In early October 2020, the Time Scavengers team created an informal survey distributed to the Geoscience/Earth Science community to gather anonymized information about their first conference experience, including how it affected them financially. This survey was posted on Twitter, Facebook, and shared into several Facebook groups. The total number of responses was 64, unless otherwise stated. This page includes the results of the survey, with additional comments from responses included throughout.
When did you attend your first conference?
Did a lack of money and/or funding prevent you from attending scientific conferences as a student (undergraduate or graduate)?
‘Almost all awards for conference travel are specific to first-time attendees but students should be going to a conference every year and often have much more trouble finding funding beyond their first conference. More conference support awards should be open to students of all levels regardless of the number of times they have attended in the past.’
For your first scientific conference, did you pay all or part of conference fees (including abstract fees) out of pocket, or was the conference fully funded?
Just over 23% of respondents paid for all conference expenses by themselves from their own money. About one third of respondents paid for some conference expenses by themselves, and 43.8% said their first conference was fully funded.
‘As an undergraduate, I don’t think I was aware that scientific conferences existed. This was also in the UK, which maybe has fewer high profile conferences than the US. I will also note that I have always assumed I was paying for conference travel out of pocket; as a PhD student, the department gave us an amount to supplement the cost but not enough to cover it (which was always a burden, since I didn’t qualify for a credit card). Since becoming faculty I have been in the fortunate position to have funds to pay for it, either from the university or my own research money. Interestingly, I was talking to a colleague about the fact the university doesn’t have the money to support conference travel this year and he basically said he had never paid out of pocket for a conference and would never go if he had to. This was such a fundamentally opposite mindset to me that I was shocked. I don’t know where the difference comes from (he’s a hydrologist about my age) but it was very instructive to me about the different attitudes people have in regard to conference expenses.’
If you were partially or fully funded, did you have to pay the fees for your first conference up front and get reimbursed later?
Over 50% of respondents indicated that they had to pay for conference costs and were later reimbursed these expenses. Only 17% of respondents said that this was not the case for their first scientific conference experience.
‘I’ve been lucky to attend institutions (as a student) with deep pockets. They have provided a decent amount of funding available to students. This is definitely NOT the norm at most places. It skews my results frankly.’
‘Somehow paying out-of-pocket for conferences was normalized by my graduate student advisor… I really wish I had known that was not OK and that I should secure funding or not go.’
Do you feel like there were/are ample funding opportunities for students to win money for conference travel?
Over half of our respondents indicated that they did not think there was nor currently is enough funding opportunities for students to attend conferences. Only 10.9% of respondents said that there is enough funding, both now and in the past.
‘First conference attendance funded through REU as an undergrad. In grad school was able to win funding to attend a conference once a year from my univ grad college. Was prevented from attending conferences more frequently b/c of lack of funding.’
‘There are opportunities for student conference funding but a lot of felt like I heard it through the grapevine (eg, volunteering at GSA, asking advisor/dept for support, regional GSA support). It would be helpful to encourage this a best practice of grad programs…to discuss funding and travel options for conferences. Also, while presenters should get financial support, equally important is attending a conference even if you aren’t presenting to learn how it all works—more opportunities for this type of support should be available to first year students.’
‘I’ve been lucky to be mostly successful in getting conference travel grants that would cover registration at least, and usually some portion of hotel or flight. I never had funding that covered meals. My lab never had any funding for conferences, so I partially funded every conference I attended as a PhD student. I’m glad there’s more funding available to students these days.’
‘As a person with privilege, my parents paid for conference travel and registration while I was in grad school and had a <20k/yr stipend. This was the case for many peers who were able to attend conferences without funding or reimbursements. For undergraduate conferences (chemistry), my college provides full funding and a per diem for all students who had abstracts accepted.’
‘There are many funding opportunities if students know where to look, so they may not always benefit the people who need them most (w.g. underrepresented groups).’
Has conference reimbursement ever hindered or negatively impacted your financial situation (e.g., through accruing interest on a credit card)?
Over 60% of respondents indicated that being reimbursed for conference fees negatively impacted them financially. Less than 25% said that the reimbursement model did not negatively impact their finances.
‘The whole reimbursement process makes large assumptions about the free cash most grads and undergrads have sitting around. It’s definitely a barrier and I have put myself into dangerously low money situations in order to attend meetings before as a grad student.’
‘Paid for conferences out of pocket for years, sometimes while literally homeless. Never a good investment in terms of networking. Still have a shallow/nonexistent network. Being female-presenting may account for professional exclusion, but hard to cope with now as an early career scientist.’
Did attending your first conference spark any collaborations or extensions of your network?
‘My first conference I worked there, so I was allowed to attend for free. I was only capable of attending due to this plus it being local. I am aware certain potential collaborators looked down on me and did not consider me due to these reasons. I also realised how poorly certain people treat “the staff” and so have avoided them since, limiting my opportunities. Second conference was virtual – this was great for allowing me to attend for free. However, I do feel I missed out on collaborations due to this.’
If you answered yes to the previous question, which role did people you met take on? (42 responses)
Most respondents said that they met a colleague at their first conference, whereas over 57% said they met their supervisor/advisor/employer. Over 38% said they met a co-author at their first conference.
‘I understand funding should be prioritized for students presenting, but even non presenting graduating seniors benefit highly from professional conferences.’