Going to International Conferences, For Free!

Being a presenter in two international academic events has been an amazing experience for me.

I am a doctoral researcher in public health. My specialization is preventing the transmission of HIV from Indonesian mothers to their children. At the end of my third year of research, after finishing the first draft of my dissertation, I decided to disseminate my findings through international conference presentations. My supervisors, Dr Sari Andajani and Associate Professor Sharyn Graham Davies, supported my decision because speaking at conferences would allow me to obtain more input from colleagues to improve my dissertation.

I was happy to attend two events: a public health conference in Depok, Indonesia, and an HIV colloquium in Dilman, Philippines.

Happily, I got scholarships for each conference/colloquium from Universitas Indonesia and SOAS, University of London. At the same time, I also got full support from my New Zealand ASEAN Scholarship. My scholarships covered my conference fees, flights, and accommodation. My family was able to travel with me: my three children (Queency, Adilla, and Muhandas), and my husband.

Here are some tips for getting scholarships for your conferences or colloquia:

1.   Join conferences that are related to your topics

For me, having a conference in Indonesia about public health gave me perspectives about the local context of my own research, and I got feedback to improve my own research. In the Philippines, I met many researchers and experts who have conducted their own research about HIV in South-East Asia.

2.   Attend a short AUT workshop about ‘Writing an Abstract for a Conference or Symposium’

I attended this conference with Dr Anaise Irvine as the facilitator. This workshop not only provided a short presentation, but also a group practice session on how to write a good abstract for a conference. Anaise told us that an abstract is not just a summary of your research, but it is about your proposed presentation. An abstract should contain at least: a title; the context of your research; the purpose of your presentation; a description of your research project; your research methodology; actual or expected findings; and the significance / implication of your research. Don’t miss this workshop!

3.   Find a conference/colloquium with full scholarships and apply

After you have written a good abstract, you should promote yourself in a short description (biographical sketch) and explain your motivation to join the conference. The committee of my HIV colloquium asked me to write about myself in 100 words. Honestly, initially I made my biographical sketch too long; so I asked my husband to describe me. You may need someone else to describe you to allow you to consider your strengths and your skills from a fresh perspective.

4.   Present different topics in each conference

You will have a range of findings and several chapters in your thesis. That means you can present different topics in each conference. For me, in every activity that I joined, I obtained some input and suggestions beyond my own thoughts, which I then discussed with my supervisors to improve my writing. I presented two different topics in these international events:

‘Getting married to a suspected bisexual man: a silent epidemic mode of HIV among married women in Indonesia’

‘Honoring many forms of action: what we can do for better accessibility to HIV-Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission (PMTCT) service’

5.   Practice locally

For me, having experience as a presenter in Auckland gave me confidence during my international conferences. Previously, I had taken part in some activities with other universities in Auckland: as a presenter in a writing workshop with the Society of Medical Anthropology in Aotearoa (SOMAA), and at the 3rd and 5th Annual Interscholastic Student HIV Research Symposia at the University of Auckland and Massey University.

Additionally, the AUT teams from the Library, Learning Support Services, and the Graduate Research School gave me more opportunities to be confident to speak in front of many people, and also provide many workshops on writing, critical thinking and improving your English. I have accessed all the help that AUT provides for students, particularly because I am an international student and have three small kids (1-5 years). Don’t be shy to ask for HELP! I have attended the AUT Postgraduate Symposium, Three Minute Thesis competition, and poster presentations during Mix & Mingles. Currently, I am on a writing retreat (5-8 Nov 2018), using the three nights and four days to shape my discussion chapter.


Finally, my motivation is to do great things! Start from you to make a change and empower your society. And remember to be balanced (with spirituality or positivity).

I have a lot of gratitude for AUT, my lovely supervisors, my PhD scholarship (New Zealand ASEAN team at AUT) and my conference sponsors (University of London and Universitas Indonesia).

About Najmah Usman

Najmah is a lecturer at Sriwijaya University in South Sumatera Indonesia. She is currently a PhD candidate at Auckland University of Technology (with a New Zealand ASEAN scholarship). She is also a writer, blogger, and a feminist. She is an expert in both quantitative and qualitative research and has published four books related to Epidemiology and Biostatistics. Previously she was awarded an Australian Partnership Scholarship and a Netherlands Fellowship Partnership.

6 thoughts on “Going to International Conferences, For Free!

  1. Najmah, you have inspired me! Thanks for not only doing your important work (at university and at home) but for also taking the time to share with the rest of us.

  2. Thank you for sharing your journey and experience of being an International student, this is a testament of taking a first step in all we do to aspire as professional in any field of expertise.

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