Saturday, July 13, 2013

How to Get Funding to Attend GHC: Don't Be Afraid to Ask!

Each year, I hear again and again from people who struggle to get funding to attend the Grace Hopper Conference.  It can be hard for students if their university doesn't support them to attend, or if they are given the choice between using student travel awards to attend a technical conference in their field or GHC.  It can also be hard for those in industry, especially more junior employees who don't feel empowered to ask for funding to attend.

I've attended the conference four times now, and each time I was able to get some level of support to go.  I'll share what I did each year and hopefully if you are in a similar situation, you will find it useful when preparing for GHC13!

The first year I attended, I applied to our CS department for an Undergraduate Travel Scholarship.  Since I was also participating in the Richard Tapia Conference Robotics Competition, it was easy to justify my attendance.  The Women in Machine Learning workshop was also held in the same location, so I was able to sell attending GHC and miss a week of work on my Undergraduate Research Assistantship.

I was also a Hopper (volunteer), which meant I could use the travel award to fund flights/hotel rather than conference fees.

Key Takeaways:
  1. Find out if there are technical talks, workshops or events happening during the conference time that will help you learn and grow as a student or employee through your participation in them.
  2. Be a Hopper or find some way to get involved with the conference (i.e. be an Official Blogger, Official Tweeter, or Community Evangelist - applications will open soon!).  Conference involvement can also help you get funding from your school or company.
The second year I attended, I won a Google Global Community Scholarship to attend the conference.  I think one thing that helped my application was that I was participating in the conference as a Blogger and I had a talk proposal accepted.  Since I knew our CS department could give the travel award money, I organized a group of CS women to attend and helped them apply for funding.  Our CS department had a rule that graduate students had to use their travel award for GHC travel, and I campaigned against this as well, getting an exemption and separate GHC funds made available for grad students. 

Key Takeaways:
  1. Policies that make grad students use limited travel funds for all conference travel make them reluctant to attend GHC.  Lobby your department for a separate GHC travel award to help ensure grad students don't have to make that choice.
  2. Submit conference proposals!  Whether in academia or industry, getting a proposal accepted makes it much easier to justify attending.  Even when your company is heavily supportive of GHC efforts like mine is, knowing I'll be contributing to the conference gives me that much more reason to take time out of regular work to attend, and helps me set an example to others too!
This was my first year attending from industry.  Even though my company is hugely supportive of GHC, I was a little hesitant to ask to attend during my first two years working.  In 2011 I got my nerve up and asked to go, requesting only that I not have to take time off.  I funded most of the trip myself.  I was still an Official Blogger and tweeted many of the sessions.  I also helped out at our recruiting booth.

Key Takeaways:
  1. For attendees: Had I known what I know now, I would have made a proposal to attend using my training budget.  The lesson here is to prepare a strong justification of why you should go and don't be afraid to ask!
  2. For managers: new employees who will probably benefit the most from a conference like GHC may be reluctant to ask.  If there is a training budget or group that can help these employees attend, don't forget to suggest it to them.
Last year I was determined to get funding to go.  I got a proposal accepted at the conference, was sitting on a conference committee, planned to be an official blogger again, and was also helping with our company's GHC efforts.  I also wanted to find a way to help others attend and evangelize the product I work on.  I found some good connections and a great partner in Developer Evangelist Ed Donahue and got a proposal together detailing a workshop we could provide right at our recruiting booth.  Long story short, I was able to get funding not just for myself but for 10 other technical women from my org.  AND we had an awesome recruiting booth!

Key Takeaways:
Get organized, get involved, and involve others.  We gathered stats and data pointing to benefits not just for the attendees professionally, but for the company as well.  Make it easy for your managers to support you going by making strong, detailed arguments.  And don't be afraid to ask!


Dana said...

What was the process to become an official blogger? I'm highly interested, but I haven't found anything on the website yet.

Kate said...

There will be an announcement/call for volunteers coming soon. Keep your eyes on this blog and the Grace Hopper site ( as it will be posted there. You can also follow announcements on twitter (@ghc, @bukephalas, @anitaborg)

Kate said...

If it's part of your funding pitch I would definitely indicate your interest, and at any rate you can blog regardless of having Official status or not, if that helps. :)