When is a conference real?

Respected Dr Dr Mrs Seery, we hope that you can come to our conference in somewhere you’ve never heard of and tell us about your interesting and exciting work in Pre-Lecture Resources for Reducing Cognitive Load at our Conference on Chemistry and Chemical Engineering in Sub-Oceanic Conditions. Please reply.

Most of us now receive daily invites to conferences around the world – oh the travel we could do! – and the usual fare is a greeting like that above; a dodgy mail merge of incorrect title, a paper title you have published and a conference that has a theme that bears no resemblance to the topic that you have been on. But the targeting is getting cleverer, and there are now quite a few Chemistry Education “conferences” doing the rounds.

These conferences are organised to make money. The model is that academics are invited to speak at conferences, and they, like all attendees will pay to attend.  The organisers know nothing about the topic, and the conference will not have any coherent theme, but the organisers will have delivered on their promise to host a conference, and gather all the money raised in the process as profit. Academics will provide free labour by presenting at the conference, perhaps peer-reviewing, being members of the “Advisory Board”… It all mirrors an actual conference very closely, but of course the problem is that the themes of these “conferences” are so broad that little meaningful discussion could take place. So how do you know what is real or not?

Three key places to look are: (1) who is on the advisory board (2) is there a professional body underpinning the conference, and (3) what are the conference themes.

ICCE2018Organisers and Advisory Board

If you are going to a conference on chemistry education, and the advisory board is populated by Professor of Forestry from Transylvania, then an alarm bell should ring. Are the names familiar? If you were to Google some of them, would you come up with some CER publications? Pictured are the Local Organising Committee and International Advisory Board of the very real 25th ICCE 2018 conference happening in Sydney in 2018. A cursory glance at this list for anyone involved in chemistry education would show that these are people with a genuine investment in the discipline.

Sadly, this check on authenticity is becoming more difficult, as academics are bounded by a singular characteristic: we love doing things for free. So when you get an email that asks you if you want to be part of an organising committee for a conference whose title interests you, well why not? If you don’t look into it too much and you’ve always wanted to go to the Mongolian mountains for a hike, this fits the bill. Before you know it you are profiled on the conference website and credence is added to the meeting because of your affiliation.

Professional Body

A second thing to check is if there is a a professional body underpinning the conference. The very real 25th ICCE 2018 conference happening in Sydney in 2018 is being organised under the auspices of IUPAC, as have all of the conferences in the ICCE series, and the national chemistry body, RACI. This lends an air of authority to the meeting – these are professional bodies who are interested in promotion of chemistry education, rather than just out to make money.


Conference Themes

But what if there is a conference that is out to make profit but means well and wants to host a good conference on a particular theme, where it has identified a gap. This isn’t illegal or morally wrong. We can use the conference themes to get a sense of how invested the organisers are in organising a conference about a topic that will bring a lot of like minded individuals together. I’ve pasted below an image from a tweet from the organisers of the “8th Edition of International Conference on Chemistry Education and Research” (note the ‘and’).


Exercising Judgement

It is in the interest of organisers of conferences such as these to spread the net widely; the more themes they cover, the more people will likely match. But of course, the broader the net, the more useless the meeting will be. It is worth exercising some judgement by considering the three points above. Even the conference title needs consideration: including an “and” is very popular as it allows a much broader range of topics while sounding like another very well established conference. Compare:

  • 25th IUPAC International Conference on Chemistry Education (ICCE2018)


  • 8th Edition of International Conference on Chemistry Education and Research

At a passing glance in a busy email reading session, both look similar.

Many readers of this will likely have received an invitation from the “Journal of Chemistry: Education, Research and Practice” and perhaps confuse it with the journal Chemistry Education Research and Practice. In this case, punctuation reveals very different intentions.

Take care, and if you do go to one of these “conferences”, I hope the scenery is nice!

2 thoughts on “When is a conference real?

  1. Interestingly, there is no record to be found of the first seven ‘editions’ of the International Conference on Chemistry Education and Research.

    Great job with the blog post on this important topic.

  2. Dear Michael,

    Thank you for the post. It is very informative for many of us. As an experienced researcher in chemistry education I even confuse in many cases. We all have received invitation several times similar to those conferences and predatory journals. As the past chair of IUPAC CCE I had several initiatives to prevent those kind of conferences. However, each time failed. What I do to urge my colleagues and students is to share those kind of fake or predatory journals and conferences in our email groups, social media pages etc. The best thing is to extend invitation for the colleagues and students to know more about the real conferences in our area. For intance together with ICCE there is another one BCCE (http://bcce2018.org) organised by ACS and it is 25th this year. It ia an annual conference and initiatedtogether with ICCE (https://www.ivvy.com.au/event/CED681/). There is an European version ECRICE (http://www.ecrice2018.pl) which is organised by Division of Chemical Education of EuCheMS. Another chemistry education conference which is organised by NICE (Network of InterAsian Chemistry Educators) is 8TH INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE FOR NETWORK FOR INTER-ASIAN CHEMISTRY EDUCATORS (NICE) in 2019. Finally, an emerging conference in Africa in Chemistry education is ACRICE (African Conference on Research in Chemistry Education) organised by FACS (Federation of African Chemical Societies). 3rd ACRICE (https://www.univ-setif.dz/OCS/FT/ACRICE) was organised in Setif/Algeria and the 4th ACRICE will be organised in Nigeria 2019. All these conferences in chemistry education are truly international as well as organised by professional bodies such as ACS, EuCheMS, IUPAC, NICE, FACS.

    Apart from these intensvely chemistry education conferences there are several big science education conferences throughout the world such as NARST, ESERA, ASE etc.

    It is important to keep informed our professional bodies and colleagues abıout these conferences as well as participate them to support the development of chemistry education as a research area.

    Mustafa SOZBILIR

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