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So I am invited as a planery speaker to a conference which will be held in another country. It is not a big conference but it is in Europe and has some European leaders with EU projects organizing.

I sort of said yes with a question about details of "logistics" hoping the other party would take it from there but they didn't. My institution literally covers nothing, there will be the flight, hotel, I should be able to cover the visa. It is very costly even then because of the currency my salary is paid in. So how do I go about this? Do I explicitly ask? I feel that they should have made this clear (even if they are unable to fund), I feel hesitant to ask but nevertheless, it seems like I should. How can I ask something like this? Any recommendations?

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    Are you evaluating yourself and your work so that the invitation sounds reasonable? If this surprises you, and without EU involvement, it is almost certainly a predatory conference. But you mentioned (unclear) EU. If the institution is involved, even as sponsor, then it is a different story. Just ask directly about reimbursement and that is. In my field an invited lecturer can be or not refunded, but I guess covering the expenses is the norm for plenary lecture speakers.
    – Alchimista
    Dec 2, 2021 at 8:35
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    It is not a predatory conference, I know the people who organize it, so no issues there. It is just a small conference. I suppose mainly through local efforts but has some EU organizers / attendees. It is the first time I am invited as a plenary speaker though so while it is not a great achievement, it is good for me.
    – dusa
    Dec 2, 2021 at 14:44
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    @dusa congratulations, I'm happy for you :)
    – Clumsy cat
    Dec 2, 2021 at 15:14
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    @Alchimista I don't think Trunk is disagreeing with you at the moment, they genuinely want clarification. Would this be a fair rewording? "Given the work you do, is this invitation to speak surprising? If it is surprising, and the EU is not funding/supporting the conference, then I think the conference is predatory. I'm not sure from your description if the EU is funding/supporting the conference. You should ask the organizers directly about reimbursement. In my field not all lecturers are reimbursed, but reimbursing plenary speakers is normal."
    – Clumsy cat
    Dec 2, 2021 at 16:35
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    Slightly off topic, but in the current state of the world, why on Earth are people holding in-person conferences?
    – jamesqf
    Dec 3, 2021 at 3:14

4 Answers 4

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So I agree with the other answers, that you are not expected to cover your own expenses. I would actually include the visa in that, it's no less a work related cost. And yes, you should tell the organiser that your institution will not cover this and ask if they will, but if they won't I think you can counter with an offer to present over video.

It's not uncommon for plenary speakers to present over video, even when funds would be available to fly them there in person. I've seen this at a few conferences pre-pandemic too. You are probably quite busy after all, and it's much less time consuming to present over video. Offering to present over video makes it clear you are not snubbing them, you really would like to share your work, you just don't have funds available to get there in person.

You could phrase it like;

Dear "Name",

I'm looking forward to presenting at "conference name", many thanks for organizing this.

Looking at the logistics, is there funding available to cover my travel expenses? These would be for the flights, accommodation and visa. I estimate about (£XXX). Unfortunately my institution cannot cover this at present.

If not, I'd still really like to participate, could I join you over video link?

Thanks again, "dusa"

If they tell you that there is no funding available, or ask you to put in an application for something yourself, then there is a non-zero chance that they are predatory. You probably want to check. It's also possible that they are just a poorly organised student conference too, those certainly exist, so it's not a write-off. You might still want to offer a video presentation.

Best of luck.

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    The main issue I see is that we really don't know what "plenary speaker" means for this specific conference - this could be anything from "opening keynote speaker" over "a participant in one of 15 roundtable discussions" to "a speaker in a session". For some of these it would indeed be usual to cover expenses or even pay a small speaker fee, for others it would be rather unusual. Of course this does not actually change the answer - if OP has no funding to go and the conference won't pay, they should cancel.
    – xLeitix
    Dec 2, 2021 at 15:57
  • @xLeitix sorry, I'm missing something that may be discipline specific, why do you suggest canceling rather than video link?
    – Clumsy cat
    Dec 2, 2021 at 16:06
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    @xLeitix a plenary talk is defined as a talk that is attended by the entire conference. So “plenary speaker” could not mean “a speaker in a session”.
    – Dan Romik
    Dec 2, 2021 at 16:20
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    @DanRomik It can, if it’s a single track conference (like many smaller conferences in my field).
    – xLeitix
    Dec 2, 2021 at 17:57
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    @xLeitix well, speaking of “a session” suggests more than one session going on in parallel, so I respectfully disagree.
    – Dan Romik
    Dec 2, 2021 at 18:05
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You should ask. And, if you aren't already certain, make sure that it isn't a predatory conference. If they don't cover the costs, then I'd politely decline. They invited you, after all.

Give them a firm estimate of costs. Don't be shy about this.

Note that, generally speaking, it is only superstars that get invited for such things at reputable conferences. And usually that is because they are mutual acquaintances with someone on the program committee. Unless you have just recently published a major result in your field, this seems fishy.

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    Also one might ask oneself 'would I have gone/(wished to have gone) to that conference if they didn't invite me?' if no, then don't go unless it compensates you nicely.
    – lalala
    Dec 2, 2021 at 6:50
  • Thanks, something to consider. I honestly wouldn't (travel/time/spending wise) but it is the first time I am invited as a plenary speaker :)
    – dusa
    Dec 2, 2021 at 14:46
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    it is only superstars that get invited for such things at reputable conferences - it does not have to be "reputable", maybe only "average". I am not a superstar and have been invited many times to speak (plenary or keynote) at mid-size conferences (hundreds to ~1500 attendees) with all costs covered.
    – WoJ
    Dec 3, 2021 at 21:06
  • @WoJ, perhaps you are a superstar in a very narrow field. Someone thinks you have a lot to say that is important to hear.
    – Buffy
    Dec 3, 2021 at 21:10
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This sounds like a scam, or possibly a legitimate but low quality conference whose organizers are taking some creative license with their use of the term “plenary speaker” (and probably with other things). So, start by lowering your expectations. Once you’ve done that, the way to proceed is by explaining to the organizers that you will only accept the invitation if your travel expenses are paid and asking them in clear language what they are offering. For example,

Dear [organizer],

To clarify what I said in my earlier email, since I currently don’t have funds available for travel, I can only accept your invitation if you can pay my travel expenses. Please let me know if you are offering to cover my expenses and what reimbursement arrangements you had in mind.

Regards,

dusa

If they cannot pay your expenses, well, it’s your decision what to do, but unless you are a wealthy philanthropist who wishes to sponsor academic conferences, I’d advise against paying for the travel out of your own pocket.

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Don’t rule out ignorance

I am aware of a number people who have won major prizes in my field who were expected to fund not only the costs of attending the conference but also pay the non-trivial registration fee. In one case the prize winner wrote explaining a shortage of funds was a problem and money was found.

I think it sometimes does not occur to those with ample funding that it might be a problem. But, sometimes even distinguished colleagues are subject to University expenditure freezes, etc. I would write and ask as the others suggest, and if you know the people involved I wouldn’t presume it’s a scam.

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    Ignorance, yes, as well as incompetence/insouciance. It happens that one is personally invited by the big cheese in charge who of course forgets to inform the conference administrators that X is attending on their behest, and who will proceed to treat you like dirt. Academia!
    – Deipatrous
    Dec 3, 2021 at 7:45

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