By: Kate Gawel
If you are like many young chemical engineers, you know the importance of going to conferences to network and learn more about the industry's latest developments, but lack the personal funds to finance attendance. Being new at a company, you may not have yet figured out the best way to go about requesting your company to send you. The most important part about asking for funding is to show your manager what is in it for your department, plant, or company and compare that to the cost of attendance. The best place to start when looking at the benefits of attendance is to ask around and find out if there is anyone in your company who is active in AIChE who is attending the Spring Meeting or has in the past. If there is, hopefully you will be able to talk to them and find out how they convinced their manager to send them. You may also find out when you start asking around that your company already understands the importance of sending employees to the AIChE Spring Meeting, in which case you may just need to express an interest in order to get funding. If this is not the case, however, the steps below will help you to develop a well thought out benefit versus cost analysis which can help you persuade your boss the importance of attending the conference.
State the benefits
First, determine the benefits and cost of attending the AIChE Spring Meeting. In order to justify your time away from the office as well as the monetary cost of registration, hotels, flights, etc. put together a comprehensive list that will allow your boss to easily evaluate and make a speedy decision. First let's discuss the benefits:
- Technical Programming - The most obvious reason for attending a conference is the technical programming. Fortunately, the Spring Meeting offers many programming options in various topics of industry and industrial applications. So review the scheduled programming on the AIChE website and make up a mock schedule of workshops, panels, and talks you would like to attend that all apply to your job function or industry. You can make your mock schedule by hand or use the AIChE Personal Scheduler. A good place to start is with the Young Professional, Safety, and Sustainability-related programming because all of these topics can be applicable to a wide variety of job functions and industries. For more information on Young Professional Programming, also see the article Spring Meeting YP Programming: Preview.
- Networking - The next reason to attend a conference is for the networking opportunities. The key here is to stress the opportunities this can offer your company or department versus the personal opportunities. For example, if you are working on a safety initiative, you may be able to talk about the opportunity you will get to speak with some of the world's leaders in process safety. The key here is to remember WIFM (What's in It for Me), with the me in this case being your company, when putting together your argument. Be sure to check out the Spring Meeting YP Networking Mixer for an opportunity to meet a wide variety of people. For more information about the mixer, see the article Spring Meeting YP Mixer: Why Attend?
Determine the costs
Now that you have a well-thought-out argument of the benefits, it's time to determine what exactly the costs are.
- Time Off - The first cost that the conference will incur is time away from your primary job functions. Your mock schedule should allow you to determine which days you want to attend the conference, so adding that plus travel time will give you the total number of days. If you are concerned that the total amount of time may be a deal breaker, be sure to look at compromises, including working remotely from the conference between sessions, or worst case, using vacation time for some portion of the time.
- Registration - The next cost is the registration cost of the conference. Once again, using your mock schedule, you will be able to determine if you will need a full conference registration or a day pass. Be sure to look into early registration vs. regular registration fees. Also, if you know another member of your company who is attending the conference and this is your first Spring Meeting, you can take advantage of a special promotion being run for this conference which enables you to get 50% off your registration fee.
- Travel - Next on the list of costs is transportation. If you are lucky enough to live within driving distance of Houston, that's great; the only thing you need to determine is mileage. If you will require a flight, however, look into the approximate cost of flights and be willing to do everything in your power to get the best rate, such as driving to a slightly farther airport or taking an early morning or late night flight. Also determine the best way to get from the airport to your hotel (taxi, public transportation, or rental car). If you know others who are attending the conference, you may be able to coordinate your flights so you can share a taxi in order to reduce costs.
- Hotel - If you require a hotel, look into rates for conferences near the hotel. Also if you know others who are attending, see if you can work out sharing a room so that each person's company pays for 1-2 nights. Another way to cut hotel costs is by flying in the morning of the first day you want to attend the conference and out the night of the last day.
- Food - Now that all the big ticket items are covered, the only thing left is food. It's up to you to determine if having your company pay for meals is going to be a deal breaker or not. This may be something that you completely leave out of your discussion and just plan on paying by yourself.
Once you have gone through this exercise, you should be well prepared to sit down with your manager. By going through and explaining to your boss the benefits of attending the Spring Meeting as well as showing him that you have minimized costs as best as you can, you'll be telling your boss how important this conference is to you and that you're willing to take the initiative to make it happen. Make sure that you submit a report or do a presentation of relevant material for your group when you return from the conference to reinforce the benefits of your trip. This can help secure funding for future meetings. Hopefully by taking the initiative and following our advice, you'll be able not only to be funded to go, but you'll also make a good impression on your boss. Good luck!