Help me get to TED
July 19, 2009 9:03 PM   Subscribe

I want to attend a TED conference. I'm a junior at a liberal arts College in the US, and I have a $3000 grant to do pretty much anything I want next summer (mid-May through mid-August 2010). Give me your suggestions of awesome things in any discipline that $3000-$5000 will let me do/make/research/found/publish/etc. (If it's a money-making business venture that a collegiate entrepreneur can run, it can cost more than $5000.)

Seemingly, all the big movers and shakers of innovation and design go to TED. I want to see them, meet them, discuss ideas with them, and learn from them. Problematically, I am not TED-worthy, yet.

Help make me a worthy candidate to apply to go to a TED Conference.

Like a good student of the liberal arts, I am looking for ideas in any discipline. I like 'em all. Promise.

I love the internet, and I'm fascinated by the startup culture around San Francisco. When I graduate, I want to work out there with those guys. Just a heads up in case your ideas can help me down that path.

I've got a few ideas of ways to spend the $3000, but I don't think either of them are TED-worthy at all.

idea #1) Start in Lisbon, and take the Euopean rail system through 10-15 major cities across Europe. I'd looked into the Trans Siberian Railway from Moscow to Beijing, but I found it to be prohibitively expensive.

idea #2) Travel to Dharamsala, India and study the Tibetan government in exile. Realizing that speaking to his Holiness the Dali Lama is a stretch, I would try to speak to as many high-ranking political/religious figures I could while studying the day-to-day activities of their non-sovereign government.

idea #3) Go to Johannesburg, South Africa for the 2010 Soccer (football?) World Cup. I could study the way the South African government tried to cope with the massive influx of foreigners in a city-planning/economic light.

Got any ideas that would actually be TED-worthy? Any and all suggestions will be very helpful.
posted by cmchap to Grab Bag (10 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
If I were you I would start a blog in your field. Go out and actively interview people, etc, and use the $3,000 for marketing expenses. If you you become a well-known figure then that might get you in.

Your ideas sound like they are mostly just excuses to take some fun vacations.
posted by delmoi at 9:09 PM on July 19, 2009

Well, when I used to get these grants I would just stay in New York, drink heavily, and do research on the city's history, writing articles that I would then submit to academic journals. (Eventually I got two articles published and parlayed them into a spot at a top-5 history PhD program.) This approach worked well for me, for a few reasons:

1) I'm lazy and I'm a big fan of my comfort zone.
2) The college library was close by, which meant that the hundred-odd books and articles I'd have to read were not hard to get or return.
3) Summers aren't as long as they seem at first, and writing up your results always takes longer than you would expect. It's better to have a concrete, completed piece of work than it is to have a bunch of notes that you stuff into your desk drawer and forget. (Admittedly this is totally disregarding the fun-vacation aspect of your ideas.)
4) I already knew I wanted to be a historian, so this was a great opportunity to pretend to be one and learn the rudiments of historical research.

Your mileage may vary, but you should definitely decide if you want research experience, networking, or a fun vacation. These things may well turn out to be mutually exclusive.
posted by nasreddin at 9:37 PM on July 19, 2009

Best answer: Considered organizing a TEDx at your college, which will bring you to the attention of the TED mothership?
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 10:20 PM on July 19, 2009 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Yes, most of me ideas previously were fun vacations. Then I decided that going to TED would be an ultimate trip to take, if not a vacation. I probably shouldn't have included my vacation-y ideas in the question because they in no way pertain to getting to TED.
posted by cmchap at 10:24 PM on July 19, 2009

I think wanting to attend TED is a marvelous goal; it's one of the things on my personal life list of "things to try and do" too. But I really don't think this is something you should give much consideration when deciding what to do with your grant money next summer.

I think your primary motivation for picking something to do should be based on your own personal passion and interests, and not something that you simply consider a TED-worthy idea. Because people here might suggest some really great ideas, things that you think are TED-worthy and think you can accomplish - but it may not be based in whatever your big passions and interests are. In other words, the desire to do the activity itself might not be driving you so much as the desire to get into a TED conference.

