In a previous post I began discussing how (and why) to attend professional biblical studies conferences. If you missed it, it’s worth starting there before reading further. Otherwise, in this post I discuss a few practical ways to pinch pennies in this expensive endeavor, without missing out on great opportunities.
Some Logistical Notes, or On Being Frugal
Let’s be honest. You’re poor. It goes without saying when you’re in graduate school. Even more so if you are married and (gasp!) have a child or two. But here’s the thing: if you are serious about making a career out of academia, expenditures like attending a conference need to fall more into the category of “long-term investment.” Sure, you’re going without shoelaces in the short run since you have no cash to buy them (…or possibly no shoes to put them on), but really you are leveraging your considerably restricted resources now to build for the future. Remember the old Portuguese saying “O barato sai caro” (≈cheapness turns out to be expensive). Still, being cheap is different from being frugal; the latter being a virtue. With that in mind, here are some tips on logistics.
Most professional organizations have newsletters. Sign up if you have not already. That way, you’ll receive notice of conferences as soon as it goes out. Registration is usually priced on a graduated model, so the later you register the more you pay. Further, registration is always cheaper as a member of the organization, so join! At the very least you’ll get a nifty name tag out of the deal and you can impress your significant other (hint: they won’t actually be impressed).
Hotel booking and alternative housing situations
The biggest knock on your billfold will be room and board. Many conferences will have arranged with hotels in advance to offer discounted rooms to attendees, but even if you take this option, and even if you split a room with one or more people, it can run you between $50-$100 per night. Obviously this racks up costs very quickly. What’s a poor graduate to do?
First, check to see whether your institution offers any funding for conference attendance. As unlikely as that may seem, you may be surprised. I for one was when I went hunting for dollars at my graduate school in order to fund a trip to Germany for an international conference. So poke around and see what you can find.
Second, consider alternative housing. There are many options here, the first line of defense being friends and family of course. If that isn’t possible, I recommend checking out these alternatives (with caution):
Remember that attending a conference is an exhausting experience. Be sure you have reasonably comfortable and safe lodging.
Finally, there’s that nagging need to eat. Dining out is very expensive, and you shouldn’t plan to just grab something in the conference center since rates are comparable to major league sports stadiums (think $8.50 for a hot dog). If you’re looking to be frugal, I recommend scouting out the area for grocery stores and stopping by each morning to pick up (breakfast and) lunch. It’s easy to throw something together for a great price this way. It can be depressing to do all three meals a day this way for too long, so I also suggest budgeting for a few meals out to ratchet up the levity in your life. Unless you have a wingman (or woman), you’ll be alone most of your conference. Try to meet people as you go and consider dining out together.
Attending conferences is a big process, if you haven’t already realized that. Most graduate students don’t do it, and most institutions don’t support it financially, so you’re left to fend for yourself. But don’t be too daunted! It is time and money well spent, and could lead to some of the best contacts and academic development you will have during your graduate years.