Jesse Fox

Communication, singular

Tag: grad school

Making conference travel affordable: Tips & tricks

Traveling to conferences can be a continuing financial burden for academics. There’s also the added twist that often times, the locations people are most excited about are also the most expensive. ICA 2014 in London exceeded all expectations and was a great conference—but I also didn’t take the time to plan in advance and ended up spending way more money than I had budgeted for (even worse, most of it was on bad meals, also due to a lack of planning.) Here are a few tips for making work travel slightly less paralyzing for your checkbook (that may come in handy for last minute spring break planning too–who knows.)

Find friends. As soon as you know you’re going, sound the alarms for potential roommates and/or travel partners. This is the easiest way to cut down on hotel and travel expenses (especially if you can drive instead of fly) and, of course, it makes conferencing more fun. If you have friends in your destination city, see if they’re willing to put up with a houseguest for a couple of days.

Check your discounts. Sure, you get a conference hotel discount…but even then, conference hotels can be far outside of a normal travel budget. Few of us have the luxury of free hotel stays thanks to accumulated travel points, but sometimes there are benefits we forget about attached to other affiliations. Sometimes being a student is enough to get you a discount. I find my AAA card indispensable not only as a driver but also as a traveler, because many hotels and attractions (e.g., museums, historical sites) will give you an additional discount. I also belong to two social organizations that also get discounts on rental cars. Of course, always compare these prices with what you can find on bargain travel websites.

Do your research. Before you start digging, find out the basics about your destination by looking at travel sites. How far away is it from your school? Could you drive, or must you fly? What airports can you fly into? Is there a public transportation system? How is the public transit access from the airport to the hotel or from your hotel to the conference site? Are there affordable dining options around the hotel (and will they be open)? Don’t forget to check out the materials assembled by the sponsoring association–sometimes they have helpful hints there, such as leads on cheap transportation or staying in cheap campus housing for the conference.

Lodging. A little inconvenience can mean huge savings at conferences. It’s great to be able to take the elevator to talks and stay indoors when conferences are inexplicably scheduled in miserable climates, but you can often save hundreds of dollars outside of the conference hotel. For ICA in San Francisco several years ago, a colleague was able to book a room for us in a hotel less than a block away from the conference for over $100 cheaper a night, and it was just as nice as the conference hotel.

If you are staying for an extended period (e.g., for a preconference), you might search out non-hotel alternatives through,, or other websites that lease out apartment-style living spaces. These sites usually get you access to a full kitchen, which means you can minimize your food budget by feeding on cereal, peanut butter, frozen burritos, and/or pasta.

If you are driving to the conference and have access to a car, this can free you up even more. If you’re in a suburban area, staying at a hotel closer to the highway will often net you the free parking, free breakfast, and free wifi that is a rare trifecta for conference hotels. Typically you can pay a small fee ($10 or less a day) to get a microwave and mini-fridge in your room, which can cut food costs considerably.

Transportation. At a recent ICA in Phoenix, I was amazed how many people didn’t realize that there was a train that ran from the airport to within a couple blocks from the hotel. I spent $4 round trip; I heard round trip taxi fare was about 10 times that. From what I’ve observed, this usually isn’t a secret: the conference organizations often advertise these options in newsletters and on the website. Take the time to skim the materials your associations lovingly assemble and pick up some travel pointers.

If you’re driving to your destination, don’t forget to factor in tolls and parking. I have stayed at highway hotels and used public transportation or driven to conference hotels; even when I have to pay $30 to park at the conference hotel as I did at NCA 2012 in Ughlando, though, my off-site lodging option was still considerably cheaper (especially when factoring in the other amenities like a full kitchen).

Food & drink. The easiest way to save money on food is to eat in your hotel room. When looking at your hotel options, check to see if they offer a free breakfast, mini-fridge, microwave, or coffeemaker. I eat constantly, so I typically pack food (given groceries are rarities near conference sites). Cereal is an easy breakfast and/or snack. Bagels are great for breakfast and can also host lunch with some peanut butter (they also travel better than crackers or bread.) Energy bars are convenient and don’t take up a lot of space. Add some apples, pears, or other sturdy fruits and you should make it through the week without starving or scurvy. If you have access to a grocery, you can expand your repertoire from hotel room grilled cheese and coffemaker ramen to frozen meals, depending on the presence of an iron, microwave, and/or mini-fridge in your room.

For a caff-fiend like me, a coffeemaker is indispensable for my conference productivity. Nothing gets my goat like having to fork over $4 in the conference hotel lobby for awful Starbucks. Over the course of 3-4 days, those little expenditures add up (not to mention the inevitable eons-long line in between morning panels.)

At the conference, ask around about the evening parties sponsored by schools. Some provide free food or drink tickets, but usually these only last for the early arrivals. If you stroll in fashionably late, you’ll only witness the scavenged remains of various crudité and feel a deep sense of disappointment.

As an eater (i.e., someone who likes to eat frequently and awesomely; please don’t confuse me for a foodie), my favorite part of conference travel is finding good noms. I consult several food sites (like, my life coach) in addition to destination guides to find feasible and affordable options. This research helped me track down a food truck gathering four blocks from ICA in Phoenix, a hole in the wall with decent $3 margaritas in San Francisco, and several spectacular food adventures in various back alleys at NCA New Orleans (including the Green Goddess, which was bizarre in all the right ways). When in doubt, ask a few locals or a hotel employee (not the front desk or concierge, however.) After several disappointing meals, I asked a bellhop in London where he liked to eat nearby, and he told us about a Thai restaurant that was hidden in the upstairs of a nearby pub. The food was amazing–far more delicious and affordable than anything else we found within walking distance of the hotel.