It's my own personal theory that the best way to do great work is to do something that you really really love to do....something that you would do anyway, even if it didn't make you money, or fame, or entrance into TED. In my experience, these are the things you're thinking about all of the time anyway....not because you have to, but because you want to...and thus you're more likely to excel in them.

From your post, I can vaguely gather that you're interested in traveling and/or working abroad. But do you have a really genuine interest in rail systems? Or the Tibetan government? Or the tourist trade? Have you given any of these things much thought outside of recently trying to find a TED-worthy idea? If the answer is no, I'd say take some time to reflect on yourself and your own interests and what you really want to do, regardless of whether you think it would get you into TED.

I've been very fortunate to have figured out what I'm passionate about and basically what I want to devote my life's work to, whether anything worthwhile comes of it or not. I do have dreams of doing something worthwhile with it, and maybe being successful at it, and maybe sharing it with people in a venue like TED one day. But those are the afterthoughts and byproducts of my main dreams - and not what's driving me to do the things I want to do.
posted by Squee at 10:46 PM on July 19, 2009 [6 favorites]

Best answer: You might also consider going to The EG conference, which was the conference Richard Saul Wurman created after TED (More about that here). It's a little smaller and more personal, and totally amazing. The fee is slightly more than your budget, but it wouldn't hurt to write and ask if there's a way to make it work. It's definitely a spectacular gathering of thinkers and shiny ideas - watch some of last year's video on the EG site and see what you think.
posted by judith at 11:51 PM on July 19, 2009

Best answer: What does it hurt to try applying your funds DIRECTLY to attending TED right away? There are a limited number of "Reduced Price Memberships" for $2000. Then instead of randomly attempting things that seem TED-worthy (which seems a bit like the tail wagging the dog) you could spend your time thoughtfully crafting your application to stand out as much as possible based on the strength of your own original ideas. The worse thing that could happen would be that they could say no, and you could try again in the future. But in the best possible universe, in the process of writing your application you could have a genuine brainstorm that would be to your own personal benefit and enlightenment, give you a greater chance of being noticed by the conference organizers, and thereby earn your invitation.

Good luck on your quest! Just remember... “All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveler is unaware.” - Martin Buber
posted by Misciel at 1:50 AM on July 20, 2009

Most of the people who give really good presentations at TED do so because they have a combination of
1. Something interesting to say.
2. The presentation skills to say it in the time slot available.

Others have commented about point #1 - but your preparatory work can also involve working on the second part (which is at least as hard IMHO). For example you might go and find where your local Pecha Kucha night is and then go along and give a talk there. Dig through material such as Presentation Zen too.

You talked about travel-related projects. Many years ago I read about Addi Somekh and Charlie Eckert who have spent years touring the world, making balloon hats for people, photographing them and writing about it on their site. That is the sort of travel project which would make a worthwhile TED presentation.
posted by rongorongo at 3:12 AM on July 20, 2009

As someone who has been to TED twice, and spoken there once (at TED11, back when RSW was the owner), I agree with Squee. You need to pick something you are truly passionate about, something that you'd do regardless of TED or money or fame.

I managed to speak at TED without actually knowing what TED was (in fact, I actually *applied* to speak at TED - a total faux pas, but one so incredible it helped me get in); and what I spoke about was something that I'd dedicated all of my time to, for free.
posted by adrianhon at 11:15 AM on July 20, 2009

Response by poster: Out of curiosity, how did you get the grant? It sounds like an amazing opportunity.

It's called the James Monroe Scholarship. It's a "research" grant, but the very nice woman who administers the money to us is very open about using the money for general enrichment. The only real requirement is that I present my research/experience at a scholars fair on my campus the next year.

I got it for working my butt off in high school, but I'm not certain of the exact criteria, yet. I have been appointed to the Admissions Policy Committee at W&M, so I'll get to help determine the next generation of Monroe Scholars.
posted by cmchap at 5:41 PM on July 20, 2009

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