots–is always valuable, as is attending sessions on emerging technologies or unfamiliar issues. Both are great ways to learn and expand your ideas of what to study, possible paths forward, and different roles you might play in the workforce.

Visiting the exhibit floor can also be an education. Larger conferences have booths highlighting work by researchers in various graduate programs and university labs. Beyond that, you can learn by examining common trends among exhibitors and how those trends intersect with your work, which can open up new research paths. Talking with booth hosts can also expand your knowledge. If they’re presenting a new product, you can ask about technical challenges they faced in developing their featured product or what they’re working on next. If you’re feeling intimidated or overwhelmed, visit exhibitors on the edges of the room. They’ll welcome the attention.

Conferences offer unique chances to meet a mix of people who are ahead of you on the career path. Take advantage of that and ask what they would focus on if they were in school today, what they’re excited about in the field, or what they wish they’d known about career building when they were starting out.


Reason 3: Share Your Work

Conferences offer formal and informal opportunities to share your work, and most welcome paper and poster submissions from both undergraduate and graduate students.

If you’re planning to submit a paper or poster, be sure to heed the obvious—that is, check the conference’s submission rules and topics of interest early and carefully. As this IEEE CS article notes, many an otherwise worthy paper has been rejected due to missed deadlines, disconnected subjects, misnamed files, and other easily avoidable mistakes.

If your paper or poster is accepted, start connecting early by announcing it and tagging the conference in social media posts. This can alert like-minded researchers about your work and help you start making connections. And, whether your next step is more schooling or to enter the workforce, having a paper or poster accepted by a conference looks great on your resume/CV.

If you don’t present, you can still discuss your work informally with like-minded people by attending sessions on topics related to your interests. The key, again, is to simply put yourself out there. You can start this effort early by posting about your plans to attend the conference on social media and highlighting sessions you’re interested in.

Many larger conferences also offer specific programs for students, including the following:

  • SC (The International Conference for High Performance Computing, Networking, Storage, and Analysis) offers Students@SC, which includes volunteer and mentorship opportunities, as well as on-site competitions and opportunities to present and showcase your research.
  • CVPR (The Conference on Computer Vision and Pattern Recognition) is widely considered the best annual computer vision event; in addition to its main conference, it includes colocated workshops and courses, as well as a doctoral consortium and a Best Student Paper award.
  • QCE (IEEE International Conference on Quantum Computing & Engineering) is a multidisciplinary conference that focuses on challenges and opportunities in both quantum research and industry practice. In addition to its Student Mentorship Program and Career Fair, QCE’s poster program offers undergraduate and graduate students an opportunity to submit poster proposals on recent QCE advances, challenges, and experiences.
  • RSA Conference offers College Day for students and recent graduates. This free one-day event includes a breakfast, a resume review and recruitment session, a poster session, and access to dozens of conference tracks.

Regardless of where and how you share your work, conferences offer abundant opportunities to discuss it with others, which can help you problem solve, consider new solutions, and find collaborators for future projects.


Reason 4: Boost Your Visibility by Volunteering

Volunteering at a conference can pay off in many ways, including the very tangible benefit of reduced or waived registration fees, and sometimes, even help with travel expenses.

Whether you’re working a registration table or hosting a zoom session for virtual tracks, volunteering also helps you meet people while you’re engaged in a concrete activity, which can be easier for some people than unstructured social situations.

When you volunteer, you meet presenters and peers, as well as program and organizing committee members. It makes you part of a team, and it can lead to new connections and bigger opportunities down the line, including higher-level volunteer positions at future events.


Reason 5: Expand Your Perspective

The fifth reason to attend a conference is the opportunity it offers to deviate from the rutted road of daily life and explore new ideas.

From keynotes to birds-of-a-feather sessions, conferences offer you the chance to learn from experts as they discuss topics that might be related to or even seemingly far-afield of your own focus. Learning about developments in areas like security that are a challenge across domains can enhance and deepen your knowledge, as can sessions on unfamiliar topics, which might reveal unexpected intersections with your own work.

Conferences can also widen your internal world by expanding your comfort zone. It’s not necessarily easy to put yourself in a new situation, but even small steps make your next step—and your next conference—easier.


Learn More

IEEE Computer Society offers many opportunities for students interested in volunteering at conferences. To get started, explore upcoming IEEE Computer Society conferences with opportunities for students:

  • CVPR (The Conference on Computer Vision and Pattern Recognition)
  • QCE (IEEE International Conference on Quantum Computing & Engineering)
  • WACV (IEEE/CVF Winter Conference on Applications of Computer Vision)
  • HOST (International Symposium on Hardware Oriented Security and Trust)