Thursday, April 12, 2012

Conferencing on a budget

There is something amazing about conversations with others in your discipline. I love April, though it is often the busiest month of the entire year for me, it is the time when I can connect with others on similar lines of research at conferences. There is an energy of renewal around conferences that I love to see. Wearied professors mix with energetic professors, meet with sponsors at booths touting new products, reflect as they chat with former colleagues and siphon a bit of the graduate student energy. I always leave every conference with a huge list of things to do. This list is not draining, it is not intimidating, it is exciting, engaging, and promising. Research ideas, teaching approaches, new techniques to old problems...I use the lists all year long to push my research line and my pedagogy.

Conference attendance is a valued part of my tenure packet. I can see the tangible products from every conference I attend and note the many resulting webs of research that have spun right off of an idea sparked at a conference.

Plan time in your busy semester to embrace a conference in your discipline. This can be a struggle for many of us. Don't cut out that conference just yet. Conference on a budget!
  •  Skim over your options. Consider locations closest or cheapest to you by planning a year or two ahead of time and work to be frugal during the conference if you cannot be reimbursed by your institution. Most organizations have a list of locations for the upcoming years on their web sites. Explore these so you can be prepared to maximize the money you spend. Regional conferences offer a lot of resources and are generally much lower in cost than those national conferences.
  • Pack oatmeal, granola bars, dried fruits, soups, etc. that can be eaten in the room with just hot water or as snacks during a long day of panels. Yes, it may feel like you are back in graduate school, but you are at the conference for the panels and people not the food! Being frugal with breakfast alone can save you a hundred dollars during conference week and you can then use your dinners to connect with friends and dine out. 
  • Hit the store when you arrive. Scout out the closest grocery, market, or drug store. Avoid vending machines. Buy your favorite soda or bottled water at the store to save a ton of money. It is easy to use (the app on the iPad is great) and type in grocery as soon as you hit the hotel.
  • Ask your institution's faculty development committee (or your equivalent), your Center for Excellence in Teaching (CETL), or Lyceum committee (or equivalent) if they will pay airfare or lodging. Even if they cannot cover per diem, they may be able to share some of your costs if you offer to talk to the campus about what you learned or host a faculty development session to share some ideas. It never hurts to ask and often junior faculty are unaware of such resources.
  • Go to the heavy hitter on your campus--whoever grabs the most grants and travels the most. Ask them how they started out and if they know of resources. You will likely gain points for your ambition and make a great campus contact even if you come out without any funds. 
  • Be aware of the conference extras. Registration, membership, and journals can add up quickly-so can parking costs and internet access! Plan ahead...FAR ahead. Each year we sit down and explore our options based on conference location, costs, and "need." Need is determined by the level of importance the conference has in terms of tenure, networking, and renewal of energy. To offset some costs, always try to pre-register and stick with the necessities for membership. Ask for the conference discount for parking and explore the hotel chain's "member rewards" programs to shoot for free internet access during your stay.
  • Buddy up! Other junior faculty are likely in the same situation. Consider partnering up and sharing resources. You may not want to share a room, but it can be a huge cost saving option in more expensive cities. Additionally, you can see what journals a colleague checks off for membership and check different options to swap later.
  • Re-evaluate. After you conference, tally up your expenses so you can make an informed decision about that same conference next year. Was it worth it? Does the energy you gain (or ideas, or networking, etc.) work as a sufficient reward for your efforts and costs?
The energy and information gained at a conference ARE priceless,  but in today's economy we have to build our tenure dossiers carefully. With a little planning and effort, you can grow your dossier without breaking the bank.

Happy conference season!

Previous discussions of conference season:
"That Conference Energy" - March 24, 2011
"Conference Season Begins" - April 4, 2010

You can "like" Communication and Higher Education Blog on Facebook:

No comments:

Post a Comment