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Making A Case For Conferences

by Brought to you by the ACS Career Navigator
August 4, 2014 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 92, Issue 31

Credit: Shutterstock
Attending conferences benefits not only you but also your employer.
A stock image of a session at a conference.
Credit: Shutterstock
Attending conferences benefits not only you but also your employer.

You know that attending a scientific conference can be one of the best ways to learn about current advances in your field, build and strengthen your professional networks, and enhance your career. But it can be a challenge to obtain permission and resources from your employer to attend the conference of your choice. Below are some strategies to help maximize your chances of getting what you need.

PREPARE YOUR ASK. Ideally, your employment package included attendance at professional conferences. If there is something related to conference participation in your contract or offer letter, read it carefully so you know exactly what you have been promised. Did your offer include a certain number of conferences per year? Did it include professional development? Conferences certainly fall into that category. If so, attendance is assumed and only the specific details need to be worked out. In addition, ask other employees in similar roles what they have done, to help position your request. Before bringing the topic up with your supervisor, make sure you have specific details on dates, expenses, the program, travel, and so on.

HELP THE BUSINESS. Include in your request how your attendance at the conference will help the company in multiple ways. For example, you might learn how to improve the firm’s technology, obtain competitive intelligence, or build relationships with customers. Identify technical sessions on topics related to current processes as well as sessions on emerging areas for possible growth. Determine who will be attending (customers, suppliers, and competitors could be exhibitors or attendees) and who is geographically near the meeting site, and offer to set up in-person meetings. Look for other co-located professional development opportunities that will take place immediately before or after the event. Volunteer to write a trip report afterward, sharing what you have learned with colleagues at your company.

PREPARE FOR RESISTANCE. Anticipate your supervisor’s objections and have your counterarguments ready. Maybe it’s not in the budget, or your boss can’t spare you from the lab, or the conference is not directly related to your work. For each objection, prepare a response in advance: exact cost, who will cover your work, and specific relevant technical sessions, for example. You don’t need to bring these up, but having prepared answers will allow you to defuse objections and demonstrate your sincerity.

NEGOTIATE. If you don’t get the resounding “yes” you were hoping for, you can always negotiate. If the objection is financial, offer to pay the registration fee yourself or to use frequent-flier miles for the airfare. Perhaps your employer would be willing to chip in for the hotel and food. If your boss is concerned that your work won’t get done, offer to work ahead before the trip or have coworkers agree to cover your work while you are gone (and then do the same for them). If it’s a bad time of year, can you find a different meeting to attend or move a project deadline so it does not conflict?

Attending scientific conferences will help advance your career, so it’s in your best interest to attend them on a regular basis. You need to make the effort to find the right meeting, do your homework, and convince your supervisor that by supporting your attendance, everyone wins.

Get involved in the discussion. The ACS Career Tips column is published the first week of every month in C&EN. Post your comments, follow the discussion, and suggest topics for future columns in the Career Development section of the ACS Network (


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