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Work Trip = $$$

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I have a conference for work that I’m attending in early August.

It’s a conference that I’ve heard people talking about and suggesting in the online-teaching world for over a year, but I’ve never been before. I’m super excited because I applied to be a presenter and was accepted so it’s also a nice little CV-boost as I venture more and more into the world of online education (all my previous work/conference/research has been in my actual content area that I studied for my Ph.D. Read more where I waxed poetic about work-life balance here.).

I’m also really excited because of the location! Believe it or not, it’s coincidentally located in the same city where one of my best friends moved last summer! I’ve never been to the place, but it’s supposed to be gorgeous in summer (meanwhile, Tucson is in crippling death-heat mode so I can’t wait to escape!)

But there are two things that are major bummers about this trip:

  1. The timing is far from ideal.
  2. Cost

Let me explain.

In relation to the timing – I’ll miss my girls’ first day of preschool for the year (already feeling the mom-guilt). I hate knowing that I’ll miss the first day, but I’m trying to mentally prepare for it now.  Also, my friend is due to have a baby literally the same week that I’ll be there. I hope to meet the little guy, but I won’t get to really “hang out” with my friend like I would otherwise have done if she weren’t due any minute and/or in the hospital having a baby.

In relation to the cost – I work for a major university. I know different departments do different things, but in my department we are given a small annual amount of funds to cover “professional development” type expenses (including conference travel). This year, the limit was set at $500/person. Unfortunately, this conference is super pricey, so I’m going to be shelling out quite a bit of my own money. Gulp.

To be fair, I actually received over the $500 limit because I’m a presenter (and because I asked for more. Sometimes you just have to ask!) But in total, I was given $650. The conference registration, alone, was $595. Add in airfare + lodging + food =  Cha-ching!!!

So here’s another reason why the timing is not ideal. At another time, I otherwise would’ve stayed with my friend for some free housing. But she’s expecting her first baby and their house is undergoing major renovations, and I just can’t put her in the position of asking to stay with them. I’m going to have to shell out for a hotel.

Also, I’m not in the Education department on campus, but the conference I’m going to is basically about online education. That means no one I know is going, so there’s no sharing of rental cars, hotels, etc.

On the plus side, I really do think this is an important conference for me to attend (at least once!).  I’m really branching more into this field and I plan to try to market myself as an expert in this arena for any future employment, so it’s important for me professionally and personally (and in terms of networking, etc.)

But I’m guesstimating it will probably run me a solid $1,000 or so to go. Gulp! Luckily, we have a high income this month so I’ll be putting money aside this month to cover the expense for next month. But still, it’s a big number.

What do you guys think about paying for your own professional development opportunity? How much would you be willing to spend per year? What do you feel is “fair” and “normal” for you to cover (versus your employer) in your career area?


24 Comments

  • Reply Laura |

    I’m kind of surprised presenters don’t get a free registration. Most of the conferences I’ve presented at do that

    • Reply Bertine |

      I agree. I haven’t ever had to pay for my own registration. All the travel expenses, yes.

      • Reply Ashley |

        Wow, this must be discipline-specific. Even in my actual content area I’ve never received a free registration for presenting. I did receive a discount on my registration (I saved $200 from the full price), but it wasn’t free unfortunately.

        • Reply Caryanna |

          I don’t know what kind of conferences other people go to, but at ALL of mine everyone pays for registration. Most of the attendees are presenters. Perhaps at more corporate kinds of conferences it is different, but academic conferences are all attended by the people that present.

  • Reply Theresa |

    It is an investment in your career. The timing does sound unfortunate. It would be so nice to stay with a friend and have a good visit but use your savvy travel skills and keep it as affordable as possible.

  • Reply Walnut |

    The conference registration sounds really affordable. Registrations for conferences in my field are usually $3,000+expenses. Does the conference share the list of registered attendees? It might be worth asking about to see if you can at least share a rental car. You might also check to see if the University has any pre-negotiated rates for rental car/hotel/airfare.

    • Reply Ashley |

      Wow! It’s so interesting to hear about normalcies in different disciplines! In my content area, most registration fees were in the $250-$350 range, so I thought $595 was super pricey. But $595 is small potatoes in comparison to $3,000+! Talk about ouch!!

  • Reply Malady |

    I agree with the comments about presenters getting a free registration. Thats standard where I come from. Maybe you should ask the conference organisers if the fee is waived or reduced for presenters. After all, you’re not learning from your own session and I assume that they aren’t paying for you to present a session that they’re cheerfully charging everyone who is attending to hear.

  • Reply Kate |

    I find there is often a room share option available for conferences I go to. I would contact the organizers to see if someone is putting that together: I bet theres many people in your same situation. Regardless, it definitely sounds like it’s worth the investment!

    • Reply Ashley |

      Great idea, I’ll definitely look into whether there is a room share program!

  • Reply Jen From Boston |

    Do you really need to rent a car? All the conferences I’ve been to have been held at the main hotel or within walking distance of other hotels. Perhaps you could just take a cab/public transportation between the hotel and airport?

