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For faculty lack of funding, how to find conferences that allow people to sit in without paying? For those that don't allow officially, will they check attendees' badge?

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    In many cases, I'd think a better approach would be to write to the conference organizers, explain your circumstances, and ask nicely for a waiver of the registration fee. – Nate Eldredge Aug 4 at 3:41
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    Impossible to estimate overall. But especially for a conference that isn't huge and whose organization is relatively informal: if (1) you are someone who would benefit from attending, and whose presence would improve the conference; and (2) you can explain why the fee is significantly more of a hardship for you than for the average attendee; then I would think that organizers would tend to consider your request favorably. – Nate Eldredge Aug 4 at 3:49
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    Never seen a conference with « registration fee is xxx, but free to anyone... » – Solar Mike Aug 4 at 5:24
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    At most conferences one will easily enter the room where the talks of interest are given. I've seen a "steward-esses service at gate" just in few congress, and by the way it wasn't rigorous. But the status of intruder may be beneficial for a young person, only. It borders issues as respect and etiquette. Definitively contact the organisers as for the comments above. – Alchimista Aug 4 at 8:00
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    It’s very field-dependent. In applied math, I’ve never been to a conference where I needed to wear my badge to get in. But at big engineering conferences there is serious security and they’re quite vigilant. – David Ketcheson Aug 27 at 13:49
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+50

I can't answer how to find conferences as this will depend heavily on the field (or even subfield) that you are in. However, in many fields there are websites/mailing-lists where conferences are announced.

As for finding conferences that will allow you to attend for free. Your starting point will always be the conference announcements. There are several options:

  • Some conferences/meetings will not charge registration fees at all. These are usually smaller meetings (< 100 attendees).

  • Some conference organisers may be willing the waive a fee if you ask nicely. (You are asking for a favor, so be nice!). Some points to consider if doing this.

    • Smaller conferences are more likely to waive your fee. For big conferences, (part of) the organisation is often out sourced to a commercial company, making a waived fee less likely.
    • For the same reason, look for conferences that are hosted by a university or research center, rather than at a commercial conference venue. (Again organisers are then more likely to have the flexibility to waive a fee.)
    • Conferences organisers are significantly more likely to waive a fee if they feel your presence will be an enhancement to the meeting. It helps, for example, if they have heard of your work before and it fits with the goals of the meeting. So look for conferences organised by people that you have interacted with scientifically. At the very least, have a plausible reason for wanting to attend this particular conference.
    • Look for conferences that are somewhat local. Flying half-way across the globe for a conference does not lend your appeal for a waived fee much credence. In particular, avoid conference that would require you apply for a travel visa. (There are just too many people for Visa invitation letters for conferences.)
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I have to say that I can't remember ever having my badge checked at any conference. In fact, by the second day, i've often lost my badge. What does sometimes happen is having your badge checked to get onto the campus in the first place. Also, people often have greeters at the door during registration.

I've "sat in" on plenty conferences before when they have been happening on my campus anyway. I'm not sure I'd risk travelling to one on that basis though.

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It depends on the conference. In recent years, the College Art Association, an annual conference for art historians and artists, has instituted a "Pay-What-You-Wish" option. This was instituted after many adjuncts, students, and others expressed their inability to pay fees to attend an integral conference in their field. I mention this in case you are a member of an organization that holds conferences. As a member, you may be able to make your voice heard through elections and other ways that can foster a greater awareness of the high costs of attending conferences for underfunded faculty members. Hope this helps.

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    Sounds like a great option Parever. Might be possible for OP to slant their work or presentations to such forums if cost is an issue. – Poidah Aug 25 at 22:32
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There are a lot of reasons why conferences generally don't allow people to just wander in to sessions without notice or registration. They need some way to assure that the venue will be safe for attendees and an open door policy doesn't permit that. There are liability issues, I assume.

If you just try it, you may get by for a while, but will probably be "caught" and escorted out, probably by police, in the US, anyway.

But there is a "low cost option" for students at all levels. Most ACM conferences, and possibly many others, depend on student volunteers to do some of the work of running the conference, including checking badges at the doors to sessions - both large ones and small.

Here is an example: https://recsys.acm.org/recsys19/volunteers/

You can look for similar things at other conferences, or just search. This was turned up by googling "Student volunteers at ACM conferences".

Note, however, that travel and lodging are not covered. Many volunteers are from local universities, making it moot, and some students who need to travel share rooming and even car travel. Some conferences arrange sharing of hotel rooms (evidence is from other questions on this site).

