I'm planning to attend a prestigious conference in computer science. The registration fees are very high (~150$ per day). I'm presenting as well, but on a co-located event directly after the main conference.

I don't know whether my university will fund my registration fee for the whole conference. They will most certainly fund the fee for the little event where I'm presenting. In case they don't fund the whole conference, is it acceptable to show up to the conference without being registered? (Of course, I wouldn't have the conference meals with the other participants on the days I'm not registered.)

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    "The registration fees are very high (~150$ per day)." - comparing among the CS conferences I have attended, that is not "very high". Aug 17, 2016 at 20:52
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    Perhaps you could volunteer at this conference for free admission?
    – jmite
    Aug 17, 2016 at 21:22
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    @jmite The asker wishes to attend the talks, not sit all day at the registration desk. Aug 18, 2016 at 8:41
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    @David At conferences where I had a "volunteer" job, none of the volunteer duties took all day, and the students got to choose which task and shift they wanted so that they could attend the talks they were interested in. (The last time I did this, my volunteer job was to take minutes in the SIG business meeting at the conference, which took place after all of the sessions had concluded for the day.)
    – ff524
    Aug 18, 2016 at 8:50
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    I'm going to be honest...I often do this (show up for talks without being registered...). I know it's naughty, but if it will really enhance your work and inspire you, why not go for it? The worst that can happen is you get thrown out!
    – user60528
    Aug 18, 2016 at 11:47

5 Answers 5


No, it is not acceptable.

You can of course email the organisers and ask if you can participate without paying, but do not be surprised if they say no.

(Please note that conference registration fees cover lots of things besides the lunch. Among others, conference registration fees may cover the rent of the hall in which you are sitting, and expenses related to the speaker who is giving the talk. Conference organisers are definitely not expecting random people to come there without registering, unless they explicitly advertise this possibility.)

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    It might be worse than not acceptable. It might not even be possible. I went to the american physical society's march meeting, and they had staff at the doors making sure you were wearing your conference name tag. Consequently, you couldn't get into the convention center without registering (or defeating this measure some other way, I guess you could try to forge a name tag or something). Aug 17, 2016 at 23:19
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    You can of course email the organisers and ask if you can participate without paying I would not actually recommend this unless you have a reason much more compelling than "I couldn't get funding". I think it will simply annoy the organizers, who are usually influential people whose bad side you don't want to be on. Aug 18, 2016 at 0:20
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    @NateEldredge, certainly this is not true. The organizers are usually not influential, but local academics which are not influential. The most influential people are usually the PC members and especially chairs. Not organizers. Emailing the organizers with a reasonable reason is a good advice.
    – Dilworth
    Aug 18, 2016 at 0:58
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    @Dilworth: Maybe they are not terribly influential, but I hope you agree that a request that boils down to "I know there is a cost assigned to it, but can I get it for free anyway?" is a bit brazen in a certain way. Aug 18, 2016 at 7:59
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    @O.R.Mapper, yes it boils down to this, and it is a completely legitimate request. From experience, it has been done before, and with success.
    – Dilworth
    Aug 18, 2016 at 11:58

People are discussing whether its OK or not. I'd rather respond in context of career impact. The risk is that the people who invited you would think of you as a "schnorrer", and your future invitations may dry up.

Also, many conferences employ professional conference organizers. If there is a chunk of unpaid attendees, you may impact the relationship between the community holding the conference and the paid organizer, making it a little more difficult for that conference to be held in the future.

If you can pay for one day, do it, and be thankful that the conference had a mechanism that allowed you to do so.

Sometimes, though, if the event is internal to YOUR university, organizers make accommodations for local faculty and students to attend at discount or no cost. Good local attendance can enhance the reputation of a department. If this applies in this case, you should talk to the conference organizer.


Tl;dr: You should ask your mentor what the particular policy and culture at the conference you are attending is.

At least in the humanities and social sciences, it depends.

