Can I send myself to a professional conference?
February 1, 2013 11:52 AM   Subscribe

There are a couple of professional conferences in the next year or so that I would like to attend, but due to a tight budget situation, my employer probably won't pay for me to go. Would it be strange or somehow inappropriate for me to just pay for it myself?

The next few years involve some big expenditures for my employer and it is likely that travel and external professional development will be very limited. It isn't that my employer doesn't value professional development and they have been good about supporting conference attendance in the past, but there are other, more pressing issues right now.

Maybe I'm being silly or dense, but it seems like there is some sort of expectation that your employer will pay for attendance at conferences. I can afford to do it myself, and would really like to go. Is it violating some unspoken norm or practice to self-fund conference attendance? Does everyone who attends a large, national professional conference have it paid for by their employer?
posted by jeoc to Work & Money (19 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Of all the professional conferences I've been to in my life, I've never experienced anyone asking nor caring how I funded it. It's also been my experience that smaller institutions might only do partial funding (and when I was a grad student, I funded it all myself), so I wouldn't expect it to be an issue.
posted by telophase at 11:55 AM on February 1, 2013 [3 favorites]

Most people do, but I have paid my own way at times and I know others who have as well. If it'll help you and you can't get them to pay for it I'd do it.
posted by FlamingBore at 11:56 AM on February 1, 2013

a) Ask for them to pay for your trip, first. Let them say no. Then
b) Insist that they at least treat the time as paid work and not make you take PTO.

Just keep an eye out for the employer getting the idea that they can pay for others to go and not you because you paid your own way once.
posted by bfranklin at 11:57 AM on February 1, 2013 [15 favorites]

I've had to do this before. As your boss if you can attend the conference and not have to take vacation days if you pay for it yourself. It's the least they can do, especially if they'd like to be in a position to pay for professional development but cannot.

No one at the conference will know that you self-paid. An added bonus is that if you're in the US and you itemize your taxes, you can write off your conference expenses since they're professional development.
posted by juniperesque at 11:58 AM on February 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

People do this all the time. Don't worry about it. Plus, much/most/nearly all of the time, people pay for these kinds of things with either a company credit card or a personal credit card and get reimbursed. The sponsors just see the CC number--they don't know (or care) who ultimately funds the debit on the card.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 11:59 AM on February 1, 2013

And even if it shows up as your credit card and someone happened to see it, they may just think that you'll be reimbursed by your employer.
posted by 2bucksplus at 11:59 AM on February 1, 2013

People in my organization (a public library) often self-fund conferences if they aren't covered by work. Not weird at all here. Sometimes they'll let you use work time rather than taking vacation to do it, so all you have to do is pay for registration and travel. I think it actually garners some respect, as the people who do it are obviously dedicated to their work.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 11:59 AM on February 1, 2013

Academics often fund themselves for conferences. So do church musicians.
posted by Jahaza at 12:06 PM on February 1, 2013

I teach and have self-funded pretty much every conference I have ever attended; I draw from a "professional leave" bank when I go so I don't have to use my limited vacation days. So, yeah, people do this, although your industry may be different. In mine it is not weird.
posted by charmedimsure at 12:07 PM on February 1, 2013

Another angle to take: see if you can get them to cover the conference fee, and you'll cover the transit, lodging, etc. Though you have to calculate carefully on travel, good budget options should be available for lodging (hostels, friends, couchsurfing) and food (grocery stores).
posted by whatzit at 12:11 PM on February 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

Is it violating some unspoken norm or practice to self-fund conference attendance? Does everyone who attends a large, national professional conference have it paid for by their employer?

When you're self-employed, you have to do this. It's expected that the small business owners and consultants are self-funding. No one asks where they money came from.

But the price tag can get expensive simply because it's expected that the conferencegoers aren't paying out of their own pockets. My advice: find an inexpensive hotel that's within walking distance or a bus ride away, rather than staying at the conference hotel.
posted by deanc at 12:23 PM on February 1, 2013

That said, doing this sucks. It's a case in point of how being low-paid is more expensive than being well-paid. If you're an executive-level employee at a large company, all of these expenses would be covered.
posted by deanc at 12:25 PM on February 1, 2013

Before you write a check, contact the conference organizers and see if you can present. Presenters don't pay.

