An academic conference with $1000 registration


Call now! Loan counselors are standing by at +1 (301) 731-4535*.

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This gets you a name badge, and a meal. The gala is a separately ticketed event that will cost you another Franklin.

But I imagine we’ll get an ICE tote bag. Yay!

Here is your routine reminder that it is our duty, as members of academic societies, to make sure that our conferences are affordable.

I’ve talked to so many scientists — of all levels of seniority — who are taking a pass on this ICE conference, because either they don’t have the funds, or think it’s downright absurd to price a meeting this high. I’m the rube who signed up anyway.

ICE is not alone in pricing their conferences too high. Here are a variety of scientific conferences and the non-discounted rates for non-student society members who miss the early bird rate**. (Keep in mind that membership is usually somewhere between 50 and 150 bucks, too.)

Even if you take the length of the International Congress of Entomology into account, it’s clearly an outlier, twice the price of many other conferences.

As a member of the Ecological Society of America, I’m proud that they keep registration affordable, particularly for students! I understand that meeting size affects prices, there is the benefit of scale, and mid-size meetings might have trouble filling venues but small venues can’t accommodate them. I haven’t put together attendance data for these meetings, which clearly has an effect. But, still. If some folks can run a meeting at 70 bucks per day, clearly it’s possible to run a meeting at less than double that rate.

Okay, some conferences have more coffee and snacks, and maybe even a couple meals comprised of expensive conference food. But I think most of us — especially with students that we’re bringing to the meeting — would prefer to not have to pay hundreds of extra dollars just to get access to long line of academics waiting to have access to a cheese platter.

And by the way, wait WUT all of us scientists should consult with our colleagues who run the Modern Language Association. Their conferences cost just fifty bucks per day! (And that’s at the non-student non-early bird rate. And, they also have much much cheaper rate for unemployed academics.) Grad students can go to the MLA meeting for all four days for just $55! The meeting has an average of maybe 10,000 attendees. Is that why it’s so reasonable? Then again, the Ecology meeting is in the same ballpark price range on a per-day basis, and has only a few thousand attendees, so it’s possible to have a meeting that size be reasonable.

This doesn’t leave an excuse for the Entomological Society of America, who run a meeting at about twice the cost of the Ecology meetings for attendees. They apparently aren’t focused on keeping costs down, because (I guess?) they have other priorities. (If they care to rebut, I’d love to see an actual budget for the expenditures. The website seems to be entirely opaque about where all that money goes for running the conference. Which, as a member of this member-run organization, is disappointing to me. I’ve love to be shown wrong on this matter.)

It’s the members — including the senior academics who primarily comprise the leadership — who need to start leading and change our academic societies so that our conferences can become affordable for our members. The only people who want to pay for unnecessary conference amenities are the ones who can afford them. These are the people who are on the committees that make decisions.

I was in the room where it happened, as a delegate in my my academic society, when we decided to choose a more expensive option over a more reasonable option. Why did we make this choice? Because my fellow senior scientists were thinking more about their personal interests in vacation travel than they were about the affordability for the students and postdocs.

How about we make the cost of a conference a priority? You can still hold a conference in a geographically desirable location and still not charge a fortune – the Ecological Society of America pulls this feat off regularly. How about everybody else, eh?



*This is the phone number for the meeting organizers, prominently placed on the meeting registration page. I’m not suggesting that you call them out of concern that they have priced meeting registration at One Thousand Dollars.

**Yes, there are early bird rates, and yes, there are student rates, and yes these are lower, and not by an equal margin. I arbitrarily selected a measuring stick to compare meetings. Feel free to do your own comparison and analysis in the comments, using the links I’ve provided, for other fee categories.

10 thoughts on “An academic conference with $1000 registration

  1. An interesting table of comparisons, even though the punitive costs for late-registering non-members are often arbitrarily high to encourage both early commitment and joining the society. At BES, on-time members pay almost half what late non-members pay. So we would come out very badly in your table ($160 per day) but only a fool would ever pay that because it’s much cheaper to just join for a year!

    Another issue is how much subsidy the conference gains from the wider activities of the society. I see ATBC comes out top of the table for costs, but this is because their conferences need to break even on their own terms (and rumour has it that the Montpelier meeting fell short by some margin). ATBC also have a generous set of grants and subsidies to cover the travel and registration costs of attendees from developing tropical countries; those of us who are (comparatively) rich are therefore directly supporting their attendance by paying the higher rate. I for one believe that makes the whole thing much fairer.

