• Conferences and Professionalization


Conferences
  • Print cheap business cards at home instead of the high priced uni ones, unless those are free. Online companies like moo cards (Vistaprint) make really cool looking cards for relatively less than a local print shop. Try to get a discount code too. Office Depot will print cards and mail them to your house and they have deals sometimes. Ask the department chair, the administrative assistant, the program coordinator, or students ahead of you in the program whether the program will purchase business cards for you, even if you weren’t offered any.
  • Careful with this. The point of a business card isn’t just to give someone your information (everyone is google-able now). It’s to present a professional face and to communicate your university affiliation. If you cheap, or go too creative, you might not be taken seriously. If you do print your own, make sure it’s branded properly.
  • Consider whether cards are even necessary. Search and reach out to conference folks on Google, Twitter, Facebook etc. while the conference is happening. It’s free and less likely to get lost like a business card.
Funding:
  • Find out what your university will and won’t pay for in advance. With some prompting, they can often be convinced to pay upfront for flights and hotels with departmental funds, rather than expecting you to pay out a couple of thousand
  • dollars out of your own pocket which they get around to repaying a couple of months later.
  • Ask about specifics: Is there travel funding? Is it only if you present original research? In a competitive presentation? Is there a specific amount allocated each semester, year, or over the course of your time in the program? Can it apply to things besides conferences, like research trips or seminars? Do they cover travel, registration, materials, lodging, and/or per diem (meals)?
  • Just because the university says there is funding, doesn't mean you will get it. Some better than others. Students further along are a great help with finding out odds. Find out the timeline too
  • At my university, you could request a travel advance for up to $350, which made a HUGE difference in being able to pay bills instead of waiting for full costs to be reimbursed. I wouldn't have known this was even a thing unless a student a few years ahead of me (who knew I was living check to check) hasn't mentioned it to me.
  • If you’re funded through a grant make sure your Primary Investigator or faculty advisor knows that you’re going. There are budgeted travel funds that can usually be tapped into.
  • Tip: Sometimes there is no funding available in advance. But, at the end of the fiscal year (end of spring semester), there may be money left in the budget that needs to be spent. If you were denied funding in advance, they may at this point be willing to use remaining funds to reimburse you. So save your receipts! Even if you can’t use them for your department, you may be able to use them on your taxes.
  • Apply for travel funding. Ask about travel opportunities, some conferences/professional org’s also have travel grants to apply for.
  • Travel grants can be found at the departmental and college level… but can also frequently be found in your relevant disciplinary organization. These funds can be both from the organization itself and from specific divisions or interest groups within the organization. Often travel funds are earmarked exclusively for graduate students. Check all sources, and apply to as many as you can.
  • The Student Government Association and/or Graduate Student Association often has funds available for student conference travel, so definitely check in with these organizations as well. At our university this is coordinated under the Campus Affairs Program, a division of Student Affairs, and there is actually money available through them as well, although they usually just direct you to the SGA/GSA.
  • Check out other tangential organizations as well- feminist research institutes, medieval student society, they may have separately awarded and advertised help. This includes archives and research centers -- many of them have travel grants for researchers and especially graduate students.
  • If a conference is farther away of above the "limit" of opwhat your lab/department has funding for, sometimes t kohere are additional funds you can use. Some national organizations do travel awards.
  • Check the funding procedures carefully 1-2 weeks before travel, especially for a university award—you may need to get a travel authorization form signed.
  • Keep all of your receipts! And separate food from any alcohol purchases. Many restaurants will do this for you, but often you can do it yourself on a receipt. Just deduct the alcohol costs and adjust the tax.
  • Don’t let the fear of being unable to afford a conference keep you from applying. You can’t get funding if you don’t get accepted!
  • Consider asking family members to donate to a conference fund via deposit into a bank or Paypal account, rather than purchasing gifts for holidays, birthdays, and etc. If you start this fund 1-2 years before entering your PhD program, it could help substantially. Also, try the 52-week savings trick; if you can do it, you’ll have saved enough for 1-2 conferences in relatively pain-free fashion: __http://www.bankrate.com/finance/savings/take-52-week-money-challenge-1.aspx__
  • You can also designate all or part of your tax return to a conference fund, if you don’t absolutely need the funds to cover living expenses.
  • Don’t be ashamed to ask other conference-goers about possible room shares - even fully-fledged but underfunded professors do this to save valuable research funding! Avoid conference hotels and opt for cheaper options such as AirBnB or even Youth Hostels. You may miss out on breakfast networking, but you’ll have some extra funds left over for cocktail and dinner networking!
    • Caution: know the policies of your university! Mine cannot reimburse AirBNB or anything not booked through an in-house travel agent site.
    • Along that first caution, you MUST have a hotel folio to be reimbursed for hotel stays, so if you book through a site like Expedia.com or similar and book the plane+hotel option and pay for it all up front that way, you still have to get a hotel folio from the front desk when you check out (just ask them for one and they will happily give it to you.)
  • Yes - I've also have to fill out a travel assistance form in advance to be reimbursed after from some funding sources.
  • or couchsurfing, which is FREE and I did a lot of when I went to conferences. I agree with Neil though about making sure that if you are getting reimbursed, go through the appropriate channels. If you have no money in your budget though, it's an option.
