For background, I am a mathematics graduate student.

Now, it happens once in a while that I find an interesting conference/workshop which I would be happy to attend, but which I'm not sure about (for reasons which might appear later on, such as not enough funding, finding a better conference etc.).

Suppose that in case of acceptance, the organizers offer some travel/accommodation funding, and that enrollment closes a relatively long while before the conference takes place. Also, suppose that I am not offering to give a talk.

Is it inappropriate to enroll with the knowledge that there is a relatively big chance I won't be able to participate, and retract my enrollment after being accepted if I realize that I indeed can't go?

Does the answer change if I enroll at several conferences "just in case" and then go to one of them if I'm offered enough funding to cover my expenses?

Is there a point after which cancelling my participation is considered rude? What is the polite way to do it? Is it common, in your experience, that (student) participants cancel their participation after having been accepted?


  • 1
    Could you clarify why you would need to register for several conferences just in case? Are you hoping to get funding to go to all of them? Apr 18, 2015 at 22:23
  • @JeromyAnglim There might be several relevant conferences which I would like to attend (in the same summer, let's say), but due to limited time and resources I'd have to pick one. Funding plays a big role in whether I go to a certain conference, and the application period is often pretty much the same for most conferences, which means I can't wait for an answer from one conference before applying to another.
    – Pandora
    Apr 19, 2015 at 17:32

2 Answers 2


The negative effect is that it may be difficult for the organizers to re-allocate the partial funding they'd allocated to you, so someone else missed the chance for funding to attend.

On the other hand, "the system" is not really actively worrying about your larger welfare, nor about the welfare of whoever missed funding due to your change-of-heart, and "the system" will not be "harmed" by your withdrawal. The organizers will scarcely notice whether you were there or not, funded or not. It's small potatoes.

Between those two extremes, granting that you yourself do have to reasonably play the odds for funded attendance at conferences, you should aim to be "a good sport", not inducing commitment of far more resources than you'd possibly use, thus, freezing them and denying use to others. But don't be exaggeratedly altruistic toward "the system", since the relationship is very unsymmetrical, not in your favor.


If you submit a paper, it gets accepted for presentation, and then you decide not to go, that is a negative sign about you. The organizers will have to change the program. This is regardless of funding.

If you are just going to listen to talks, then without funding, it may be a small negative signal or neutral. Depends on how the number of participants affects the organizing decisions. For a big conference, one person more or less does not matter. For a small workshop, the room size, catering etc may be affected.

With funding, the organizers have to reallocate funding if you decide not to go. Again a negative signal.

General point: how much extra hassle are you causing others = size of negative signal about you.

  • I realize that causing a hassle is not appreciated by people in general, the question is more about how common this sort of situation is, and whether organizers are used and ready for such problems, or whether attendees are expected not to do that except in extreme cases.
    – Pandora
    Apr 19, 2015 at 17:23
  • In large conferences, it seems 1-5% cancel, just from my vague memory of the alterations to conference programs I have seen. The organizers probably have seen it before, but that does not mean they like it. Apr 20, 2015 at 3:39

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