Taylor Spence GRD ’12 shelled out $1,800 this academic year for round-trip airfare, four nights at a resort and three meals a day in Lake Tahoe. But Spence’s trip to a history conference was for business, not for pleasure.
The opportunity to present one’s own work and network with established professors makes conference attendance a sometimes costly necessity for graduate students. At the request of students, administrators in Yale’s Graduate School of Arts and Sciences agreed to shift funds from graduate social events and commencement this year to help subsidize conference travel.
“I feel strongly that the graduate school should support the activities that are the highest priorities for students,” said Graduate School Dean Thomas Pollard. “This is exactly what we did in this instance.”
In total, administrators increased the Graduate Student Assembly’s conference travel fund from $45,000 to $60,000 for the current academic year.
Spence was one of several Yale students to attend the history conference in Lake Tahoe. He said that he received $600 in GSA funding to help offset costs for the all-inclusive event and paid the other $1,200 out of pocket. Spence said that for many professors in attendance, “the conference was like a vacation,” and graduate students, who had no other options for lodging, “were freaking out at the cost.”
Spence said he felt lucky to receive money from GSA because the funds are usually very difficult to get. Jamie Duke GRD ’12, the conference travel fund director for the GSA, said in an email that applications for funding far exceed the GSA’s budget.
Duke said that the GSA funding is a crucial resource because travel budgets distributed by departments, advisors and specific conferences have been steadily decreasing or completely eliminated over the past few years due to the economic downturn.
“Increasingly, we are hearing evidence that many departments do not have funds to support student travel, and conference-based funding is highly competitive.” Duke said.
Student reaction to the increased GSA funding has been positive. Six graduate students in the humanities and sciences all said that conference experience helps them broaden their perspective on their fields of study.
Chemistry student Gozde Ulas GRD ’11, who is studying solar energy efficiency, said she found that being recognized as deserving of GSA conference funding to be “even more rewarding” than the $750 check she received.
“The committee that grants awards is not composed completely of chemists, and for them to see value in what I am doing and compensate my travel is very rewarding,” Ulas said. “It’s the recognition of what you do, the fact that it’s considered important, that is the best thing for me.”
Expenses aside, Spence said the conference was a success for him. The history student, who is writing his dissertation on property rights in 19th-century North America, presented a paper on how the Native American population understood their right to possess land.
“I’m on the job market right now, so these conferences are incredibly important,” Spence said. “Many of the people there are on hiring committees, and in order to open job opportunities and build a resume, you need to go.”
The GSA awarded conference travel funding to 42 students during this year’s fall and winter award cycles. With the increased funding, they will now distribute $15,000 during the fall, winter, spring and summer quarters of the year.