Inevitably as part of your PhD you will have to attend conferences. It’s all part of understanding what’s going on in your research field both nationally and internationally. Your supervisor should be able to tell you which conferences you should be going to and you should try and plan these into your schedule.
It is generally agreed that conferences also give an opportunity to network which could be useful for looking for work in the future.
All PhD students are entitled to a certain amount of money to cover you going to conferences via the University. This would be managed by your Research Institute and is generally around £300. If you need more than this you will need to do your homework and it’s a good idea to start by investigating what external funding is on offer. Sometimes the organisers of conferences will have “conference funds” that research students can apply to. Find out if the conference you want to attend has its own graduate fund, to pay some of your travel and accommodation costs. Your own subject area nationally may have funds you can apply to – one example is the British Academy which has funds for the Humanities and Social Sciences. Sometimes your Research Institute may have additional funds and as a very last resort approach the Research and Graduate College. Whoever you apply to for financial support, you will need to clearly present why the conference is valuable for you to attend and what benefits you will gain from it. This is actually good experience as if you apply for academic jobs in the future it will be good to have evidence that you have had experience of pitching even in a small way for costs (you’ll also learn something if you are unsuccessful). Successfully applying for funding is a key part of being an academic. Your chances of getting financial support are much stronger if you are actually presenting at a conference. You may sometimes decide you just need to put your hand in your pocket and pay for yourself. Arguably, if you are funded for your PhD, paying some expenses for conferences is an anticipated cost of your award.
The other kind of events that you could attend which are external to the University are training sessions. An excellent example of a provider of training is the Higher Education Academy which has numerous Subject Centres which run courses of interest. Find the subject centre relevant to you and try to attend events that you will benefit from. Sometimes the subject centres will have funds to support postgraduates who want to attend and need travel costs. Other examples of organisations which run training for researchers include the British library and Vitae. Both run courses that are free to attend and may have additional funds if you need subsistence. Just as with conferences – you can also pitch via the University if you need funds for attending any such training. You will have to make your pitch as convincing as possible and show that the training you need is not available locally.
It is important to make it a priority to get to relevant external training and conferences as this will enrich your research and also help you make contacts that could be useful in the future. So it’s worth persevering with some of hassle around the logistics of arranging to attend.