Thursday, 4 October 2012

Academic terminology



Conference, congress, colloquium, symposium — a gathering of persons to discuss academic concepts. Larger conferences tend to be called ‘congresses’, smaller ones ‘symposia’. Note the spelling of the plural. If a conference has mini-conferences inside it, those are called symposia. Symposia comes from Greek meaning “to sit together”. Colloquium comes from Latin, meaning “to talk together”. Conference and congress are Latin as well, meaning To bring together, and To travel/go together.


Abstract — a summary of a piece of academic work. It appears at the beginning of a piece of academic work and summarises the research question, and the answer that the work gives. It is marked with the word “Abstract” at the beginning of the paper. It also often has key words listed below it that summarise the work or the topic.


Poster — a piece of academic work summarised on a large piece of cardboard. It is presented at a conference by the person standing next to a large poster board with their poster pinned up, in a hall, and they wait for people to come up to them and talk to them. One way of thinking of this is as a random opportunity to meet someone who is an expert on a particular area of research. A poster is typically displayed for a limited time on a particular day of the conference. An “electronic poster” is when the person keeps their poster electronically on a computer and presents it electronically (i.e. not printed) — but in the same public space, e.g. a hall.


Paper — an essay, usually 10-20 pages long, which starts with an abstract, and examines a research question. It usually has an introduction, a main body, in which contrasting ideas are debated, and a conclusion, which usually selects one of the contrasting ideas as the more likely to be correct. A person presenting a paper at a conference will usually have a PowerPoint series of slides that they will talk about in front of a usually small audience of up to about 100 people at most, but sometimes as few as 1-2 people. This is usually done in a closed room, reserved for the paper in a certain time slot on a certain day.


Symposium, Panel — a mini-conference inside a conference, most often, consisting of a panel of experts who sit around and present their papers in turn. The audience, who do not sit around the table, get to listen to their discussion. A symposium is brought together by a ‘convenor’, who often presents the first paper. The symposium is summed up at the end by the ‘discussant’.


Plenary — a session or presentation given by an important or famous researcher, usually attended by everyone in the conference. From Latin for “Complete” or “full”, related to the word “plenty”. A plenary is the same as a paper presentation except for the audience size.


Session — a type of presentation, most often a synonym for a panel or symposium. If a session has only one presenter, that’s a paper session. If the session has a person showing a poster, that’s a poster session. If it’s a group of people, that’s a panel session or a symposium session.


Discipline, Research Area — an area of study with specific methods, pre-commitments, and specific foci or areas that it focuses on. A limited area of study. More popular areas of study tend to be broken down into more sub-disciplines or research areas. So for example Physics contains research areas such as quantum mechanics, fluid dynamics, Newtonian mechanics, thermodynamics, astrophysics, nuclear physics, etc.


Chair — the head of a subdivision of some kind, e.g. a head of a research area.


Reviewer — a person who reads another person’s work to see if it is of acceptable standard. 


Sub-reviewer — a reviewer who reports to a chair or another reviewer. 


Peer-reviewed — when a piece of academic work is reviewed by someone who is the author’s academic equal (more or less). 


Editor — a person who reads some writing to check for spelling, grammar and clarity problems. An editor does not check for conceptual or factual problems; that’s what a reviewer does.


Journal — a periodical or magazine for academics with articles on academic topics. Most journals cover very specific research areas, and academics submit their papers to those specific journals for peer review. In most cases, work is reviewed by one reviewer, but if there’s a doubt, another reviewer can be called in.


Blind or anonymous peer review — the process of review taken in most cases, wherein the author does not know who is reviewing his paper, and the reviewer does not know whose paper he is reviewing, to prevent bias in favour of colleagues or friends.


Publish — to get a paper accepted into a journal.


PhD, Masters, Thesis, Dissertation — PhD is “doctor of philosophy of”; the highest degree you can get (although a “Post Doctorate” was recently introduced). PhD is one level higher than Master. A Master’s degree is typically either by coursework or by “dissertation” (a written discussion of a particular research question). A master has typically been reviewed by two persons before being awarded the degree. A PhD is typically reviewed by at least three people before being awarded their degree by “thesis”. A thesis is like a dissertation — it’s a big book on a particular research topic — except that it offers a new theory, whereas a dissertation does not. A professorship is not a degree awarded by signing up for a course. A professor, rather, is someone who has published a lot, and who has been awarded the rank by his university.


Proceedings — a journal containing only papers from a conference.


Call for Abstracts — the opening phase of a conference wherein the conference organisers send out adverts asking academics to submit abstracts for review by the conference organisers. If the abstracts sent in are accepted, the person may then attend the conference as a presenter.


Registration — signing up AND paying your membership/attendance fee for the conference.


Delegate — any person at the conference, who may or may not also be a presenter.


Invited Speaker — a delegate who was specifically invited to give a plenary or other major session.

This is some software we wrote to organise conferences:

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