Paying for academic conferences – a graduate student’s conundrum

Academic conferences are a great way to showcase your research and network outside your institution. However, paying for academic conferences during one’s graduate school is a tricky and painful process. I have had numerous conversations with fellow graduate students who would always ask me how they can pay exorbitant conference fees.

Imagine paying $400+ for a VIRTUAL conference. Academic conferences should really consider lowering their fee structure for graduate students and early career professionals. End of that rant for now!

I have one soft rule – I never pay for conference registration, travel and hotel expenses out of my pocket. I am a grad student and I do not have $1500+ (pre-COVID) or $400+ (COVID) to splurge for a two-day festivity. That being said, if I feel XYZ conference is very important for my career or I have a podium presentation, it is then I consider breaking my rule.

This blog post is just a small way of channelizing a graduate student’s energy to seek out the right resources to pay for their academic conferences:

1. Department travel award

Ask your student services coordinator/administrator if they know how you could apply to any awards. I recently applied for a virtual conference award and got one from my department (Health Policy and Management).

2. Advisor

Don’t be afraid of asking. On the flip side, they may tell you that they do not have funds. That is okay. At least you tried.

3. Graduate student organization travel award

Graduate student organization travel award, school travel award, university travel award – go to their respective websites and check for a section on conference presentation/travel awards.

4. School travel award

My PhD program is housed in the School of Public Health, which has its own travel award system. Check with your school.

5. University travel award

COVID-19 update** Many universities have declined travel awards. You can always contact them asking about awards for virtual conferences. I hope universities have started updating their websites to include the new normal!

6. Principal Investigator

Depends on your grant and fund availability. Ask away!

7. Conference website

Recently, on my Instagram post, one of my followers commented that there are conferences, which offer scholarships/travel awards. So, don’t forget to check the conference website and/or contact administrators.

Lot of times it would feel awkward to ask for conference funds. But then it always comes to the fact that it is for your professional development. Graduate schools have an obligation to support us during our grad journey. There should be no awkwardness in asking for support to make most of your graduate school life!

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of employer. When the author says travel awards in this pandemic, it means awards to fund your academic conference.


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