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Eye on Psi Chi: Fall 2007
Traveling to a Conference? Get Help Footing the Bill
Betsy Morgan, PhD, University of Wisconsin-La Crosse

Many faculty members highly encourage their students to attend professional conferences. Conference attendance can help students develop professional skills, explore careers, and network with others. Due to the popularity of the psychology major and the number of researchers and practitioners in the field, psychology students have many opportunities to attend conferences that are applied and/or research-based. Psychology students interested in presenting their own research can choose between undergraduate research conferences, regional conferences, and national conferences. Psi Chi helps sponsor conference opportunities at each of these levels. Traveling to conferences can be expensive. Fortunately, many institutions offer partial or full funding to help students pay for the costs associated with attending conferences. In a recent survey of students submitting abstracts to the Midwestern Psychological Association, 47% indicated that they "knew” they would be able to secure some form of financial support for travel if their abstracts were accepted. Twenty percent of those who could receive funding indicated they would receive full funding, and of those who provided an amount, the average was nearly $300. This article outlines some tips for securing funding from your institution.

Tips for Securing Funding
  • Don’t be afraid to ask. Several clichés revolve around the idea that you don’t get something unless you ask. Clichés aside, it is true! Start by asking.
  • Start local and then expand your search. Most colleges and universities have some form of a hierarchical structure for making fiscal decisions. An undergraduate or graduate student should use the chain of command. First, ask your local psychology club or Psi Chi chapter (if available). If they do not know of resources or the process to obtain resources, then ask the faculty advisor of the club or chapter. Often, the club/ chapter officer or faculty member will handle the process and you are relieved of the responsibility. However, if you must seek the funds yourself, there are usually three more branches to explore, although their existence and ability to provide funding will vary by campus. First, you should explore possibilities for funding with student affairs personnel at your school. Most institutions have funds for which students and/or student organizations can apply. In addition to student affairs, you should approach the department chair or unit head in charge of psychology. If none of the previous individuals have any suggestions, it would be appropriate to ask the dean of the college, or whoever the chair’s supervisor is. Finally, many institutions have foundations associated with them. The monies from foundations are usually separate from the traditions and regulations at the institution. So, ask the foundation and learn about its processes for requesting funds. At this time, funding for travel to conferences is not available from the Psi Chi National Office.
  • Start early. Most institutions run on a fiscal year that starts in July, which means that decisions regarding expenditures tend to be made early in the year. Often, it will behoove you to try to secure funding as soon as you know it might be an option to travel. Some schools will allow you to request funding and then offer the final funding "contingent on proof of acceptance.” I would recommend starting to pursue avenues for resources as soon as the school year begins in the fall. For example, at my university, any student group that wants to request funding, needs to attend an informational meeting held in late September. Apply early, because even if you don’t get funding right away, you may get a promise for some money if there is money "left” at the end of the year and you want to be one of the first to get the promise.
  • Distinguish travel for research expenses from travel for conference expenses. Students often have access to grants associated with research. Some of these grants are specific to conference attendance, others are specific to conducting a research project, and some are a combination. Often, the travel budget in a research grant is only for travel related to data collection, not for travel associated with conference presentations. Read the proposal guidelines very carefully and request appropriate funding.
Attending "Versus” Presenting?
Despite the fact that faculty think that attending a conference is of great value, most institutions will make a strong distinction between attending and presenting at a conference. Presenting at a conference should yield higher funding opportunities. For example, at my institution, attendees normally are awarded 50% of the costs associated with the travel; whereas, presenters are awarded 75%. Finally, some conferences offer grants for travel or sliding fees for undergraduate and graduate students. Make sure to check the materials specific to the conference in which you are interested. For instance, APA's Science Directorate "sponsors an annual competition for graduate student travel awards . . . to help psychology graduate students travel to the annual APA Convention to present their research” (American Psychological Association, 2007, ¶ 1).
  • Be informed and polite. Provide complete but concise information.Normally, there is a form. There are always forms! Most institutions will have formal procedures associated with requesting funds. Know the process and follow the rules exactly. Provide the information they request. Do not embellish in order to "get more money.” If the total cost of a room (including taxes) at the conference hotel is $149 a night, request $149. Print out the information that shows the cost and attach it. Provide evidence when it is requested. Often, for expenses such as airline travel, your institution may request that you provide two quotes from different vendors. If you are asked to provide a justification for your travel, do not wax on about how your conference attendance will lead to world peace; indicate the purpose of the conference, your role there, and what reasonable outcomes can be expected from your travel. Then, provide your best, well-researched estimates of the financial obligations in whatever format is requested. You may have to submit separate forms for each person traveling, even if you are all going to the same conference at the same time to do the same activities.
  • Learn the system before you travel. My guess is that every institution of higher learning in the U.S. has someone in their business services office who is associated with handling travel reimbursements. I recommend you review the website associated with travel requests at your institution. Then, meet with the individual who handles travel to make sure you know what is legitimate and what is not. The departmental administrative assistant is also likely to be very knowledgeable in this area and help you with who to contact and where to learn the processes. You may find it particularly helpful to know the standard "mileage reimbursement” amount. Usually, schools have a set amount per mile they reimburse if you take your own car to cover the cost of gas and wear-and-tear on your vehicle. Most schools set this amount based on the IRS standard for business travel, which, as of January 2007, is 48.5 cents per mile. Knowing the mileage reimbursement rate will allow you to compare the cost of driving to other forms of travel such as trains, busses and planes. Transportation costs such as subways, trains, busses, and trains should also be taken into account when deciding on whether or not to stay in the lodging associated with the conference. Unless there are huge cost differentials, I strongly encourage my students to secure lodging recommended by the conference. Using conference housing benefits the host organization, saves travel cost and time, and keeps you close to the many activities associated with conferences.
  • Do you get to eat? Some institutions will only allow you to request money for lodging, transportation, and the conference registration fee. However, if your institution allows you to request funding for food, be sure to ask only for meals that are not covered in the registration cost. The inclusion of meals in conference costs varies widely. Food costs are often referred to as "allowance” or the Latin term "per diem”, which translates to "for the day.” If you are going to be at a conference the whole day and get your own meals, it is acceptable to request the maximum per diem for food. However, if you will be traveling a partial day (e.g., eating breakfast in the conference city but returning to your school in time to eat dinner) then only request the legitimate meal. Sometimes the per diem refers to the maximum amount for the day including lodging, so read carefully. In addition, some organizations distinguish between "high cost” cities and "low cost” cities, and the allowances vary by the type of city to which you will be traveling.
  • Students and faculty apparently eat and sleep differently. Find out if your institution has a separate set of travel costs for students and faculty. If they do, only request the student costs even though they tend to be lesser amounts.
  • Save all receipts, your conference badge, and the conference program. Be compulsive about saving receipts. Institutions vary widely in what types of receipts are needed. Although you should keep all receipts, you need not submit them all. Make sure the receipts are in the name of the person who will be reimbursed. In addition, make sure they are real receipts, not just indicators of arrangements. In other words, the receipts need to indicate how much you paid and that it was processed. Your institution may also need some proof that you actually attended the conference. In most cases, your badge will be proof of attendance. The conference program can be used to show if meals were included and, if you were a presenter, that you were listed in the program.
  • Take what you can get. I think any funding is better than no funding. I’ve had a few students who have indicated that the funding offered wasn’t worth their time. As valuable as time is, you may want to think about the value of learning the process and paying it forward.
  • Think about future students. Write down the contact information and the steps involved in the process. You may be trailblazing at your institution by securing funding for travel to conferences, so share the wealth of what you learned with future students.
Overall, the message of this article is that it is worth your time and effort to explore all the possibilities at your own campus associated with helping to fund conference travel. Hope to see some of you at a local, regional, or national conference!

