Scheme Early, Scheme Often

The upcoming ACS conference is just over a mere 4 months away! Who’s excited?!

OK, It’s a little early to be geeking out over the conference, seeing as how it hasn’t even been that long since the last conference. Nevertheless, I’ve begun to think about it. Particularly, seeing as how I’d love to attend. Seems normal in the “chemistry rights of passage”:

  1. Start research
  2. Start a blog
  3. Go to conference, and report on conference
  4. Get published
  5. Become professor
  6. Become world famous chemist
  7. Become some sort of superhero/james bond type figure, with your science-side as your regular identity, and your “super powers” drawing heavily from your scientific background, not unlike Tony Stark/Iron Man

Well, clearly the error compounds a little with each step, but generally, that’s my plan.

Anyway, I was wondering, what is the protocol (if any) for asking a PI to fund an odyssey to a conference? I’ve seen plenty of conference reports ’round the blogosphere, but most (if any?) don’t mention how the trip was acquired in the first place. Ideally, your professor will offer you an all-expenses-paid vacation from chemistry to chemistry, but then again, ideally your yields will always be better than or equal to those published, and your ΔRfs will always be >1. If you’re an undergrad and happen to live in the conference city, then maybe conference attendance won’t break the bank, but if you’re further up the food chain, or farther away from the city, the combined costs of attendance, travel, and lodging start to add up.

What with the economy, these days, and, well… ever: if you’re a student, there’s a fair chance you’re dirt poor. If you’re not a student, judging by the Registration Rates, it looks like the ACS thinks you’re going to get a hand, anyway. So, any funding one can squeeze out of their respective institution, the better. But how? Furthermore, if you’re like me (undergrad scum), or perhaps a fresh grad student, you probably don’t have the chops for your PI to straight up offer to send you, but you still want to go. Is there a diplomatic way to ask to go, or will you invariably look like a n00b¹.

Of course, for myself, the likelihood that I’ll make it all the way to SF looks slim to nil. Truth be told, it’s probably not “worth it” to send me off to such a conference armed with little more than a youthful exuberance for chemistry, and I certainly don’t have the bankroll to fund the entire trip myself… but, at the same time, if I could possibly manage to swing such an endeavor from my university, I’m sure as shit going to take the opportunity! Also, if I can manage to score a freebie Fisher “Caffeine Mug,” that would make the entire cost of attendance totally worth it! (So what if they can be purchased for sub $3 at the ThermoFisher gift shop! While all swag is free, “earning” such a mug by finagling it from the Fisher people would be priceless.)

[1] Completely unrelated, but bravo for a masterfully comprehensive account of a “noob.” If there were an award for best user-generated knowledge articles (wiki, urbandictionary, etc), this guy might take the cake.


7 Responses to Scheme Early, Scheme Often

  1. mitch says:

    In correct internet parlance it is actually newb that you’re describing.

    • psi*psi says:

      Mitch, you’re really not a sufficiently good speller to correct anyone else 😛

      CJ: All PIs love results. Get something to work in the lab, THEN ask. If you don’t have any data and you just want to go…yeah, tough luck. If you have enough for a poster, your chances are much better.

  2. When I had a functioning research group there were only two ways that a student got a free ride to a conference. The first and most straightforward was acceptance by the conference for a student poster or presentation with student co-authorship on a publication (preferably on the topic presented). In fact, I had a couple of undergrads make it to national conferences under that rule. The second is a bit more subjective but if a student or post-doc was going to a conference alone and I felt they needed support I would foot at least most of the bill for a second group member to attend.

    As you correctly pointed out there is a proximity clause in the calculation and the coefficient for that part of the calculation rapidly approaches the financial tipping point. I am not going to pay k$ for travel without some kind benefit.

    So …

    “YES” (to conference $) = X (publications) + Y (conference presentation) – Z (cost) + Q (intangible benefits)

    You need to maximize Q and minimize Z if you want $

  3. kerri says:

    You know, if you submit and abstract and get selected to present a poster or presentation, you can most certainly take this news to your proffessor, or even the department chair of which your degree is located. If your abstract gets accepted, it’s really kind of hard for your boss and your department to turn you down for travel assistance. (Of course, you have to foot the bill initially and then fill out the forms for reimbursement)

    • no! says:

      It is REALLY not a good idea for an undergrad to submit an abstract behind the back of the PI. Bad bad form. Don’t do this.

      • kerri says:

        OH YA! Don’t want you to submit without asking first!!!! The ‘take this news’ I was speaking of is the acceptance of your abstract by the conference (that your prefessor/boss gave the okay for submission)!!!!

        Thanks for reminding me to clairify!

  4. Liquidcarbon says:

    ACS@SF? I’ll be there!

    The policy in our lab is that you get paid only if you’re giving a talk. I went to Salt Lake City last time as a first-year grad student, mostly ’cause I wanted badly to see it with my own eyes – what is it like to have tens of thousands of chemists in one place. It wasn’t as great as I expected. The talk is totally useless – there is always someone famous speaking at the same time. I had 10 people at my talk, 5 of them from my lab. The poster sessions were more fun, especially when there were drinks.

    I think you could play it by going to your advisor and saying that want to give a talk. Show enthusiasm and all that.

    I have to say that our lab is a little crazy. In fact, almost ALL of us are going to ACS this year (more than 10 people). We’re going to Tahoe after this. It’s gonna be at least 42 times more awesome than Salt Lake City.

    You submitted the abstract before the deadline, right?

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