    As for paying for my own professional development – I would willingly do it. I’ve been lucky that because I work for Corporate America I get reimbursed for college courses I take, and I’ve been able to attend a major professional conference in my area for free because my company is one of the sponsors. But, while I might not pony up the registration fee for the conference, I would be willing to foot the bill on the college courses myself.

    I think this is a great professional opportunity for you, but, yeah, the timing stinks 😛 And definitely ask about getting the registration comped for presenting!!

    • Reply Ashley |

      Good point about not necessarily needing a rental. I’ll look into pricing and see what makes the most sense financially.

  • Reply Victoria |

    Free registration is standard for presenters. At least for the day you are presenting.
    I do believe in spending money on professional development. In an ideal world I would have suggested asking the uni to save this year’s allowance so they would pay the full whack for next year’s conference.
    I would caution against trying to make this trip too many things. I think realistically that there is no benefit in it being in the same place as your friend. She will prob only see her a couple hours tops, so if you are spending the money then focus on getting all you can from the conference like networking etc.
    Do you have forums for your speciality where you could ask if anyone wants to room share or similar?

    • Reply Ashley |

      I think it’s really good advice to “focus on getting all [I] can from the conference.” It’s hard to guess how long I’ll even have to spend with my friend. If she’s got the new baby it likely will only be for a couple hours’ visit. But the conference can hopefully help serve my career far into the future (through knowledge, networking, etc.)

  • Reply Liz |

    I’m presenting at a major conference in my field this fall and my registration for the full conference was reduced but not free. I expect the total bill to come in around $2500, including flights, food and hotel and while my company is paying for it, I would go even if they weren’t because it is a great opportunity for ME.

    I never rent cars though, unless I absolutely have to- I stay near or at the venue and use Uber if I can’t walk somewhere.

  • Reply [email protected] |

    Clearly, in academia conference registration is all over the map. In my humanities field, I’ve occasionally had a registration fee waived as a presenter, but that’s usually for intimate/targeted conferences, not for big ones like this. For those, you always pay. On the other hand, I’ve never paid more than about $200 for a registration — I suspect the $3000+ fees mentioned in a comment above are for science or maybe business fields where the money flows a lot more freely.

    Hotels are tough. I often stay with friends if possible, or share a room with up to three other people (well, when I was a grad student I did.) Try throwing it out on facebook just to see if maybe you know someone going after all.

    I don’t think $1000 is too much to pay for professional development THIS TIME, but I also think you should start strategizing to reduce the bill for the future. I’d take it up with your boss(es). Since you have an administrative title and do a fair amount of administrating, I think it’s appropriate for you to argue, perhaps the next time you have an annual review or whatever, that you should have a small pot of money you control for the good of the program. It could be used to bring speakers to campus, develop workshops for current faculty/students, but also to send you to a relevant conference every year. That benefits you, but it’s also about benefiting the program and increasing ASU’s visibility as a leader in this field blah blah. It’s a different thing than if you were a TT faculty member and mostly did conferences to advance your personal career.

    • Reply Ashley |

      I love the career advice – trying to argue for a pot of money for the online program. I’m already doing a lot of these things (organizing workshops, offering professional development opportunities, etc.) just as “service.” (Gotta love the all-encompassing “service” portion of academic reviews).
      It’s a weird thing structurally right now because a lot of the funding for our online program is coming from the university-wide online education program (not from my department’s funds). Our department’s online degree is only one year old, so the initial years’ costs are covered by the larger university-wide online program. But as we continue to grow and funding structures evolve I could see this becoming a real possibility. My department’s program wasn’t projected to be profitable until the end of Year 3 and we hit profitability at the end of Year 1. Things are looking good for the future!

  • Reply first step |

    If you don’t have an easy way to find a room share, check airbnb to see if you can rent a room close enough to the venue to save on lodging. My husband & I have stayed in several airbnb properties, and they’ve been so much more comfy than hotels.

    Try Uber to save on car expenses–my husband uses it on his business trips even when he’ll be reimbursed. The app will tell you the work around if Uber cars aren’t allowed at the airport.

    • Reply Ashley |

      True. I already have a folder on my desktop titled “Tax Write-Offs” that contains receipts for the flight, registration, and miscellaneous work expenses I’ve incurred throughout the year. Definitely worth tracking!

  • Reply Joe |

    Don’t sweat the first day of preschool. Kids will never notice and/or remember. I know it sounds terrible, but it’s true!

    Sounds to me like this is a great opportunity. CV, networking, etc. Even seeing a friend on top of that! Don’t have angst about the cost, it’s not like you are doing this every month…

    • Reply Ashley |

      Thank you! I figure I can still do the “first day of school” picture the following week. It’s really not going to make any difference.

  • Reply anon |

    Reach out to the Education department anyway to see if anyone is going–I mean, if you’re going to potentially share with a random person that the conference hooks you up with, you might as well look yourself. Plus, you can network at your own school then, too!

  • Reply Katie |

    For the first day of preschool it could benefit you and the girls to do a first day trial run. Have them get completely ready for school with their backpacks and stuff and you can get a picture then. It could help them feel more confident and you can have a memory too.

So, what do you think ?