Conferences on a budget

Your abstract has finally been accepted for that conference you have been oogling since your masters degree but, conference budget has already been spent elsewhere… Do not despair, there still might be ways to attend.

Between my masters and PhD I’ve been to quite a few conferences with very little funding and, even now, I’m stingy careful with money, as I like making the most out of the budget I have and attending more events rather than splashing out on a conference or two. Here’s what worked me…

Alternative funding

First of all, have you looked for sources of funding beyond the usual? There might be a pot of funding within your department or faculty, it doesn’t hurt (or cost) to ask, so do not hesitate to send some emails and chat with colleagues in senior years. With annual or biennial events organised by academic associations, there might be grants available for first-time speakers or students with no or little support from other sources (bear in mind though that these might have earlier deadline. Another option might be to get in touch with the organisation committee and volunteer to help with on-site arrangements or similar, in exchange for a fee waiver.

Finally, it is worth looking into alternative funding sources like charities or learned societies. Their grants and awards are smaller and therefore perfect for this purpose, but do check if conferences’ costs are eligible (check out this post for more information on alternative funding).

Image credits: Kurtis Garbutt/CC BY 2.0

Travel and accommodation

When it comes to travelling, booking early can make all the difference. Changing between trains and coaches isn’t exactly delightful but it might save you some money (source: Megabus survivor).

Conference organisers always suggest places to stay in the vicinity of the venue, but I often find these too expensive, even when I’m not on the budget. I prefer to find my own accommodation and try to balance the costs of lodging with local travel costs. AirBnB is my best friend, but I am no stranger to youth hostels or couchsurfing. If you did secure some funding, make sure you’ll be able to have all the costs reimbursed (sometimes AirBnB isn’t eligible) and, needless to say, be safe.

Some conferences set up groups on social media to engage with participants and you might use these to buddy-up with others and see if you can share some of the costs. Great way to meet new collaborators and friends, too.

Conference networking other costs

But won’t I be isolated from other academics if I’m not staying at the same hotel? Only if you choose to. There will still be plenty of opportunities to meet other participants during coffee breaks and lunch time. If you’re in a dilemma about attending the conference dinner, I’d say it makes sense to go for that one and think of alternative options on other days (hello, supermarket!). If you’d like to/plan to meet colleagues to discuss a new project or similar, meeting over coffee or drinks is more budget-friendly than inviting them for a dinner.

What you wear to a conference does matter, but you can look presentable without breaking the bank. Ebay, local charity shops or a same-size friend might be of help. If you’re unsure of the conference etiquette and vibe, look for photos from previous years to get a general idea of what’s suitable.

Finally, have fun! Fretting about the money you’re spending and walking around with a frown will not only spoil the conference experience for you, but for those around you as well. Money sent doing something you enjoy is never wasted (but remember to keep your receipts!).

Do you have tips on conferencing on small budget? Share them in comments section! 🙂

Ana Kedveš (@anakedves)

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