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Marcus Arvan

Justin: an interesting issue, and surprisingly, one that I have never faced before! Here are my thoughts -- though I'm not sure whether others will share them (in which case this discussion may be a learning experience for me!).

I am inclined to say that a submission to a conference does not imply a commitment to attend any more than a graduate school or job application is a commitment to attend if one should be admitted or offered the job. I want to say: a submission is like an application. You are asking them whether they want to invite you to give your paper. If they say yes, then you still have the option to accept the invitation or decline.

This seems morally reasonable to me given the competitive nature of conferences. Why should a submission to a conference be considered a commitment to attend when there is no reciprocal commitment to offer you an invitation. Why should you have to forego another conference on the same date on the off-chance that you *might* be accepted to the first one?

Anyway, I dunno. Again, I've never faced the dilemma myself (if I had, I'd probably post here for advice just like you did!). I'm curious to see what others think...

Basque Philosopher

I may be old school, but I don't put conferences in the same category as applications for schools or jobs. Students and employees are fungible in a way that presenters at a conference are not. I already posted on twitter that I don't think the same rules apply to a boarding school applicant where the school seeks a commitment from the student that he will attend if accepted.

An academic conference differs in many ways. For me, the 'deal' starts with the premise that conferences require presenters. In some cases presenters are invited to present at a conference. In other cases, some presenters are accepted based of papers submitted to the conference for consideration.

The purpose of submitting a paper to a conference is to have it chosen as one the conference would like to have presented. While it is true there is no commitment that a submitted paper will be chosen, there is a commitment that the author of an accepted paper will be invited to present the paper. This is, in a way, a honor and acknowledgment by one's peers of the quality and relevance of one's work.

If one's paper were accepted and nobody whose paper was accepted chose another conference to attend, it would defeat the purpose of the whole process. Thus, I think there is a moral obligation not to submit to two conferences scheduled at the same time as the possibility exists that one might be accepted to both one of which the presenter could not attend, in breach of one's commitment to present if one's paper were chosen.


I am in agreement with Marcus here. How likely it is that you will get into a particular conference is really hard to tell, but I think it is usually a bad idea to 'count' on getting in (if only for our mental health!).

I'm curious how the principle "only apply to conferences to which one is planning on attending" is to be interpreted. Is it to be interpreted in the weak sense that I will go, given that I get in? Or the strong sense that, even if I don't get in I will still go? The strong sense seems too strong.

Even the weak sense seems too strong. Suppose I only have the funds to attend two conferences per school year. I would prefer present at the most selective conference, but I likely will not get into that conference. So should I only submit to 2 conferences where I think I am guaranteed to be accepted? It seems that I should apply to several conferences and let the chips fall as they may.

Justin Caouette

Thanks for the feedback. My concern with the recommendation by Basque is that it forces grad students to either aim high and possibly get NO experience presenting their work or to aim low and forfeit the higher quality feedback they could have received if they aimed higher.


If you have a paper accepted at a conference, but you don't plan to attend, presumably you're obligated to inform the organizers as soon as you're able. If your paper gets accepted at the conference you're considering submitting to, a good deal of time will pass between now and then (and I imagine that the more time that passes, the more difficult you will be making the lives of the conference organizers if you ultimately decline to present).

To decline to present at a conference a number of weeks after your paper has been accepted, on the grounds that, in the meantime, you have submitted a paper to a conference you'd rather attend, seems reasonably shabby.

Justin Caouette

Thanks, B.M.

Here are things as they stand. I have submitted to one conference and have not heard back. This conference is in November. I just received another CFP for a conference that same weekend. Herein lies the problem. Should I submit to this second conference? It seems that you're suggesting I could as long as I let the first conference committee know (assuming the paper gets accepted)that I will not attend (assuming I get into the second conference as well). However, if the second conference committee takes a while to get back to me, and, I am accepted by the first in the meantime, then I ought to go to the first over the second regardless. Is this your suggestion?


Sorry Justin, I believe I misread your original post. I think part of the reason I misread it is because it never occurred to me that there would be an issue applying to two different conferences being held on the same day.

I think it would be perfectly reasonable to apply to both, and then if your paper is accepted at one and you haven't heard back from the other, then email the organizers and withdraw your paper. I think which conference you hear back from first matters more than which conference you applied to first. (Again, sorry for not reading carefully enough).

Scott Clifton

I've heard in several venues that it's convention that, if you submit a paper to a conference, you are, barring financial problems (can't get funding) or unexpected changes in circumstances, agreeing that you will attend the conference if the paper is accepted. If it were me, I'd just withdraw the paper from the conference you have already submitted to and hope for the best with the one you find especially appealing. If nothing else, you don't want to gain a reputation for backing out on (perhaps implied) commitments.

David Morrow

I think that you should probably submit to the second conference, given how keen you are on the CFP.

But as soon as you are accepted to one conference or the other, you'll need to confirm your attendance there and withdraw your paper from consideration at the other conference. If you know in advance that you would decline an invitation from the first conference in hopes of getting invited to the second, then you should just withdraw your paper from the first conference now. The thing you really want to avoid, IMO, is confirming your attendance at one conference and then backing out upon being accepted to the other. That would be indecent, at least.

I like the reasons that Marcus gave, to which I will add one more: Suppose that you knew that you would be unwilling to travel to more than three conferences in a semester, but there are eight conferences of interest next semester. It strikes me as permissible—and prudent—to apply to more than three of those eight, with the plan of attending the first three conferences that accept your paper and then withdrawing your paper from the rest. At any rate, I think a norm against such behavior would be very bad for junior scholars. Your case is relevantly similar: There are two conferences in some given span of time, and you are only willing (and logically able) to attend one of those two. So, you may apply to both with the intention of attending whichever accepts you first.

Trevor Hedberg

I believe that it would be unreasonable for conference organizers to hold potential presenters to the standard that they are obligated to attend the conference if they are accepted. Some CFP have deadlines many months in advance of the conference date, and a myriad of other things could come up before the actual conference that might prevent you from being able to present, such as illness, an inability to get funding for the trip, and unforeseen departmental commitments. (An inability to get funding could be especially relevant for graduate students.) Moreover, almost every conference will solicit (usually via email) a request that accepted presenters confirm their intention to present, and they will have on hand a short list of papers that they will add to the program in the event that some of the accepted presenters are unable to attend. Of course, even if the conference is prepared to accommodate your absence, you might still feel uneasy about knowingly applying to multiple conferences on the same date; it does feel a bit disingenuous.

I think the best advice would be to contact the conference organizers (for the conference you have already submitted to), explain the circumstances, and see if they'd object to your submitting to that other conference. I suspect that the conference organizers will understand the situation and not have a problem with it, but since that could vary from case to case, finding out for sure would be the safest option.


I have never considered it a problem to submit to two (or more) conferences held the same weekend, nor have I heard of anyone else considering it a problem before now. Nearly every conference to which I have been accepted has asked, upon accepting my paper, whether I still intend to come. I think that is the time to withdraw, if one has some conflict (such as a second acceptance). Even in running several conferences, I have never expected everyone who was accepted to come- organizers (should) always have backups selected. It is just too hard to get into the best conferences for one to bet on getting in. To reaffirm a point made above, though, one should withdraw from one conference as soon as possible after accepting the other.

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