I don't want to tip my hand.
March 22, 2013 7:45 AM   Subscribe

I am planning on leaving my job, and indeed my current career path, in the next 3-ish months, but for various practical reasons I want to stay for those next 3-ish months. There's a conference coming up that I would absolutely be going to if I were staying in this career. Do I sign up for the conference? If I do, the conference fee will be wasted when one of my coworkers could use the money for their own professional development (and money is tight in our department) and I'm afraid this would cause bad feelings and people would take it personally.

On the one hand, I'm leaving this profession and I don't particularly need these people's good opinion of me, but I don't want to screw them over unnecessarily because I like (some of) them and I may need them for references, etc. It's not, like TED money, but it's significant in the professional development budget (at our non-wealthy higher ed institution). The organization has been fairly generous to me in terms of professional development and I already feel kind of guilty to be throwing that investment away (though if I'm going to look at it that way I'm also throwing away much more of my own investment in this career, so, you know, whatever).

I considered just paying the conference fee myself (I wouldn't mind going - it'll probably be interesting even though I'm leaving the profession, and I'd like to see my soon-to-be-former colleagues from other organizations) but that would look just as suspicious as not signing up at all, especially since I have previously been chided for using my credit card when I should have put things directly on the department card. I doubt that the organizational bureaucracy has any mechanism by which I could pay them back.

Timing: the conference is in ~6 weeks, and early (discounted) registration is almost over. I'd like to be done working at this place by mid-June (say 12 weeks from now).

So: Do I sign up for the conference? Am I just way overthinking this? Will anyone even remember I wasted some money going to a conference two weeks before I gave notice?

(Oh, also, I considered making up a family wedding or something during the conference, but it runs Monday-Wednesday. Having trouble thinking of a plausible obligation that I would know about in advance, and the department is super-nosy.)
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (18 answers total)
In our department we usually only go to one conference a year (that the uni. will pay for part of). Could you say something like, "yeah, I usually go to Upcoming Conference, but I've heard really good things about Conference in 6 Months so I'd rather save my funding for that one."? If your department pays for multiples that may not work...
posted by stellaluna at 7:51 AM on March 22, 2013 [7 favorites]

If you go to the conference:

I doubt that the organizational bureaucracy has any mechanism by which I could pay them back

Maybe not formally, but during your exit interviews, could you offer to fund a "scholarship" for someone to go next year?

Also, when you get back, make a very detailed and helpful presentation on the conference for all those who didn't get to go.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 7:54 AM on March 22, 2013 [2 favorites]

Say a family member has scheduled a wedding during the conference so you're going to have to skip it this year? Maybe combine it with stellaluna's suggestion to cover the case where they will pay for multiple conferences in a year?
posted by rocketpup at 7:58 AM on March 22, 2013 [11 favorites]

Given what you describe I would find a way to gracefully bow out of going. It doesn't sounds like you'll feel particularly good about going, no matter what your colleagues think.
posted by OmieWise at 8:03 AM on March 22, 2013 [6 favorites]

There's two issues, one is the cost of the conference, the other is how you spend your time as a paid employee. If you want to be above suspicion then you must take the time off as an official period of absence, otherwise people will find it difficult to come up with a charitable interpretation of your behaviour so soon before giving notice. Regardess of your thoughts now, never burn bridges.

Take leave and book the conference on your own card.
posted by epo at 8:05 AM on March 22, 2013

Just come up with a reason you can't go - an out of town family wedding that requires travel, as suggested by rocketpup, is ideal. Or a high school reunion. Or just "forget" and miss the registration deadline.

Overall, just don't mention it unless someone else does. You'd be surprised how little other people are paying attention to whether or not you've registered for a conference.
posted by Kololo at 8:08 AM on March 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

I've missed a conference that was important to me because more senior coworkers got that time slot off for that purpose--then didn't go. Yep, I still remember that.

Is there any way you can just say "I'm not feeling it this year, let's give this opportunity to someone who hasn't been to eight of these" and as others suggested, perhaps indicate you'd rather go to a conference months away. I don't see how that would be tipping your hand unless they'll grill you over the conference decision.