  2. Yes, ICE is too expensive (I’m going too). But I don’t think it’s fair to pay much attention to the non-early-bird rates. If you’re registering now, you’ve also missed the deadline to give a talk; missed the chance at low early-purchased airfares; quite possibly missed the chance at discounted conference-booked hotel blocks (OK, to be fair, these weren’t that cheap for ICE). In other words, if you’re registering now, you’re probably a rare bird among conference-attending academics and you probably made the bed you’re about to lay in.

    So the real comparison, for me, is among “early-bird” rates. ICE’s was definitely a worm ($595), but it’s not as outrageous or as clickbait-headliny (sorry!) as the Dr.-Evil-cackling One Thousands Dollars…

    But I agree with your broader point very much – we should be holding down conference costs, especially for students and postdocs, as much as we can. This, I gather, is partly why ESA was in Ft. Lauderdale in August. WHO, I asked, would go to Ft. Lauderdale in August? People who want to run a big conference on the (relative) cheap, apparently.

  3. @ Stephen: Normally, I’d 100% agree with you about early-bird rates and all that, but the organization and straight-up pilfering of attendees at ICE this year has infuriated me for the last 12 months. Don’t forget that early-bird registration deadlines were much later (and variable if you were a member of this or that society – a fact that was belatedly relayed to some of those societies) than the abstract deadline. Normally, that wouldn’t be a significant issue, but this year if you submitted a talk before registering there was an additional, non-refundable and non-transferrable $50US fee. That left attendees with 2 options: either pay an extra $50 on top of the already super-expensive meeting registration, or pay the registration fee months earlier than necessary (and thus both losing several months accumulated interest on that capital, while also paying several months extra interest on your credit card statement). For those of us (i.e. students) who are dependent on travel scholarships and bursaries to cover the costs of such an expensive meeting, and who usually don’t get that money until at or after the conference, we’re stuck with a big fee, growing debt, and relatively little CV-fodder thanks to restrictions on what we can submit.

    I’m really looking forward to ICE because of all the social benefits and opportunities, but that’s a hell of a price to pay for a social event, and one, in retrospect, I would have few qualms passing on.

  4. OK, so say an early-bird reg for a 4-day meeting is $400. A hotel for 4 nights is usually $400, and a flight anywhere outside the DC-Boston corridor (for me) is usually at least $400. Food is gonna be $50 a day. So real talk, a meeting in the middle of these costs is gonna be $1500 with incidentals. Scraping together funds from my Provost, Dean, and Dept head, I can usually get $1000 in support.

    As a result, and in real detriment to my research (I usually get 1 real paper idea or collab out of a good meeting), I can only realistically afford to go to 1 meeting a year, and I try to limit myself to local meetings I can drive to. The two things that help the most are: lower meeting fees, and non-hotel dorm options, that are closer to $50/night than $130. When meetings are at a uni rather than a resort, this is much more tractable. The American Arachnological Society meeting every year is pretty good about this- they try, anyway. SICB I can barely afford, and ICE is simply out of the question.

  5. As a recently completed PhD student – I hoped to fit under “student” status prior to graduating. “Yes” soon became “no” when I tried to apply:/. I am one of those who could not make it because of price.

  6. The situation is similar in Australia too. Conferences are so important for students and postdocs to network and meet collaborators, mentors and potential employers, especially for those working at regional universities who aren’t able to connect with others in their field on a regular basis. And these researchers are the demographic that so often miss out. I think recent PhD completions (eg comment above) and Honours/undergraduate students are the most affected. PhD students may be able to cover the conference costs with their operating funds (depending on their funding arrangement & institution rules). But Honours/undergrads at some institutions don’t have access to ANY money (not even for field work). Ideally, it would be great if conference organisers were prepared to give students free registration, or at least a very decent discount.

  7. I too would like to see a breakdown of the ICE budget. As Lauren Diepenbrock pointed out on Twitter, childcare for some unknown number of kids ages 2-12 is provided, which is something a lot of people have been calling for conferences to do. Registration is also discounted (looks like at the student rate?) for about 60 countries. (How much that discount will actually help attendees from those countries, given the still-high cost of the conference and of travel, is an entirely different question.) But these are two things (childcare, participation from low-income countries) that most of us would probably say we want to see subsidized, so, how much of the high registration fee is going towards those activities and how much is for less admirable reasons? A budget would show this. It would also be great to see, after the conference, registration numbers for each category. Who is subsidizing whom, and to what extent?

    A question for those in the commentariat who’ve participated in organizing conferences… how much do you take into account the accessibility of the city when picking a venue? For example, if you expect many participants from outside the country, is it worth it to choose a city with more international connections that’s also more expensive? I’ve been to some really inexpensive conferences that were held 2+ hours from the nearest airport. On the other hand, most of the cheaper conferences Terry has listed are still in major cities. Clearly, there’s an opportunity for some kind of “best practices” regarding affordable conferences.

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