References
American Psychological Association (2007). Scientific awards and honorifics: 2007 APA student travel award program information & application instructions. Retrieved June 8, 2007, from http://www.apa.org/science/travinfo.html

Betsy L. Morgan, PhD, is currently a full professor of psychology at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse (UW-L). She received her bachelor's degree in psychology and women's studies from the University of California, Santa Cruz, in 1985, and her doctorate in social ecology (an interdisciplinary applied social science program) from the University of California, Irvine in 1994. Dr. Morgan has served as the faculty advisor for the UW-L Psi Chi Chapter since 1995. Her undergraduate institution did not have a Psi Chi chapter until 1989, so she was inducted the year she became the faculty advisor for UW-L. She coordinates the psychology honors program at UW-L which involves approximately 12 students a year in designing their own independent research projects, submitting a grant, and submitting abstracts for presentation at the Psi Chi portion of the Midwestern Psychological Association (MPA) meeting. Over 70 UW-L students have presented at MPA over the last 10 years, and two projects have resulted in publications in the Psi Chi Journal of Undergraduate Research. Dr. Morgan is a coauthor of the book Majoring in Psych: Career Options for Psychology Undergraduates (3rd edition) and has given many career talks at MPA and APA conferences. Currently, she is the Midwestern Vice-President of Psi Chi.

Copyright 2007 (Volume 12, Issue 1) by Psi Chi, the International Honor Society in Psychology



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