Since it is not always feasible to travel with students to national, and even regional conferences, local undergraduate research conferences provide an opportunity for students to benefit from the experience of a professional style conference nearby without the financial expense and logistical complications of traveling to national and regional conference sites. A listing of conferences is provided on the Psi Chi website that can be searched by type of conference and date of conference. Despite this resource, local conferences are not always well known or easy to locate. In addition, undergraduate research conferences may not exist in certain areas. Therefore, it may be necessary to organize a conference of your own. One of the main obstacles in planning a conference is funding it.
Although there are clear benefits for undergraduate conferences, obtaining funding for these conferences is often a daunting task. The budget for a conference will vary depending upon the size and types of programs that are included. However, it is realistic to expect to spend between $1,500 and $2,000 for an undergraduate research conference that serves approximately 100-150 attendees. Perhaps the first place to ask for funds is within the department. When I was at the University of Georgia, we had an annual fundraiser to help cover some of our conference expenses. However, the majority of the money came from the department. The chair of the department valued the conference and conference-related events and was, therefore, very willing to help us meet our budget. Deans sometimes have discretionary funds that can be allocated to conferences as well. In fact, the first time I needed money for an undergraduate conference at George Fox University, I asked the president for help. Although I was a little nervous asking the president during my first year at George Fox for conference money that was not budgeted for, he was very willing to help (on a one year basis). Fortunately, after several years of successful conferences, we were able to obtain a line item in the department budget to cover the bulk of our expenses.
Student clubs and honor societies can also fundraise in order to at least partially fund a conference. Another way to help fund a conference is to charge a registration fee. Typically these fees are fairly minimal (e.g., $5). There are also organizations that help support undergraduate research conferences. Psi Chi, for instance, has an Undergraduate Research Conference Grant program to help schools start undergraduate research conferences. Utilizing several of these funding sources may be necessary to secure the funds needed for a conference.
Where does the Money Go?
Conference budgets generally include three basic areas. First, there are basic conference expenses. The conference must be publicized. This requires copying and mailing expenses. Notices regarding the receipt of submissions and the acceptance of submissions need to be mailed. It is possible to defray some of the publicity costs and mailing expenses by using the internet and email. Confer-ence programs, however, should be printed for all attendees. Minor expenses can also be incurred for awards and decorations. A second budget item is food. Many undergraduate research conferences have receptions or a breakfast or lunch program. A final area of expense is an invited speaker.
Five of the twelve conferences funded with the Psi Chi Undergraduate Research Conference Grant over the last two years had invited speakers. In fact, there were three invited speakers at two conferences. However, it is not mandatory to have an invited speaker in order to have a successful undergraduate conference. Generally, if you decide to invite a well-known speaker who must travel some distance to the conference, you should budget between $1,000 to $1,500 in order to pay for an honorarium, travel, and lodging. Although this amount can comprise the majority of a conference budget, only three of the 12 schools used the Psi Chi funds to cover speaker expenses. Therefore, the money for invited speakers is often covered through the department or other college or university funds. With the speaker expenses covered by the school, it is not surprising that funding is required to cover other conference expenses. Nine of the 12 schools used their Psi Chi funds for food, awards, and printing costs.
Keeping Cost in Line
One simple strategy for keeping costs as low as possible is to exploit local resources. Bringing a nationally known psychologist to the conference as a keynote speaker has several benefits. For instance, students can potentially hear from a researcher they read about in a text. Conference attendance is also higher when a speaker attracts a wide audience. However, in selecting a speaker, do not overlook outstanding psychologists who are relatively close to your own college or university. Utilizing nearby speakers can eliminate airfare and even hotel costs for the speaker. It is also possible to include special sessions focusing on graduate schools or careers by asking a faculty member from the admissions committee or a member of Career Services to talk on these topics. Using these individuals allows you to deal with topics that always draw student interest and to do so at no cost. Secondly, make use of school facilities. Many times school facilities and equipment can be used at no cost when holding a conference. Finally, contact local businesses. Local businesses may be more than willing to help by providing material or food at reduced rates in anticipation of future business. For example, we have used a local sandwich shop for several years to provide our conference lunch for an extremely reasonable cost.
Undergraduate research conferences have relatively simple budgets but can cost up to several thousand dollars. Funding sources may be somewhat limited, however, the appropriate funds can be raised fairly easily, especially if the department is able to help with a portion of the cost. Applying for a Psi Chi Conference Grant can potentially add $1,000 toward a conference budget. Be creative in funding a conference by using a variety of funding sources and by making use of low cost speakers, facilities, and refreshments.
Chris Koch received a B.S. in psychology with honors from Pennsylvania State University, a M.S. in experimental psychology, and a PhD in cognitive-experimental from the University of Georgia. He is currently in his 12th year at George Fox University where he has served as Director of Undergraduate Studies in Psychology, Director of External Scholarship, and headed University Assessment. During that time, he has also promoted research in psychology by planning a bi-annual undergraduate research conference, editing the Journal of Undergraduate Research in Psychology, and working with youth organizations and local high school classes on psychologically-based research projects. He has served as a councilor for the Psychology Division of the Council for Undergraduate Research and as the Western Region Vice-President of Psi Chi, the National Honor Society in Psychology. He is currently the President of Psi Chi. He has held a fellowship from the National Endowment for Humanities at the University of Virginia, was a Fulbright Scholar to Russia, and is a fellow of the Western Psychological Association. His primary research interests focus on the interaction between attention and cognitive and perceptual processes.
Fall 2004 issue of Eye on Psi Chi (Vol. 9, No. 1, pp. 22, 27), published by Psi Chi, The National Honor Society in Psychology (Chattanooga, TN). Copyright, 2004, Psi Chi, The National Honor Society in Psychology. All rights reserved.