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akri

I'm finishing up my Junior year in undergrad and was invited to a graduate conference...need advice

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Hi all!

So during my quarter I submitted a paper to a graduate conference because the theme + grad students there aligned closely with work I'm considering for grad school. It's a science fiction conference in London and I'm coming from California. I was really excited + e-mailed my professors, but now I'm wondering if this was a stupid thing to do / waste of time / whatever. I guess I'm insecure about being so excited, and also kicking myself because I honestly thought they would've rejected it, and now I'm having mixed emotions! Mostly, though, I really do want to go and think it could be a lot of fun, plus make me more competitive for literature PhD programs. I'm not sure how often undergrads are invited to these things tbh. 

Are graduate conferences worth going to as an undergrad? I kind of wanted the practice, to network, and if I can get some sort of funding for at least one ticket, I can fly standby on the way back (my dad's a pilot + I've flown internationally before because of this). I have another research paper I'm working on (that's STS and not literature) that I'm probably going to try and publish at the end of my senior year. I feel like having this practice would also make me a stronger presenter for that bigger project, too.

I also perused some of the older forums about undergrads at grad conferences, but everyone emphasized the "bigger ones," MA students as presenters, and not really BA students at a grad student conference.

What are everyone's thoughts? I feel like a fish out of water lol. Should I be excited? Should I try and go?

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I think the main thing I'd be concerned about is the cost of attending the conference. It's not just the plane ticket -- it's food, transportation, sleeping arrangements, and registration fees, usually. Anyway, it's generally a lot of money. Even more so since it's international, I think. Which is why it's nice to do it once you're already in grad school -- usually they provide funding for you to attend these things. If you somehow find some funding / expenses are for whatever reason not an issue -- I see no reason why you shouldn't be excited about going. If the conference accepts work from undergraduates, which you probably made sure of already, then you were accepted because your work is good. So. M2C.

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19 minutes ago, madandmoonly said:

I think the main thing I'd be concerned about is the cost of attending the conference. It's not just the plane ticket -- it's food, transportation, sleeping arrangements, and registration fees, usually. Anyway, it's generally a lot of money. Even more so since it's international, I think. Which is why it's nice to do it once you're already in grad school -- usually they provide funding for you to attend these things. If you somehow find some funding / expenses are for whatever reason not an issue -- I see no reason why you shouldn't be excited about going. If the conference accepts work from undergraduates, which you probably made sure of already, then you were accepted because your work is good. So. M2C.

thanks! The conference said they would provide some funding for travel, so that'll be helpful. I'm cool with staying in hostels since I spent a month doing that + researching. I'm going to see what my professors say. I always opted out of study abroad and I feel like this is a good alternative. Short weekend, get to travel, do a conference... Do you think prestige matters as much for conferences on an undergrad CV, or is its presence + effort at all "enough" to stand out on an application?

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In my experience a conference can cost you up to 800+ when you take everything into account. Even without flight costs there are costs you will have to bear and generally I’d avise against doing to any conference without funding, unless it’s so close that the costs are negligible. 

I don’t think conference matter much at this stage in your career. I’ve been going to some since undergrad and the experience is definitely nice, but I don’t think it’s particularly useful for you right now. If you WANT to go and CAN go then go ahead, but this is unlikely to have much effect on your academic career in any predictable way (there’s always a chance you run into someone who has similar interests and you connect, etc.). I’d say that grad conferences are generally less prestigious than general conferences. 

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Posted (edited)

First of all: you should absolutely be excited! This is amazing.

There are other things to consider though. 

If the costs are low, I say go for it. I do mean really low. I wouldn’t spend more than $150 on it. This will not only look good on your CV, but this is also something you can talk about in your SOP. I mentioned that I attended a conference when I was an undergrad (didn’t even read my work at one, literally just sat in the audience lol) and I was told it demonstrated dedication, maturity, and a sense of preparedness. But it wasn’t some huge defining part of my application—just a, “oh, she went to that conference, cool...” 

I would make sure it’s a reputable grad conference. If it’s one no one has ever heard of, and if you’re going to spend some money on it, then I’d be wary because I will say it’s not likely that it’ll impact your application that much. That money could be better spent towards application fees, or maybe even some extra GRE materials... From my talks with other students, it’s not unheard of, or even necessarily extremely uncommon, for high-performing undergrads to have presented at a conference. That doesn’t make it any less of an achievement, though. 