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    "assure that the venue will be safe for attendees and an open door policy doesn't permit that" - at least in applied CS, I have yet to see a conference whose entrance controls would be in any way strict enough to protect against an actual security risk. In the rare cases where the welcome desk is actually on the way to the conference rooms (often not the case, e.g. in open compounds such as on university campuses with sessions spread across several buildings, or in conference hotels/centres where the welcome deso may be hidden away in a separate room) and permanently crewed after, say, ... – O. R. Mapper Aug 4 at 13:59
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    ... the first regular conference day, it always seemed like it would be easy to mingle with the crowd flowing in, without the absence of a badge really sticking out. (Also, I'm not convinced I should actually feel any safer if an event only allows registered people in, if anyone can register on site at any time if they can pay the fee.) – O. R. Mapper Aug 4 at 14:02
  • @O.R.Mapper, my experience is that student volunteers monitor the doors of meeting rooms, checking badges. It isn't as strict as, for example, entrance to a sports arena, of course. But you will stand out, both to the volunteers and to other attendees, if you don't have a badge. And "open door" is a bit different from "not so strict". – Buffy Aug 4 at 14:07
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Association conferences sometimes have scholarships or low cost opens as others have mentioned. Also, there may be sponsoring organisations for the conference that you might be able to approach. Otherwise, sometimes offering to volunteer or help organize is an option as well.

"Sitting in" is very against the culture and intention of the conference. Conferences though expensive are usually run as a lost. Venue hire, staff, etc are all very expensive and basically that is what all the money goes to. Most of the presenters are likely to self-fund their travel except the famous keynotes, etc.

  • for faculty to volunteer, is that weird? helping organize sounds good, but can one just email the organizers saying that they want to help organize and get the fee waived? – feynman Aug 26 at 8:47
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    Totally reasonable. Emailing organizers. – Poidah Aug 26 at 8:49
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Conferences might give a discount for people from developing countries, for students, and for people who are early in their career. Otherwise discounts are not given. Even attendees who are invited to receive a cash award usually do not get free admission.

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    Not to forget: volunteer! Volunteers may be permitted to sit in a number of selected sessions or days. – Captain Emacs Aug 4 at 11:13
  • The only place I have seen volunteering as an option is AAAS, which is not a scientific conference. – Anonymous Physicist Aug 4 at 12:25
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    Volunteering is a common practice in AI/ML conferences – Spark Aug 4 at 12:42
  • Volunteering is a common practice at a lot of IEEE conferences. – Anton Menshov Aug 4 at 22:11
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    is volunteering an option for faculty? – feynman Aug 5 at 11:07
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I would advise against crashing sessions. In my field (CS/ML/AI) organizers may be sticky about registration. I suppose that you can just try and wander in and sit down at sessions. However, you may well be asked by the organizing staff to leave if you don’t have a badge. Since the objective of attending a conference is to a great extent mingling and networking, getting thrown out will have the opposite effect.

If you have a paper/workshop paper (the latter is much easier to get accepted), then you can talk with organizers about the option of a discount which they may give depending on your circumstances. If you’re willing to volunteer they may offer a discount for example.

As an aside, conference fees seem to be rising dramatically over the years, which I think is a serious issue.

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I’ve never seen an official list of such conferences: who would register if it were advertised you can go for free? In addition going to a conference for the actual talks kinda misses the point: a conference is not an obligation to go to every talk, but an occasion to meet people so short of avoiding contact, the first thing people will ask is who are you, your affiliation etc and will rapidly discover you are not registered.

It is not pleasant as an organizer to see people crashing the conference: there is a real cost to organizing an event and common courtesy would be to ask the organizers for a discount or a free registration: the worse possible scenario for you is to travel somewhere and be blacklisted from the event after getting there and arranging accommodation.

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    "the first thing people will ask is who are you, your affiliation etc and will rapidly discover you are not registered" - how is that supposed to happen? On the (very!) few occasions where I, being an attendee myself, was given a full list of attendees at all, I certainly had better uses for my time than checking whether everyone I had talked to is on the list (and I would probably have assumed omissions in the list to be errors in there rather than "stowaway attendees", anyway). – O. R. Mapper Aug 4 at 15:13
  • @O.R.Mapper That's supposed to happen when you meet someone you've never met... as in "Hello my name is xxx, and I'm from yyy." – ZeroTheHero Aug 4 at 16:08
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    @O.R.Mapper That is why conferences give out name tags, which tell everyone your name, your affiliation, and the fact that you are registered. – JeffE Aug 4 at 16:49
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    But would you be "blacklisted" or just told you need to go downstairs and register? One could always claim they intend to register, but were running late and really wanted to catch this talk already underway. – A Simple Algorithm Aug 5 at 3:26
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    @JeffE: I do not deny the access control mechanism you outline works. It's just my observation that it often just isn't done that way. I have been to various conferences where conference helpers were scarce enough so several rooms had to share a single helper (who was usually busy getting the projectors to work with attendees' devices). And I have attended conferences where I had tucked away my name tag in my front pocket most of the time and have never been asked to show it. Also, a conference hotel is only a thing if the conference does take place in a hotel, and these often seem to be ... – O. R. Mapper Aug 5 at 5:21

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