Other than the possibility of waiving registration fees, What is the objective of graduate students volunteering at conferences?
For instance, I am considering volunteering at IJCAI these days and wish to do it at least once (never done it before) but do not really have a clear motivation for it.

4 Answers 4


tl;dr No registration fees, networking and attending relevant sessions.

There has been some talk and background informationabout this already. See this, this, this and this for some background. With this background, IMHO, the primary reasons why PhD students should be volunteers for major conferences in their line at least once are:

  1. First up, no registration fees. Yay ! Primary reason one.

  2. Networking with other PhD student volunteers who are likely to be PhD students in similar departments working on similar stuff. For instance, most student volunteers at CHI 2013 are PhD students from HCI/CS/IS/ischools working on HCI stuff. Its great to meet with peers and bond with them. [Yay for student volunteer party !]

  3. Possible networking with relevant faculty. This could be someone from the organizing committee or the program committee or someone else who you come in close contact with for the duration of the conference. There might be a certain someone who is a good researcher in your line and whom you might want to keep in touch with in the future. Getting in touch as a student volunteer in a conference might be one such strategy.

  4. Picking and choosing conference sessions/tracks to attend. You could, with some dexterity be the student volunteer in charge of a track or a session or a panel which you are really really interested in watching. As a student volunteer pretty much, you stand and assist and you do get one of the best seats in the house, albeit by standing. :)

  • 4
    Good answer. Few missing points: often these are local students who thus get access to the conference, but often also students receiving a student (travel) grant, or other financial support from the conference are asked to give a helping hand in return for the money. Then, they have to pay the regular fee, but get reimbursed for either the fee, or part of the travel costs.
    – walkmanyi
    May 2, 2013 at 21:52
  • Thanks for the insights. From my limited knowledge in HCI/information science, in the big conferences, student volunteer calls go out to different mailing lists and it is thus, rarely local students who are student volunteers. In fact, there are student volunteer lotteries which take place in the big conferences to determine who will be selected.
    – Shion
    May 3, 2013 at 4:21

Volunteering can be fun, it's a change, you get to meet new people. Volunteering is good for you - you feel a part of something bigger, and like you've achieved something useful and immediate (unlike, say, a thesis or a paper).

It's probably good for your career in the long term - getting a reputation as a person who says "Yes" to things is always going to help.


Again, this is one of those things that might be different from conference to conference, but in the ones that I frequent, here's how it works:

  • Only local students, in particular, students from the local organizer's university (if there's more than 1 university in the city) get to volunteer. It's not that others are barred, but just that the email gets circulated within the department. If you manage to hear about it and contact the organizers, then you can be a part too.

  • You agree to be a room help/PA support/IT support/etc. for different sessions. If you're interested in the sessions, you get to pick and choose which ones you want to go to (i.e., you can help out at a session you were going to attend anyway).

  • The best part — you get paid $minimum_wage_in_state for the hours you work. That meant that if you managed to pitch in 3-4 hours/day for a 5 day conference, you get something like 120-150 bucks for attending something that you like. Considering that PhD pay (in the US) is only a little above minimum wage and that local students don't get per diem compensation, this is not a bad proposition at all.

  • could you possibly elaborate in what fields or provide an example of in what conferences student volunteers get paid an hourly wage? I have not heard about this at all in my field.
    – Shion
    May 3, 2013 at 4:20

From the IJCAI link you provided, I found the following on the travel grant application web page,

In the event that travel grant applications exceed available funds, preference will be given to students who have an accepted technical paper, and then to students who are actively participating in the conference in some way.

I take it to mean that you have more chances to get the grant if you volunteer.

Send the application form now before it's too late if you did not get support from your department and you don't have an accepted paper. I would run to register for volunteering if I were you.

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