You can write your own check, and fund your travel. Keep your receipts, it's usually deductable.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 12:30 PM on February 1, 2013

Presenters don't pay.

This is not always true. (Sadly.) I just came back from a big national conference in January at which I presented and still had to pay, and a random Google search reveals at least one other one in which presenters still have to pay the registration fee.
posted by andrewesque at 12:36 PM on February 1, 2013 [2 favorites]

Agreed with the above. My only concern would be the possibility that this would become the norm.

My boss has finally convinced management to put aside budget for training after a six year hiatus of "other priorities". Even a well meaning company will get used to you funding your own career development on their behalf. I believe the main drivers was that we had to look externally for three senior team members, because our managers feel so specialized, they don't want to move up and deal with areas extremely foreign to them.

So be willing to pay for the professional conference. But push for them to bear some of the cost, even if it's simply making sure that you aren't using PTO for the trip. And then publicize the hell out of the benefits.

- Have a quick touch base with your boss afterwards to share the big key items.

- Anytime you're using that acquired information, mention it in an email.
"Thinking more about problem X, I was thinking that solution Y might be beneficial. At Big Brains Conference, Company Z mentioned that they've done solution Y and were able to cut costs by streamlining the process. If we need to pull additional resources, it sounded like Consulting Group N is the best in class. Most people of the people at Big Brains Conference spoke highly of their results"
- At review time, argue that investing in your development at a time when the rest of the company was letting their skills stagnate (for the benefit of Big Project X) is additional evidence of your exceptional contribution. At our company, we call these stretch goals, and we benchmark slightly higher raises and bonuses for meeting them. Tweak to fit in with whatever HR mumbo jumbo you guys have in place.

The point isn't to brag about how awesome you are. The point is remind them that there is a real value in continual development, and that the rest of your team would benefit from a budget that allowed everyone to keep up with you. Asking for more money benefits you. But it also reminds them that you just negotiated a 5k raise they could have avoided by spending the 2k sending you to that conference.
posted by politikitty at 12:38 PM on February 1, 2013 [2 favorites]

I have attended a number of conferences over the past five years. For most of them, my employer did not pay all of the expenses. We are a small non-profit and the travel/professional development for most employees is very low. In some cases, I have been able to find outside support. I was in a national professional development mentoring program for a year that paid all of my expenses for 3 conferences. I received scholarships that covered registration fees for a number of conferences. In one case I paid for my hotel while my agency paid for my airfare. In another, I was a presenter so did not have a registration fee and my agency paid the rest. In all of these, the process was the same. I asked my agency to pay for all of the expenses and treat the time as work time. They would then let me know what they were willing to cover (if anything.) Even when they paid nothing, they were always ready to treat the time as work time. I don't know that anyone - conference organizers, attendees, or even co-workers - know that I have self-funded parts of these trips. My boss and the executive director (and perhaps the CFO) know that the agency is not paying for everything, but they also know I seek alternative funding if they say they can not pay, and once they have said they can not pay for something, I don't think it is necessary to inform that if I am paying out of pocket or receiving other funding.
posted by hworth at 2:29 PM on February 1, 2013

Before you write a check, contact the conference organizers and see if you can present. Presenters don't pay.

I wish this were true always. At least in academia, unless you're a big keynote speaker, you pay. (And often, without getting reimbursed, or getting only partially reimbursed, from the college or university. So yeah, I have self-funded conferences.)
posted by leahwrenn at 6:05 PM on February 1, 2013

If your employer is the government or government contractor, you may not be able to because of travel restrictions. Otherwise, lots of people pay with a credit card and get reimbursed, so I don't know how anyone would know.
posted by 445supermag at 6:55 PM on February 1, 2013

I am, as it happens, hoping to speak at this conference. For the one I have my eye on, presenters don't pay registration (which is hefty) but do pay expenses.

Thanks for the perspectives on this. I think my anxiety about this was silly!
posted by jeoc at 3:39 PM on February 16, 2013

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