When I started looking into SU’s MLIS program I was surprised to hear alumni, students, and faculty talking about all the great opportunities that exist for students to attend library conferences. I was new to the library field and attending conferences as a student wasn’t something I considered, much less budgeted for. Thankfully, one of the great things about professional library organizations is that they really do seem to put conference registration fees within reach for grad students. Problem is, unless it’s local, travel costs add up fast. Especially for those of us who are missing class and work to be there.

Enter, travel grants.

After recently going through the wringer trying to get funding to attend a conference this semester (I was about 70% successful, all told), I thought I would share this checklist of sorts. Now you can go down the list, ask yourself these questions, and hopefully have an easy time of it.

Bonus: writing travel grant application essays is actually great practice for cover letter writing.

How much is it going to cost?

As soon as a conference catches your eye and you think you might want to go, draft a budget. It can be quick and dirty, but just make sure you include everything. (i.e., not just large travel expenses such as airfare or lodging, but also smaller expenses such as gas, cab fare, any extra pre-conference or workshop costs, food, drink, etc.). This way, you’ll have a real sense of what the total’s going to be. You’ll also have the estimated budget on hand so that if the application requires you to include this information (many do) you’ll have it ready to go, copy and paste. You’ll also be able to better suss out which travel grants are going to cover more of the costs vs. less.

After you draft a budget, that’s also a good time to consider ways you can cut costs. You can do this throughout the travel grant application process as you become aware of additional opportunities. But the nice thing about doing it up front is that it gives you a range for each category (e.g., $110/night for hotel vs. $55/night if you share the room) so that if you don’t get funded you can better decide if it’s still something you’re potentially able to/want to pay for on your own.

A few fast tips for cutting costs:

  • Transportation: Look for carpools, free shuttles, and free or cheap public transit options.
  • Lodging: Consider room-sharing opportunities, often available through professional organizations as well as more informally through your program.
  • Food: Look for opportunities to get snacks, meals, and drinks for free at hosted breakfasts, luncheons, and receptions (especially if you’re a first-time attendee to the conference) and even on the trade show floor.
  • Swag: Skip shopping at the airport or in town and cruise the trade show floor. There are all sorts of fun freebies, from pint glasses and pins to tote bags and books.
  • Volunteer opportunities: These can get you reduced registration rates and other perks. Even a small amount of compensation that can help defray the cost of travel. Plus, volunteering at a conference is a lot of fun–it’s a great opportunity to meet people you might not otherwise, and it offers a built-in icebreaker.

What are good resources for travel grants?

  • LISSA (Library & Information Science Student Assembly)
    • When you start looking for conference funding, first, check in with LISSA! They’re great about sharing conference info, including travel grant and scholarship opportunities, especially for some of the larger conferences.
  • Professional organizations
    • Join the professional organizations that interest you. Join their listservs, their regional branches, their sections, roundtables and special interest groups. Bookmark their websites and keep an eye out for announcements about travel grants (which they often announce six months or more in advance of the event).
  • The GSO (SU’s Graduate Student Organization)
    • The GSO accepts and reviews travel grant applications multiple times a semester. Are you presenting at a conference? This ups your chances of getting one of their grant awards (that’s the case with other organizations as well). Since the GSO requires that you also ask for funding from another source, this can be a good one to stack with another grant you’re applying for to use towards a more expensive conference. Get all the details here.

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How should I tackle the application?

Read all the fine print, even after you think you’ve read it all. There are different rules for each type of grant. You never know what you might miss if you don’t read carefully.

Add the due date to your calendar, and if it’s far off, set a reminder for yourself the month before. You’ll want this extra time if you need to solicit a letter of support.

Letters of support

  • Letters of support/recommendation are often a requirement of travel grant applications. Even if you’re not sure you’re attending anything, start thinking about this early on. Who knows your general career goals and can speak to your academic performance? If you’re not sure, reach out to your faculty advisor as a starting point. And when it comes time to choose, do a little additional research; for instance, maybe someone you know or work with is a member of the professional organization sponsoring the grant, and could speak to why it would be a beneficial experience for you to attend.
  • Once you know who you’d like as your reference, ask them well in advance. Chances are they’ll say yes, but on the off chance they don’t feel they’re a good fit, see if they can think of someone who might be.
  • Once you’ve confirmed your letter writer(s), let them know once you’ve submitted your application and remind them of the deadline for their letter. Thank them, and of course, if you get the grant, thank them even more!


The Essay

  • When it’s time to write the essay (and there usually is an essay), try to give yourself some time for it rather than just hammering it out in one go. Think about why you really want to attend the conference and the broader impact it could have on your academic life, professional career, etc. Do you plan to return the favor in some way (e.g., by volunteering for the organization, by contributing to a similar fund in the future, writing about your experience, etc)? If so, mention it.
  • After you draft the essay, edit it to be as concise as you can. Have someone else look it over before you hit send to catch any glaring errors or sentences that don’t make sense.

What if I don’t get the grant?

First, don’t let everything rest on one application, especially if you know you’re looking at a pricey trip. Find another one or two and rinse and repeat the above.

But if you don’t get the first, maybe not even the second one you applied for, that still doesn’t mean you have to stop there. Talk to your faculty advisor, your supervisor, LISSA, anyone else you can think of,  to see if there may be opportunities that you missed (or that may have become available since you started your search).

Also, paying out of pocket for a conference can still make sense if you feel it’s a worthwhile investment. If you’re not sure whether it’s going to be worthwhile, talk to someone who’s in the know and who’s been there. Maybe they’ll tell you it’s a can’t-miss opportunity, but then again, maybe they’ll tell you there’s something regional coming up from which you would get a similar experience for a fraction of the cost.

Did I miss anything? Share your tips and additional travel grant resources in the comments!