Another thought (which I think is the way to go here): you can mention you were invited to speak at this conference without having to actually pay to go to the conference. Any professor in any department would understand you not wanting to pay those fees. But it’s easy to weave it into your SOP and would be equally as impressive. “My senior year of college, I was invited to conference x to speak on project y. While I was not able to attend the conference, the research I did in that paper helped me further my questions on blah, blah, blah...”

Edited by trytostay

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13 minutes ago, trytostay said:

First of all: you should absolutely be excited! This is amazing.

There are other things to consider though. 

If the costs are low, I say go for it. I do mean really low. I wouldn’t spend more than $150 on it. This will not only look good on your CV, but this is also something you can talk about in your SOP. I mentioned that I attended a conference when I was an undergrad (didn’t even read my work at one, literally just sat in the audience lol) and I was told it demonstrated dedication, maturity, and a sense of preparedness. But it wasn’t some huge defining part of my application—just a, “oh, she went to that conference, cool...” 

I would make sure it’s a reputable grad conference. If it’s one no one has ever heard of, and if you’re going to spend some money on it, then I’d be wary because I will say it’s not likely that it’ll impact your application that much. That money could be better spent towards application fees, or maybe even some extra GRE materials... From my talks with other students, it’s not unheard of, or even necessarily extremely uncommon, for high-performing undergrads to have presented at a conference. That doesn’t make it any less of an achievement, though. 

Another thought (which I think is the way to go here): you can mention you were invited to speak at this conference without having to actually pay to go to the conference. Any professor in any department would understand you not wanting to pay those fees. But it’s easy to weave it into your SOP and would be equally as impressive. “My senior year of college, I was invited to conference x to speak on project y. While I was not able to attend the conference, the research I did in that paper helped me further my questions on blah, blah, blah...”

All of this sounds fairly pragmatic & I guessed as much! I’d rather not spend money but I’m pretty lost on how to make my application stand out then tbh. I’ve been looking for grants and most deadlines have passed, hah.

Anyway, the whole prospect makes me anxious and it really seems out of anyone’s control where they end up accepted. your advice abt mentioning the invite is good tho. I’ll keep that in mind :)

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As you develop your go/no go criteria, see if you can expand the opportunity by getting in a day or two earlier and visiting people/places that are relevant to your personal and academic interests. Simultaneously, see if you have within reach similar opportunities closer to home. Or if the funds could be used in ways that are more likely to improve your standing as an applicant--visiting campuses, buying GRE study aids, buying books/resources, earmarking the funds to pay for applications, and so on.

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Great advice in this thread, and I'll just add that if you haven't already done so, talk to your professors at your current institution about this and ask them about how to fund it. Ask the chair in the department you are majoring in if the department has money to support your trip. Ask your college dean if they have money for undergraduate research travel, even if the deadline for their grants has passed. Your acceptance to this conference also makes them look good, and they might be able to help you out. 

Also want to echo what has already been hinted at. This conference will look good in the short term for grad school applications, but 5-8 years from now it will not matter. Don't go into debt for this conference.

But most importantly: Celebrate! This is a big achievement, very worthy of your excitement. You may already know this, but your work was almost certainly judged anonymously -- it was reviewed for acceptance alongside graduate and faculty member work without your name or status as an undergraduate attached. And it was accepted! Congratulations!

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1 hour ago, rhetoricus aesalon said:

[T]alk to your professors at your current institution about this and ask them about how to fund it. Ask the chair in the department you are majoring in if the department has money to support your trip. Ask your college dean if they have money for undergraduate research travel, even if the deadline for their grants has passed. Your acceptance to this conference also makes them look good, and they might be able to help you out. 

When you talk and ask about funding, be subtle. Questions like Do you know of any opportunities to secure funding for travel? will get you more traction than a comment/request that comes across as "I need $500, gimmee." 

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Thanks for the replies everyone! They're all extremely helpful + I did end up cold emailing the Undergraduate Research Center among others (definitely using the vocabulary of opportunity). It looks like travel grants are released per quarter and I can still qualify for some in the Fall, hopefully. 

I am still pretty excited and waiting to hear what sorts of financial support they offer for traveling. I've decided if I can secure independent funding + attend the conference, it'll ultimately help me -- give me something to talk about in interviews, SoP, etc. I joined a few listservs too, and have bookmarked UPenn's CFP page. :) 

Everyone's feedback was beyond helpful, so thank you!!

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On 6/14/2019 at 5:36 PM, akri said:

I joined a few listservs too, and have bookmarked UPenn's CFP page. :)

If you're looking to keep up to date on CFPs, this site is good as well. I generally look at UPenn's and this one. Best of luck!

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