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Current PhD student

Basically, if you want to do it, go for it! People spend a lot of effort on these should-I-or-shouldn’t-I kinds of questions, but just do what you want to do :)

You might have better luck getting a commentator spot at smaller regional conferences.


I did plenty of commentaries when I was early in the PhD and without publications. I got the sense that organizers needed to work hard to get bodies to fill all the spots, rather than it being hard or exclusive to get a spot. This was my experience at bigger ones like the APA as well as smaller ones. And I had fun doing it, so I'd recommend it.

(It's probably harder to get a spot commenting on a bigshot, but I haven't tried to do that.)


If it's a good way to get funding for travel, then do it!

Regional conferences can be a good start. I'd recommend e-mailing the organizers sometime around the submission deadline noting your interest in commenting, specific areas of interest, and a copy of your CV.

If the conference is more competitive, we'll usually give first dibs on commenting to those whose papers were rejected, then move down the line. Not all regional conferences are especially competitive; for those conferences, having additional commentators can be really helpful for the organizers.

I haven't APA'd in a while, but some of the divisions used to have a commentator sign-up from which commentators would be selected. Usually when I've given APA comments, though, it's because I knew someone on the program committee; I've also signed up and not been selected.

Finally, I'd encourage your department to rethink its travel policies. Some of the graduate conferences are insanely competitive, and it's a much bigger deal to present at one of those than at one of the regional associations that takes 50-75% of submissions.

another postdoc

In my experience, one of the best ways to get a commentator spot is actually by being rejected from a conference. Organizers will often go to the authors of abstracts that didn't make the program for comments, since they know those people are interested and have an idea of the quality of their writing. But imo you shouldn't worry too much about going out of your way to get commentator spots. As you get involved in your subfield, opportunities to comment will very likely arise organically. It can be professionally helpful to take these opportunities for all the reasons Marcus listed, but also if you go all of grad school without commenting on a paper it will not impact your CV negatively.

Also, fwiw, my personal opinion is that you'd be best served to wait until you've observed sessions at a few different kinds of conferences (APAs, grad student conferences, conferences on specialized topics in your field, etc.) before commenting, so you get an idea of what 'fine' vs. 'great' commentating looks like and can make the most of your own comments.

Mike Titelbaum

Just wanted to echo a lot of the stuff said above. Commenting at a conference as an early-career grad student is a great idea. Speaking personally, much of my professional network and career agenda (dissertation, first book) started off with interactions I had as a commentator early on at conferences.

Many times I have spearheaded the effort of finding commentators for FEW, and I've also been on an APA program committee. In both cases we were eager to have grad-student commentators, but had a hard time identifying available people working on the right things. So by all means write to conference organizers around the time submissions are due, let them know you're interested in coming to their conference as a commentator and have funding, and tell them what your interests are. You might also want to mention who your advisor is (if you have one already), so they can check in with that advisor for confirmation that you'll do a good job. With the APA, there's a formal volunteering to comment process.

I don't think you necessarily need to be more seasoned before commenting, but I definitely agree with the suggestion that you run your comments by some more experienced folks before presenting them. Then get out there and have fun with it!

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