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I recently got one of my papers accepted at an international semiconductor conference. I am the solo author (no mentor, no coauthor) and am not affiliated with any school or company currently (I will start my PhD this fall). Understandably, I have no funding to attend or even register for the conference.

I really want to attend the conference as I am very proud of my work. In addition, I really want to experience first-hand if solo papers are worth it. Should I ask the conference chair to waive the registration fee? Is it worthwhile?

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    As others have said, you can always ask. What others haven't said is Congratulations! Doing all this pre-PhD is extremely impressive, and you should be very proud. || @Trunk mentions speaking with the department you'll do your PhD at. This is likely the best option. This can even be acknowledged on a slide in your talk somewhere: "to start PhD at Amazing University this Fall, thanks to them for funding my conference fees"
    – user24601
    Aug 1, 2023 at 8:55
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    This may not be allowed by the conference organizers but let's air it anyhow. Could you get a semiconductor manufacturer to sponsor your attendance if you consent to wear their logo front & back of your T-shirt ? I see a lot of attendees at software events doing just this kind of thing. In their case it's of vourse free advertising for a product they just happen to believe in, e.g. GitLab, Ubuntu, Sublime Text, CSS, SASS, Visual Studio Code, etc. Here it's a hardware thing and you are providing great exposure at a crowd of familiar consumers. In meantime make a prototype T-shirt to show them.
    – Trunk
    Aug 1, 2023 at 17:08

5 Answers 5

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You can always ask. What is the worst that can happen if you politely explain your situation and your lack of funding? They say no. It is unlikely that such a request would lead to them blacklisting you from future conferences.

So go ahead and ask but be nice and not entitled about it and be prepared for a no. Maybe they offer to switch to a poster presentation instead.

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    And how would a switch to a poster presentation help the problem of not having enough money to register and travel to the conference?
    – wimi
    Jul 31, 2023 at 6:40
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    @wimi At some conferences, poster presentations can also be without attendance.
    – Sursula
    Jul 31, 2023 at 6:43
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    You may also word your request differently depending on whether you are planning to attend the conference even without the fee waived, or whether you are considering to withdraw the paper and/or not attend the conference if you do not get a waiver. (Of course, though, stating this candidly may affect the answer you get.)
    – a3nm
    Jul 31, 2023 at 14:04
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    At some conferences, poster presentations can also be without attendance. - that still isn't really what OP wishes: I really want to attend the conference as I am very proud of my work plus I really want to experience first hand if solo papers are worth it.
    – tevemadar
    Aug 1, 2023 at 8:55
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    @tevemadar I understand that this is not what OP whishes, but without funds they might have to settle for the next best option even though that is not what they want. You can wish a lot of things, but if you lack the means or circumstances to make them happen, those wished might not come true.
    – Sursula
    Aug 1, 2023 at 9:18
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You can always ask.

If it is a large conference with other funding sources or even an endowment, they might look at this request favorably. You would be the one in a million person to have work good enough to be accepted at a prestigious conference and might deserve an exception.

If it is a small non-predatory conference, you will have some explaining to do. By submitting a paper, you agreed to play by the rules. This means paying a registration fee, showing up, and presenting your paper. A smaller IEEE conference for instance has to break at least even (after paying a fee to IEEE to guarantee the expenses of the conference). A venue needs to be rented, coffee and tea provided, publication costs met, etc. You are now telling them that you are not keeping up your part, but if they are nice and do not complain by waiving the registration fee, you will present your paper. This is just like a kid who does not have the money for the circus, but still wants to see the elephant. I am sorry if I am a bit harsh on you, but conference organization is a hard business usually done by volunteers. Not playing by the rules creates real headaches. Now, there is a good chance that this is not a real conference (because papers by people like you are usually not publishable) in which case it does not matter.

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    What does "because papers by people like you are usually not publishable" mean?
    – GoodDeeds
    Jul 31, 2023 at 11:43
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    Because it is very difficult to learn how to obtain good results and publish them in isolation. One needs to know the field rather well, since papers are expected to have a related work section. One needs to know what the questions in the field are. ... If OP has a good result publishable in a first class conference under these circumstances, then someone needs to pick OP up and make sure that OP gets the education because OP would be a rare impressive raw talent. Jul 31, 2023 at 11:51
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    "By submitting a paper, you agreed to play by the rules. This means paying a registration fee": note that, in most conferences I know, the amount of the conference fee is not at all known at the time when authors submit papers, and often the requirement to pay the fee is not even made explicit. If author now discovers that they should pay a fee which is higher than they expected, I find it understandable that they ask for a waiver and/or withdraw their paper if they cannot cover it.
    – a3nm
    Jul 31, 2023 at 14:03
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    Registration fees at honest conferences are based on the costs and are therefore somewhat predictable, especially since conferences tend to follow the same procedures. OT could be forgiven for not knowing how conferences work, but is still responsible. German law has the unsolvable "wine auction" case where someone bought a bunch of wines unknowingly. Did OT enter a contract or not? Again, if this is a small conference, OT has put the organizers in a pickle. Jul 31, 2023 at 14:18
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    Strictly speaking OP didn't say they won't go if the registration fee is not waived. They just want it to be. If the registration fee is not waived, perhaps they can still find another way to pay it, it will just be a hardship. It's not unheard of for financial aid to be available for conference-related expenses, and I don't think it's unreasonable to ask in this case. Jul 31, 2023 at 15:42
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Ask without any air of entitlement.

But have a contingency plan too. You have to suss out:

  • University department where you plan to do your PhD. I assume you discussed this paper with them at interview. Were they positive enough to think it likely they'd say yes ? If so . . .

  • Borrow from bank/credit union telling them the bald truth and undertaking to repay them according to a realistic plan of repayments from your student grant

  • Folks . . .

  • Hock some stuff you don't need

  • Sponsorship from local semiconductor company ?

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    There are also research travel grants OP might be eligible to apply for. They could (partly) cover the conference expenses. Jul 31, 2023 at 18:15
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    Yeah. This is a chance in a million for a pre-PhD student. Gotta find a way. Any way.
    – Trunk
    Jul 31, 2023 at 19:54
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Besides asking only for a discount, you could offer to help out the conference organizers in some way.

I once visited a IEEE conference in Italy for free in exchange for helping out at the conference. I worked at the registration desk, handed out conference bags. During the conference was babysitting the conference laptop, pointer and beamer in some rooms during some sessions, and was free to visit other sessions about 50% of the time. Before and after there was some carrying of stuff (poster-walls, plants flags, beamers). It was definitely worth it for me, i probably got to know more people at that conference than any other conference i visited. But i still had to pay for the travel and sleeping expenses myself.

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As others pointed out, it is OK to ask. But they draw a bleak portrait. Many conferences reserve at least a few seats for special cases where the registration fee could be waived. Generally, these are reserved for extreme cases, like disability or being affected by war. However, not having a financial source could be acceptable depending on the circumstances.

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