Conferences for the unemployed academic

Now that I’m no longer a professor, I have to pay for my own conference travel out of pocket.  Of course, before they didn’t really pay for enough to cover even one conference, so this isn’t much different from when I was an employed academic.

In fact, dealing with conferences on my own is expensive and it sucks but it’s easier than dealing with our less-than-competent secretary!  (Insert rant here on:  it was enough for them to say they supported professional development and research, but not enough that they actually did. End Rant.)

Why am I conferencing, even though I’m not employed and I am not bringing in money? I thought it might help get a job, to network, because conferences are cool and fun, to learn about research, to see old friends.  Why does anyone ever go?

But I’m not paying 100% out of pocket.  I’m doing some things to save money on the trip.

To pay for the conference I’m using a mishmash of frequent flier miles, savings, and aggravation.  I’m also sharing hotel rooms with colleagues/friends (SCORE!)

Now, I think the trips themselves are tax deductible since I’m using them for job seeking/networking purposes, but according to my partner’s accountant given that we’re renting etc. we won’t be over the standard deduction this year even with my travel and stuff.  I’m saving the receipts anyway, just in case.

So that’s my story.

Do you pay for work-related conferences out of pocket?  How do you save on travel?  Is a conference your idea of a vacation?

13 Responses to “Conferences for the unemployed academic”

  1. moominoid Says:

    If you are in a state with high state taxes and your partner makes decent money then that alone might get you close to the limit to itemize expenses. This was the case for me when I lived in New York State.

  2. omdg Says:

    Apropos of nothing (other than the incompetent secretary bit) — A few years ago I brought my husband and baby to a conference with me when I was nursing, and the incompetent secretary we had to deal with to get reimbursed tried to argue that I was only entitled to 1/2 the hotel fee because I had shared the room with another person. I had to provide additional documentation proving that it was my husband and child and not some other person attending the conference “freeloading” off of my grant for a free hotel stay. So annoying. It delayed the already interminably long process of getting reimbursed by an additional month.

  3. hypatia cade Says:

    One saving strategy that I’m not so great at because of how my conferences fall is to attend all (most) conferences for two academic years in one calendar year adn thus have MORE to deduct while still spacing things out CV wise. I.e., attend nothing fall 1, somethings spring 1, summer, 1, fall2, nothing spring 2… etc. And then in that year also do other deductable things like buying a laptop or other work expenditures that are movable.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      That’s really smart!

    • bogart Says:

      A conference is my idea of a vacation only if I don’t attend the conference :) !

      I’ve found hotels.com (or similar) sometimes has cheaper rates than even the “special” conference rate. And I’m all about taking food with me (or buying basics at a nearby drugstore) to avoid needing to eat every meal out — not just to save $$$, but that, too. I am not a fan of sharing rooms for the most part because — hello, introvert. I am a fan of public transport for both philosophical and cost-savings reasons, assuming it’s somewhere at or better than tolerably functional. Oh, and I’m good at packing light.

      For those of my discipline’s conference where you actually really, truly have to register (because they check badges) I’ve seen senior colleagues walking around with old badges on — the organizers don’t change the badge format much, year-to-year, and the staff hired to serve as gate-keepers don’t seem to pay attention to the date on the badge (and who can blame them — of course they may also see the problem and just be understandably unwilling to challenge a rule-breaking senior academic). Of course, this imagines that one is organized enough to keep (at least some) badges from year-to-year.

  4. Debbie M Says:

    I went to several conferences of the National Council for Teachers of Mathematics back when I was still hoping to be a teacher. So, yes, I did pay out of pocket. I went to the regional conferences, so that saves money over far-away ones. They were all Thursday-Friday-Saturday conferences, so I took off the whole week and did sightseeing first and then went to the conference. And many of the presentations were great, so even that part felt like a vacation, even though I didn’t know anybody (and didn’t fit in at all). (In fact, once I retire, I’m going to start tutoring middle-school math and I may go to these conferences again.)

    For the Albuquerque one, I flew in and rented a car (not cheap). But driving around NW New Mexico was fun and the hotels were super cheap. Then I turned in the rented car and stayed in a hostel within walking distance–totally cheap! And it had free food, too (which they referred to as “staples”). Basically, I just bought milk for their cereal, spaghetti sauce and parmesan cheese for their pasta, and a fourth item I no longer remember and was covered for the whole conference. I did have to do one chore–I chose sweeping in the morning while everyone else was asleep and out of the way.

    For the Little Rock one, I drove, stopping at lots of interesting places and camping out along the way. I was thinking of staying in a campground outside of town, but found an Econolodge with free breakfast much closer in for almost the same price. The breakfast turned out to be pretty terrible, oh well. I never did figure out how to catch a bus there, but I did end up parking for free on the “wrong” side of the river in a hotel parking lot that had no signs saying I couldn’t and loads of empty spaces. Admittedly the bridge across the river was super long and windy. But parking on the other side was something crazy like $12 or $20/day.

    For the Galveston one I drove and stayed in a hostel. I basically had the whole hostel to myself, including the nearby beach. Awesome! But all the fun non-beach things to do were expensive.

    For the San Antonio one, I took a bus. Long-distance buses are way nicer than school buses–who knew? Then I stayed at a discount motel nearby. The motel, bus station, and conference were all within easy walking distance of each other on the less popular quiet end of the Riverwalk. At this conference I actually met people, so I ate out more, but we worked to find places off the beaten path that were tastier and less pricy.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      I can’t drive to conferences that are far away; I hate road trips with a passion and don’t have the time for driving, anyway. The best is when you can get a conference to come to the place where you already live! (or within a few hours of it) Then it’s super-cheap.

      • Debbie M Says:

        Yeah, that’s cool.

        For out-of-town ones, you can often still save by spending the night at a nearby budget hotel (ironically also more likely to have free parking and free internet) instead of the official hotel. Especially if they’re easy to get to from the airport, too (bus route or shuttle) so you don’t have to rent a car.

  5. Cloud Says:

    I’ve been struggling a bit with what to do about conferences in my new career situation. But my main problem is that I can’t figure out which conference(s) I should attend now. I think finding and attending a relevant conference will be a goal for next year. If I find one to attend, I’ll have to pay my way. One advantage of living in SoCal is that a lot of conferences rotate through either my city (San Diego) or somewhere close, so there is a decent chance I can find something to attend that will cost me the registration fee and not much more.

  6. amy Says:

    I have 1099 income and deduct any professional fees from my freelance income (that my accountant bills as sole proprietor income) so you can do that even if you don’t itemize your taxes. if you have no freelance/1099 income/ then you probably can’t do this.


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