Academic conference packing: Fall edition

I just returned from a rainy, chilly conference weekend in Seattle. Packing for academic conferences is always a challenge, especially if you’re not sure what to wear or what the dress code is. Returning to the conference scene in-person is even more interesting in 2021! Here’s how I dressed for the glorious (but cold) reunion that was our fall conference this year, plus a packing list!

What’s in my bag:

I used Stylebook to plan what I brought for 4 days of conferencing. Here’s the list:

  • 2 warm sweaters: here and here
  • 1 blazer: similar
  • 1 coat: similar
  • 3 shirts: 2 turtlenecks and 1 button down
  • 2 pairs of dress pants: here and here
  • Waterproof boots
  • Sneakers and workout clothes
  • Jeans
  • Umbrella and water bottle
  • Loungewear and PJs (never! forget! loungewear!)
  • To present: My ipad and work bag, plus an HDMI converter, business cards, notebook/pens
  • To survive: Advil, Tums, Zicam, Bandaids, Clif Bars

I feel like this list was just about right except I was freezing so I just wore the warmest sweater 2 out of 4 days and didn’t need a blazer.

My favorite professional cold weather combo was a turtleneck with a button down over it:

I wore this to present my talk and with wide leg pants I felt incredibly comfortable! A frequent question I get about academic conferences is how formal to be. It really depends on your field. In my field, people are dressed in everything from suits to dressy leggings, and I think it depends in part on where the conference is located and what you’re doing at it (so if you’re on the job market I would go business casual at least but if you’re in your first year past the job market you might be rocking dressy ponte pants just cuz you can).

If in doubt, ask someone who has been to the conference before, or check the conference social media for pictures from last year. That always helps me. Also, lately I’ve been wearing more blazers to conferences because conference centers are always freezing. So, consider your personal comfort level when picking outfits too!

On my non-presentation but still at the conference day I wore a sweater with slim dress pants and boots. It rained hard this day and I was glad to be cozy!

I also took a day to play hooky! Highly recommended for mental health. This year I went and got pho and explored all the vintage stores I could find. Then I read in a coffee shop. I came back to my hotel refreshed and ready to take on more conference mixers.

I also had to sit on my suitcase to close it because LOOK AT THESE TREASURES AT THE VINTAGE STORE. And I had an excellent breakfast. I digress. Conferences should be fun and it took me a while to learn not to burn myself out.

Hope you’re having a good week. I’m off Instagram to avoid holiday sale temptation (I just realized the only way left that I know about Black Friday deals is Instagram ads…must resist!).

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3 thoughts on “Academic conference packing: Fall edition”

  1. Looking great! I recently went on a 2-day conference and it took me 2 more days to decide what outfits to wear, I was THAT excited about it 🙂 and yes to not getting conference burnout…during my PhD I used to spend 12 hours every day for 5 days visiting posters, going to symposia, commercial booths, socials. and after the conference ended, I had to take a mini-vacation to recover. For some reason, our PIs required us to be always there and not to miss a single event. In recent years I started taking a day/afternoon off doing my own thing in the city and it changed the game. I also stopped going to ALL social events… turns out I am not that social if I feel pressured to participate


    1. I agree! I now put it in perspective by asking if I would do that much on a typical work day…like I don’t typically watch 8 research talks in a day so of course I’m tired if I watch that many at a conference!!


  2. I love that you said not to forget loungewear (!!!) and to play hooky (!!!)—those were two things I did NOT do enough of while attending academic conferences myself. I always felt bad if I took an afternoon off to go shopping or explore or whatever but I 100% don’t ever regret doing that and would highly encourage everyone does that! Academic conferences are EXHAUSTING if you are go-go-go the whole week.


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