Conference Excitement and Contemplation

I am so excited to announce that I will be attending the Social Media & Society in conference this September! I am especially excited that my first conference as a PhD student is going to be an international conference in Toronto. I will be presenting a paper on the effects of social ties on online discourse. Specifically, the strength of social ties in their relation to negative discourse. This presentation is based on the case study of my applied project from my MA. Hopefully the other portion of my applied project will be going to a different conference, but I am still waiting to hear back about that one. But that’s the life of an academic, eh? Always waiting to hear back about something!

As thrilled as I am to be going to conference, I also want to take this opportunity to talk a little bit about some of the problems that come from attending conferences as a graduate student (and I would also assume new faculty). This is an international conference that takes place out of the country, so I will be purchasing airfare as well as a two night hotel stay. Not to mention the registration fees (mercifully less costly for students), and food along the way. This three-day trip will cost a minimum of $800, assuming airfare doesn’t skyrocket before I have a chance to purchase it. These conferences are necessary, not to mention fun and interesting. They keep ideas fresh and circulating; they afford academics the chance to network and meet people in their fields that they might not have otherwise known. In addition, they have become expected for anyone looking to become tenure track. One must go to big, important conferences and present big, important ideas. But, graduate students must also pay for these conferences on a shoe-string budget, and on a stipend that barely covers day-to-day expenses. Schools do offer assistance, but it is severely limited for a multitude of reasons.

This is a problem. Is it one I have a solution for? No. I don’t have enough experience in anything administrative related to higher-education to even begin suggesting practical answers. But, I do believe that it is something that should be discussed openly as a flaw in the academic career track. As someone who is incredibly happy (and not a little proud) to be going to an international conference in their first semester as a PhD student, it certainly puts a damper on the mood to realize that attendance is contingent on the availability of hard-to-come-by funding.

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