  • Social media (if you feel safe) is good for this too- meeting Twitter friends in real life and sharing, so too if a lot of grad students from your program are attending take the initiative to ask about shares.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask local grad students - or faculty - to put you up, then return the favor when they come to an event near you. Hear hear!
  • Bring food with you - peanut butter and a loaf of bread - to save on the costs of eating out for 3+ days. If you can’t get to a store, bring a bunch of granola bars with you. Check out the conference location on Google Maps and see if there are groceries nearby. Sometimes conference hotels are chosen more for senior faculty with families who can afford the ridiculous hotel food prices. But remember that peanut butter isn’t allowed on carry-ons in airports! A few years after heightened security measures were put in place, I had big jars of peanut butter and jelly in my carry-on, and that kept me in a screened-off back corner of LAX security where they picked through my luggage and hair with a fine-toothed comb for almost an hour. My labmates and I almost missed the plane, for that mistake!
    • Speaking of food...many universities use a straight up-and-down per diem, with the cost of meals factored in. Find out what the rate is before going - this can be a way to make up for other costs that aren’t covered.
    • Also - if staying at a hotel, the concierge can give great suggestions for places to eat on a budget. If you’re up front and say you’re a student on a tight budget, they can send you to awesome food that won’t break the bank while providing a nice treat.
    • Find out which events at the conference (if any) include food...
  • If you make connections with academics in your city or region, don’t be shy about asking if they’d like a guest lecturer, or even to organize a small event with a few speakers. Instructors generally love to bring a fresh perspective into the classroom, and they can sometimes offer small honorariums, too. It’s low hanging fruit, from a professionalization standpoint, and it’s great practice for the classroom and for job talks.
  • Keep your eye open for national and regional conferences that will be held near you. Most make conferences plan at least a few years in advance so you can have in mind present at those that are closer.
    • Smaller regional conferences can be a great way to build your network while staying within driving/training distance.
  • Question whether you need to stay at the conference hotel. These are often expensive, even with the conference ‘discount.’ You can find much cheaper alternative, often with truly free wifi, breakfast, etc. within walking distance. BUT, it’s true that much of the real networking at a conference happens in the hallways, bars, and common spaces of the conference, not the panels. If you don’t stay at the conference hotel, think about how you can still spend time there to network.
  • Invisible costs of conferences/networking
    • Restaurant bills
    • Tipping hotel staff
    • Flight delays/weather delays
    • Gas (if you drive)

Professional Clothes
  • Buy nice formal clothes. Yes, you can afford them. I bought a cheap suit at ross for $100 and had it tailored for less than $50. TJ Maxx, Marshall’s, etc. are great, especially if you snag something on clearance.
  • Dillards Outlets are a great place to find name brand professional wear at Walmart prices, if you have one near you. They often have sales with deep discounts. They sell shoes too. Complete list available here.
  • Note that this is actually much harder for fat women then thin women--- if you're a fat woman- check online resale sites-- you might do better there.
  • Check on thrift store websites for new/ like new clothes from really great brands: therealreal.com has designer suits for as low as $85 (new), thredup.com has great buys for really, really cheap. And mostly new.
  • Thrifting in person can be time-consuming but can also be great:
  • It’s an opportunity to try on a lot of different brands all in one place and figure out what stores are most likely to work for your body
  • Read the fabric tags on (parts of) suits. They’ll often have a fabric code or season which will let you match things up. I found the matching blazer to a pair of suit pants I had already thrifted = $400 suit for <$15.
  • Also check the care instructions on the tags. You may want to avoid dry-clean only clothes since that is another cost that can add up. You want to properly care for your nicer clothes in order to extend the life.
  • Also, check the places you can’t quite afford but know are good brands for people in your field. Go to the store, try on stuff and figure out your size and what cuts you like. Don’t buy anything. Then, watch for clearance events, look for used items on resale sites like eBay and ThredUP, etc. If you’re buying a black suit at Talbot’s, nobody is really going to know if it’s from this year or two years ago.
  • Don’t hesitate to create a junk email and sign up for all the sale ads/newsletters/etc from high-brow stores. Check for annual 40%-50% off sales and then go into the clearance section. Do clothing swaps with friends and/or don’t hesitate to borrow clothes if need be.
  • Check the local fashion culture. Different departments have different expectations (for example, in my English transition course, we were told we needed to look “different” or “interesting” on the job market, and in general, women put a premium on unique fashion in my department.) You don’t have to buy in, but just be prepared to change your self-presentation a bit, especially if you are coming straight from undergrad and don’t have a professional wardrobe yet. Women-identified individuals, you can never go wrong with a collection of fancy-looking scarves. They spruce up the most boring, cheap t-shirt.
  • Know that, depending on your background, you may need to go more formal on a regular basis than others (with more privilege) to be taken seriously.
  • Yet in many disciplines (especially STEM) the opposite is true. The more one “dresses up” the less skilled they appear and the harder it is to take them seriously.
  • *This is so important, especially for those of us not from academic families or upper class backgrounds. Ask for money. Every time you have a conference, or research project, or seminar ask for supporting funds. There are often pools of funds officially announced for these needs, but also administrators have money at their disposal they can provide. But you won’t get any if you don’t ask. Do not wait for permission or invitation to ask.