What will happen if they know you're leaving? Will that make your work awkward? In most higher-ed it takes months just to get a job posted, so early notice may be the best way to leave with no ill-will.
posted by Anwan at 8:25 AM on March 22, 2013 [3 favorites]

Can you say you have a personal obligation that week that conflicts with the conference? Just leave it at that. If you feel you must specify (i.e., lie):

-family visiting that week
-family member having scheduled surgery

I would just say it's personal, though.
posted by JenMarie at 8:43 AM on March 22, 2013 [4 favorites]

Family member having a serious medical procedure out of town? (On preview, what JenMarie said).
posted by lharmon at 8:46 AM on March 22, 2013

Tell them you have a colonoscopy scheduled for then, or some other intimate medical procedure. Then later it can get "rescheduled" so you can actually come in to work the week of the conference.
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 8:56 AM on March 22, 2013

Oh, and the purpose of making it an intimate medical procedure is that it will shut down the conversation quickly.
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 8:58 AM on March 22, 2013 [4 favorites]

I attend conferences in my role at a non-profit. I am expected to report to my colleagues about what took place, who was there, what are the new ideas and trends in the field, etc. I therefore think, as SuperSquirrel has suggested, that you should attend the conference and present the highlights for your co-workers. It seems to me that the biggest drawback of this approach is that a colleague who otherwise might have attended and learned the information directly, or forged some new contacts of his or her own. That colleague would still be the beneficiary of your report.

I'm surprised that anyone would suggest that you lie about why you couldn't attend the conference. You mention that you might need some of these folks as a reference, and we all know that it's unwise to burn bridges. If you were to concoct a reason not to attend the conference, and if that lie were somehow to be discovered, wouldn't that be a bridge-burner? That seems far worse than your fear that people might be miffed that they missed out on a chance for professional development. I can't see how anyone could fault you for attending a conference during the scope of your employment, if you were to attend the conference, pay attention, and share what you learned with colleagues.

Go to the conference with a clean conscience, report back, don't lie to your co-workers.
posted by cheapskatebay at 9:36 AM on March 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

Never underestimate the speed at which your current organization and most of your workmates will forget about you - they have a job to do, and it doesn't include holding bad feelings about that guy who went to a conference before he left the business.
posted by lstanley at 9:44 AM on March 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

Don't sign up for it. Do schedule some personal/vacation time that would conflict with going to it - even just a day or two.

Then, if asked (and you likely won't be), say "I'd love to go, but we've been planning this family reunion (or insert other activity here) for months and I can't miss it, I'll go to the next conference."
posted by NoAccount at 10:01 AM on March 22, 2013 [2 favorites]

You're overthinking this. If you say "Shoot! I can't go to the conference because I have another commitment" nobody will think "OMG, anonymous is leaving this job" for a second. Yes, they might be nosy, but you just say "I can't really talk about it" and they won't know if you're donating a kidney or sitting at home watching TV.
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:52 AM on March 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

I would just go. Thinking that your conference fee would instead be used to help a co-worker is incredibly optimistic.

Or, come up with a good excuse. Since you plan on leaving anyway, you should use up your vacation days. Monday-Wednesday isn't that suspicious. Maybe a loved one is having surgery and you're going to visit for moral support. Maybe you are visiting a family member and going Friday after work through Wednesday morning. Maybe you are traveling to see an event you really want to see that falls on a weekday in a far away city? I'm sure you have taken off a weekday at some point in your life. Other ideas here are good. Less is more in the initial excuse.
posted by AppleTurnover at 11:26 AM on March 22, 2013

Might want to check your Employee Handbook on something like this. My current place of employment has a clause that they have funds available for conferences and education and the like, but if you spend, say, more than $1000 a year, and you leave less than a year later, they will try to recoup their costs.

Now, I have no idea how expensive this conference is, but I'd hate for you to go, just to get burnt by this later.
posted by spinifex23 at 11:37 AM on March 22, 2013

Unfortunately, your mother has a very serious medical procedure/surgery scheduled for that Tuesday. You need Monday off to travel and to be with her the night before, of course Tuesday is the day of the procedure, and you'll need Wednesday to make sure she's comfortable and then travel back home.

However, probably you'll be able to take your laptop with you and get quite a bit of work done during the hours that she's sleeping, in the surgery, etc., so can you telecommute on those three days so that you don't lose your vacation time or get too far behind in your work?
posted by Houstonian at 12:37 PM on March 22, 2013

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