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I would like to attend some conferences this year, but we are running out of funding until 2015, so I need to look for other options. For instance, I organized a special session in a conference, and attained 12 speakers, so accommodation was free and also registration but not travel expenses. So my question is, if you do not have funding, which other options you know for attending conferences?

P.S. Given my position (PI of a research group), I can not ask for student travel grants, etc

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    This doesn't always work, and maybe I'm stating the obvious, but, when we've been low on travel funding, I've looked for conferences within driving distance. They're not always the most prestigious conferences, but they're better than staying at home. – J.R. Feb 2 '14 at 11:54
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    I think under a pretty standard reading of "funding", this question has no answer except "use your own money". If you can't get funding to attend the conference from your institution, from the conference itself, or from an outside grant, you have to pay for it yourself. You then have new questions about how to save money, with answers along the lines J.R. suggested (find nearby conferences, ones with low reg fees, ones in a town where you know someone and can stay with them for free, etc.). – BrenBarn Feb 3 '14 at 4:59
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    I had a friend who stayed as a Couchsurfer at conferences. I think he also hitch-hiked or cramped in a car with 5 people. – gerrit Feb 3 '14 at 9:54
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    The question Why do PhD students volunteer at conferences? should be helpful to you. In particular, my answer to that question. – scaaahu Feb 5 '14 at 11:51
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+50

If you don't have funding from your research group's resources, you obviously have to find someone else to cover the costs of your conference visits. It's not easy to achieve, but there's a number of options to pay for at least part of the costs, and if you can combine some of those, you might even be able to make this trip without stressing your own purse too much.

  • I'm not sure whether that applies to you, but in some fields, there's conferences where invited speakers get paid everything, including registration, accommodation, and travel. Usually you have to be well connected and famous to get such an invitation.
  • As you note in your question already, there may be ways to get a registration waiver and maybe even accomodation paid, for example by taking part in the conference organisation. That leaves to pay for travel, for example by the following:
  • It is usually much easier to get travel costs reimbursed when giving a seminar talk at another research institution than for a conference. If you can arrange an invitation to a research institution close to the conference location, they may be able to cover your travel costs. It would be difficult for intercontinental travel, but for national or continental trips it could be a good opportunity to get part of the costs paid.

The base line is to be creative, to use your academic network, and to try to cover different types of costs from different sources.

  • This is a very interesting point of view! I did not consider this idea, but I think this might work. Thanks for the point. – Open the way Feb 6 '14 at 12:06
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I know your question is based around the assumption that "funding cannot be found" but I write my answer as a challenge to this assumption.

Short answer: Sometimes you can go out and find funding in odd places.

Long anecdote: I was working in a research lab as an undergraduate. We had very little funds pretty much all the time being in an undergraduate-only institution (with respect to my field of study which is chemistry). We had some great work that we wanted to take to a fairly prestigious conference halfway across the country but we had no money to go. Myself and a co-worker knew how much this conference would mean to our boss so we decided to go on a crusade to find money to make this happen. We marched out of the lab with all pertinent information in hand and took it straight to the top. We literally walked into the president's office (of the Uni) and asked the secretary if we could meet with him. She was immediately concerned and amused at what we were trying to do. Of course we weren't able to see him straightaway, if at all, for our shenanigans. But she did allow us to make our case to her to see if she could help us out any.

This turned out to be a very profitable and endearing experience. She dropped some contacts in various departments and suggested we go talk to them. She even left us with some business cards to take with us. We immediately contacted every single person on her list and, much to our surprise, we received some very positive responses. I remember one office in general, "Undergraduate Enrichment", which dealt directly with the promotion and advancement of undergraduates. They were nearing the end of the fiscal year and they had money lying around in some accounts that had not been used. Well, long story short, they gave it to us. All of it. We managed to pick up a little bit here, a little bit there, through a few departments, and were able to come up with all the funds we needed. It wasn't a cakewalk though. My friend and I went as far as to appear before Student Government where we asked for funds and had to present our case to, for all intents and purposes, a group of dimwits who were not only apart of Greek life, but ran Student Government strictly around the idea of advancing Greek life (i.e. they didn't give two squats about anything we had to say) and it was one of the most painful and grueling 40 minutes of my life standing before them. We managed to squeak about $500 from them which topped us off.

Summary: My friend and I dove in feet first and asked around for money. Found the funds in some of the oddest places. We went on the trip and were able to present our research in a prestigious conference.

Don't give up my friend. Be proactive and think outside the box. You may walk away being quite surprised.

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    Wow, I'm impressed you got money out of the Greeks! Well played. My undergrad had a fund for undergrad research travel; it wasn't well publicized though and I actually got them to fund me for 3 conferences haha. It was a good gig since no one else was using the money. – cc7768 Feb 5 '14 at 22:32
  • @cc7768 Its amazing how the concept of "It doesn't hurt to just ask" really applies in this situation. I think that the display of passion and excitement really helped out. (and yeah, I swore that I would never approach 'those Greeks' after that one time. I seriously wanted to punch them all in the face.) – LordStryker Feb 5 '14 at 23:47
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I do not have ideas on how to obtain funding other than personal money. However, if using personal funds, you may have some options to decrease your overall costs.

First note that I am not a tax professional. Attending conferences is normal for this type of business. You should be able to deduct travel expenses to any conferences you attend. This includes airfare, lodging, and, depending on distance, food. Because these are expenses not reimbursed by your employer, you should be able to write them off. Consult your tax professional.

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Fundraising is an idea, organize a short event about your research with a donations stand or a low entry fee, sell T-shirts or something (make it legal though), and contact the company you'll be buying tickets from and tell them that if they give you a discount you'll promote them. Depending on how well you do it you could get enough, schools around here gather 2-3k in such events. Of course the discount part requires very good handling and a very professional look or they'll just laugh at you. Another idea is to find a more permanent sponsor, some local rich guy with a benefit from your research maybe. But you will have to stay serious at the conference, he'll keep an eye open.

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