There can be a great deal of variation in conference practices both within and between disciplines. Your supervisor and other senior postgraduate colleagues often play an important role in introducing you to academic conferences and your wider disciplinary community.
A good supervisor will be an invaluable source of information about your particular disciplinary community and will help with the process of gaining ‘membership’ and acceptance. Attending conferences is a long-established way to achieve this goal. Conferences can help you to identify gaps in your knowledge, gain experience of the academic community and network with other researchers in your field.
Participating and sharing your work and ideas helps to contextualise your work and tends to increase your confidence in it and yourself; this is often accompanied by an increased sense of belonging to the disciplinary community. Preparing work for submission to and presenting at a disciplinary academic conference often helps you think about your work from a different perspective, putting it into a wider disciplinary context and gaining ownership of the data and ideas.
Conferences are a valuable chance to build on your links within your discipline; they can provide opportunities for collaborative work and a chance to renew existing friendships. It is therefore important to maximise your participation - this can be as simple as wearing your conference name-badge and using such badges to identify and talk to others. Staying at the conference venue can also help as you meet people and make the most from the less formal and unscheduled opportunities for interaction.
The practical benefits of attending conferences will depend on the stage of your research and your academic development. When considering which conferences to attend, discuss the options with your supervisor to guarantee you make the most of the opportunities available.