How to Cover Your Expenses to Attend Professional Conferences

iStudent Blog

Once you begin your graduate program at SJSU SLIS you will most likely hear about the benefits of attending professional conferences. These are great opportunities to explore trends in the information profession, expand your professional network, and get new ideas regarding career options. Yet if you’re like most SLIS students, you may find it challenging to afford the costs of attending professional conferences, especially national conferences.

SLIS student Sharon Cheslow recently attended the California Academic and Research Libraries (CARL) annual conference in San Jose. She was thrilled to be able to attend the professional conference on a scholarship she received from CARL, which provided $500 towards her travel expenses and registration fees.

I chatted with Sharon recently, and thought I’d share some highlights from our conversation, so you can learn more about these types of scholarships. And hopefully Sharon’s story can inspire you to consider attending professional conferences while earning your graduate degree

How did you find out about the scholarship you received?

One of the coordinators of the CARL/ACRL conference is a librarian at California Institute of the Arts (CalArts) where I had completed an internship. I had actually met her prior to enrolling in SLIS, because I had done graduate studies at CalArts. She told me about the conference and scholarship. I realize now most conferences offer travel scholarships to students, and the information is usually on the website of the professional association. The CARL/ACRL website is at

What was the process to apply for the scholarship?

Students applying for travel scholarships first need to join the professional association that is organizing the conference. Student membership fees are usually much lower than regular membership fees. I joined CARL, which is the California chapter of ACRL, and then submitted an application for the Ilene F. Rockman CARL/ACRL Conference Scholarship. I needed to submit a personal statement, CV, and two letters of reference.

What did you like best about the CARL conference?

I met many wonderful people and learned a lot. It was a great opportunity to talk to academic librarians who shared similar interests. In some of the workshops we were even able to collaborate on ideas with each other. I’ve already applied some of what I’ve learned in my classes and hope to use what I’ve learned in future jobs.

What tips or advice would you give SLIS students interested in attending a conference on scholarship? Why would you recommend SLIS students attend a conference?

Attending a conference is a great way for students to meet people in the information field. One of the advantages of the CARL/ACRL conference is that it’s more intimate than others. I suggest students attend a regional conference first, since it’s less overwhelming than a national conference.

It’s best to allow at least a month to complete the scholarship application. It’s challenging to juggle applying for the conference while focusing on school assignment deadlines, so the more time students can give themselves the better. It’s also a good idea to register early for the conference, since fees are lower.

As far as tips on attending conferences, SLIS offers some great information through an online module on the 23 Things website. (This amazing resource offers extensive advice if you are planning on attending a professional conference, including choosing sessions to attend, and tips for networking during the conference, even if you are an introvert.)

The 23 Things module also mentions some of the major professional conferences you might want to consider (such as ALA, SLA, Internet Librarian, and ACRL). However, some associations besides those mentioned that might be of interest to SLIS students are Society of American Archivists (SAA), Music Library Association (MLA), Association of Moving Image Archivists (AMIA), and Art Libraries Society (ARLIS).

Sharon is one of many SLIS students who have attended a professional conference on scholarship or through a work-study contract. Many students don’t realize that they can attend conferences on reduced rates, through scholarships or by offering to work during the conference. As Sharon recommends, you might consider starting small and attending a local conference to get your feet wet.

If you have attended a professional conference, I invite you to post a comment. Share your tips for getting the most out of the experience.

Additional pages to peruse:

Student Ian Matzen works at the Digital Assets Management European Conference

Student Diane Malmstrom Wins Award to Attend ALA Midwinter Conference


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