A. There are many conferences where registration is heavily monitored and you cannot audit sessions for free. These tend to be conferences that rely on registration fees to pay for their hotel/facility costs or the running costs of the sponsoring organizations.

B. There are conferences that would prefer it if people registered/paid, but otherwise do not enforce registration to attend sessions.

C. And then there are some conferences that are entirely paid through internal and external grants and not conference registration fees, so they are entirely open to the public (although some sessions and meals may be restricted).

D. Finally, there are also some communities of scholars that think that type A conferences are morally bankrupt, and so actively encourage their students to "borrow" their name tag / registration badges (which leads to all hilarity during the after-panel social interactions): "I always imagined you as ..... um... older... Dr. Goodall.... um.... congrats on your transition?."

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    A TL;DR should really go at the top of your post. In this case, we've already read it, and it loses it's point a bit. ;-) Aug 20, 2016 at 18:58

Yes, it is possible, and even students and postdocs in top (and rich) schools do this sometimes. However, your question is unclear, since you asked whether it is "OK". But it is not clear OK by which standards? Moral? Legal? Is it normative? Is it widely acceptable?

You can see by Juka Suomela's answer that some academics does not see this as "acceptable", i.e., they perceive this behavior as a morally bad behavior. Some people, me included, have a different value system, and they perceive this as mildly okay, but it is unclear whether the latter group of people is marginal.

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    How is this different from sneaking into a cinema without paying? Or is that also OK by your moral standards? Aug 18, 2016 at 8:40
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    @DavidRicherby: a cinema doesn't cost 150$ a day for unpaid talkers that have to pay fees themselves to publish at these conferences ...
    – image357
    Aug 18, 2016 at 9:57
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    @Marcel Well, eight hours in the cinema isn't cheap but your argument seems to be that it's more acceptable to take expensive things without paying for them than it is for less expensive things, which seems odd. And your language suggests you feel that conferences are some kind of money-making enterprise: please bear in mind that they actually operate at essentially break-even. Aug 18, 2016 at 10:18
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    @DavidRicherby, it is different, because academic conferences are not for profit events, and their agenda is the dissemination of knowledge. Fees are taken as a necessary evil, not as a means by itself (in contrast to cinemas).
    – Dilworth
    Aug 18, 2016 at 11:56
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    @Dilworth And how is it better to refuse to pay somebody who's just trying to cover their costs than to pay somebody who's trying to make a profit? It sounds worse, to me: shouldn't I be supporting the conference organizers and freeloading off the filthy capitalist cinema companies, rather than the other way around? Aug 18, 2016 at 12:02

Aside from conference and registration. The hotel rent their hall for functions and most of the time its per head payment which include all the charges. Since they have to issue you card to wear during conference to identify you as paid participant.

So to avoid being refused entry and feeling bad infront of others just go present at your slot and enjoy what is offered on the day you are legally paid for.

Request can be made but if lot of students do this it can raise concerns for management and organizers.

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    Many conferences are not held in hotels, but in premises owned by the university. Aug 18, 2016 at 7:58
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    even if its in university, they have to make arrangements for participants and that include meals and tea breaks beside bottled waters and other stuff so it reduce cost but not eleminate the cost. Aug 18, 2016 at 8:43
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    @ShahenshaKhan, I'd not participate in meals and tea breaks exactly to eliminate that cost. Aug 18, 2016 at 11:01
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    University buildings are not necessarily free, either. It is fairly common that conference organisers have to pay some rent for the lecture halls that they use. Furthermore, conferences are often organised at least in part outside the normal opening hours of the buildings (especially in summer), and the conference organisers will also have to cover the extra cost of having the building open (e.g. security/janitor services). Aug 18, 2016 at 12:49
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    Also, even if everything related to the venue was free, it is still often the case that some of the speakers cost a lot of money. A single 1-hour invited talk might easily cost the conference organisers 2ke (flights + hotel + food). Especially in a small conference, the expenses of the invited speakers easily add up to a nontrivial sum, and it is only feasible if there are sufficiently many paying conference participants. Aug 18, 2016 at 13:06

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