How to ensure funding for favorite conferences

If you work in academia, then there are two kind of environments in which you might work in: There are healthy environments and there are the other (some people call it hostile) ones.  Of course, boundaries can be blurred, but for the sake of argument, please just pick the one describing your environment the best.

If you work in a healthy environment, picking the right conferences should be no problem at all. There is most likely  a list of the most prestigious and most relevant conferences and there is probably a set of rules that you can use to determine, if the conference  you plan to submit a paper to, is suitable and which steps you have to take to make sure you follow all the rules of your organization and the funding body  that apply to this submission (i.e. special rules for conferences outside of Europe).

For those of you who have the pleasure to work in such an environment, you do not need to read any further. Stop now and use the time to write a paper for that posh Hawaiian conference that is coming up…. ;-)

If you work in an hostile environment, however, things are different. And the aim of this post is to help you take the right steps to increase your chances to get where you want to be.

Working in a hostile environment, your situation probably looks like this: There are no rules or guidelines to determine which conferences are relevant to your work and conference participation is arbitrarily decided by your supervisor. In this case, you have two options left:

  • Option 1: Pleasure your supervisor and make sure you become his/her favorite pet.
  • Option 2: You need very very good arguments.

If you have selected option 1, get lost!!! How did you end up here in the first place?

To all the others, here’s how to proceed:

Step 1: Make your own publication plan.

Find out which conferences are the most relevant and most prestigious ones in your field of work. In most disciplines of academia there are  rankings  of  journals and conferences. These rankings can be useful to see which conferences are highly regarded. Try to retrieve a copy of an up-to-date list. A good source for retrieving these lists are usually post docs who had to face similar problems during their studies.

From the travellers perspective there are two different kinds of conferences. Those that take place at the same location or region every year (Las Vegas, Caribbean, Hawaii), and those that change their location annually.

For fixed conferences, it’s all about the location. If the destination is attractive enough, you can be sure the conference will be very competitive and eventually become prestigious. Do not let remarks of your supervisor (who does not want to bear the travel costs) fool you.  It might be a “holiday conference”, but even the best of researchers need holidays every now and then and therefore these conference can be very very good.

For other conferences, the location  is not as important. The main point is their academic value. So make a list of the really good conferences in your field and try to submit your papers to these conferences. Trust me they will eventually end up at being at good locations as well.

Depending on your publication plans,  the most appropriate conferences might not fit into the list of conferences propagated by your supervisor. Is there a way of dealing with that problem?  Is there a way to avoid confrontations and endless discussions whether the audience of the targeted conference is appropriate?

Yes there is, but it might take some time before it leads to success.

Step 2: Make your conferences essential.

In most organizations, the writing of proposals is delegated to PhD students and other junior project managers. As  soon as you know at which conferences you are planning to publish, name the conferences explicitly in the corresponding section of your project proposals. It is very unlikely that anyone will object to this before  the proposals have been submitted (or even afterwards,  as supervisors usually don’t bother to read their own project proposals).

As soon as a proposal becomes a project you are in a prime position. How should anyone object against submitting a paper, a proposal for a panel discussion or a workshop to a conference which is part of the officially targeted community of your project? ;-)

Step 3: Find help outside of your organization

Write joint papers with buddies from other organizations. If you work on a research project, you will probably find several other PhD students who have similar problems or who work in healthy environments but are willing to work with you nonetheless. This is a great opportunity that you should seize. There are so many positive aspects of joint publications. First of all you both might have different areas of expertise. Second, if you have a publication partner from outside your organization your supervisor might be reluctant to claim co-authorship of your work (Hey! you work in a hostile environment after all, don’t’ you) . If you are slick enough you can agree with your co-authors that none of them  will be able  to attend the conference. Not showing up is a no go in  academia and you will be surprised how fast there will be a  budget that  allows you to go there.

Step 4: Make your conferences strategic

Do you think your supervisor is top of the line? Well think different! Unless (s)he is the Dean or holds an even more important position within your organization, there will be someone who is a bit more important. So aim high and suggest the conference to be of strategic importance to the head of your unit. You might be lucky and you get the allowance to submit a proposal to this conference the next time (hopefully in a reasonable time-frame).

Step 5: Make sure you don’t get burned

Once your paper is accepted you might have the opportunity to see a change of heart with your supervisor. (S)he might become very interested in being linked to that paper in some way, such as co-authorship, a honourable mention in the acknowledgements of the paper or by just making sure you use the “right” affiliation. If the conference is prestigious enough, you will not have any problem financing your trip, as long as you are willing to “play along”. But be careful, claiming co-authorship of a paper that one didn’t contribute to is an academic  misconduct. So try to avoid any “additional” authors that didn’t contribute. In case they pressure you, at least make sure you save a copy of that e-mail in which your supervisor “asks” you to put his/her name on the paper.

Well so long…. and enjoy your trip.

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