Entertainment. Occasionally you are lucky enough to have time to do something purely for fun. As mentioned before, some attractions will offer discounts for students or people with a college ID. There are also military discounts, senior discounts, and membership discounts (AAA) for places, so always ask. If you are plan on hitting up several attractions, you might see if there is a discounted pass, but be realistic about your availability. If you’re conferencing you may only have time to see one or two things, and separate admissions would be cheaper than a pass. You can also investigate the tours and offerings assembled by conference organizers, but I find that organizing on your own is usually cheaper.

As far as socializing goes, the hotel lobby bar is often a great place to run into people and strike up conversations, but it is also a notorious money vacuum. Beyond the school-hosted parties frequented by attendees, often there are interest group or graduate student organization happy hours at off-site locations. Take advantage of them. Often conference hotels are in downtown areas, and your bar and club options can be expensive. If you are looking for some nightlife, do a little online research and see if you can’t uncover a less expensive alternative.

Do math, and remember that time = money. Now that I’ve given you all these tips on how to conserve your funds, let me add one caveat. Saving money is important, but some things are also worth the extra money to save yourself time and frustration. If public transportation requires a shuttle to a train to a bus to a trolley with 30 minute layovers in between each stop, sometimes it’s worth it to fork over the extra money for a taxi. If you make this allowance, though, remember you’ll need to tighten the purse strings in another part of your budget.

Key books for grad students in Communication

IMG_1374I’m not going to get topical on you and list my favorite books on comm tech, which are for another day. These are the books that I find indispensable for graduate students in Communication. I’ll note that these are skewed toward my own practices and experiences (submitting predominantly to social scientific journals and using both quantitative and qualitative methods) but several will be useful for any graduate student in the social sciences.


Guide to Publishing in Psychology Journals edited by Robert J. Sternberg

My amazing faculty mentor, Dr. Brad Bushman, gave me this book when I asked some questions about feedback I had received on a rejected journal article. I devoured the whole book in two days, and in the end I was picking skull bits out of my ceiling because my brain had exploded. WHAT??? was my reaction to many of the chapters. I realized that, in six years of grad school, I had never really been taught how to write an article for publication. In grad school you get a lot of feedback on how to write lit reviews and front ends of papers in class, but often there’s not enough focus on the practical aspects of writing for journals. Highly, highly recommended for quantitative scholars.

The Compleat Academic: A Career Guide (2nd ed.) edited by John M. Darley, Mark P. Zanna, & Henry L. Roediger III

This book was another gift from my faculty mentor. Although this is mostly aimed at young faculty, this is a very useful text for grads as well with chapters on job searching, giving job talks, teaching, setting up a lab, grant writing, and managing department hierarchies and politics. It also has the same general chapter by Daryl Bem as the book above that has very useful points for writing empirical articles.

Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (6th ed.) by the APA

You can substitute whatever your area’s formatting tome of choice is here. Make sure you have the most current edition. I like APA because they provide advice on clear writing as well (and they endorse the Oxford comma as all rational people should.) Beyond that, you need to be familiar with the major format of your area because violating it can have consequences. Of course, if you don’t mind getting your papers desk rejected or held up for weeks because you don’t feel like learning the rules, then there’s no need to worry about a silly thing like formatting. Is it annoying that something as trivial as how you punctuated a reference can hold up science? Of course, but that’s the way it goes.

On a related note, if you’re on the academic path for a while, suck it up and buy the actual manual. Online resources are incomplete and often outdated, and you put yourself at risk of really annoying your teacher/advisor/research collaborator/first author when they task you with the formatting and you can’t seem to follow basic directions. (On the plus side, one day you too may be able to pass the formatting buck to a co-author.)

The Elements of Style by Strunk & White

I was raised by an English teacher. I have a degree in English with a focus on writing. I taught English and writing in several contexts. I have had several professional writing jobs. As you can probably tell from reading this blog, my PsychToday blog, or even this post, I am still far from a perfect writer. This slim volume will remind you how many awful habits you need to break. Best of all, Strunk and White (yes, the guy who wrote Charlotte’s Web) have peppered it with plenty o’ snark.

If you’re the grammar/style policing type, you will learn new things that will make your hair stand on end. I mention this before presenting you with the following rant: in the name of Strunk and White and all things holy, I implore you to stop using the word “utilize.” Face it: you learned that word in middle school and started inserting it into every social studies report and English paper thinking it made you sound smarter. BARF. You’re an adult now. Stop it.

Quantitative Research

Discovering Statistics Using IBM SPSS Statistics (4th ed.) by Andy Field

Dr. Field and I share a love for ruh-ruh-ruh metal and bizarre data examples, so I was warm to this book from the very beginning. It is the book I wish I knew existed when I was first learning SPSS. This won’t be the only stats book you need, but it is an incredibly useful synthesis of statistical tests and reasoning and using SPSS to execute said tests. Great screenshots and supplementary materials (sample datasets, syntax, and elaborations on the accompanying website). Even as a seasoned user I learned a lot of tips and tricks for using SPSS more efficiently. It also delves into the very necessary PROCESS functions (see below.) Make sure you get the latest edition as the SPSS interface has changed over the years, and older versions of the book don’t discuss PROCESS.

Introduction to Mediation, Moderation, and Conditional Process Analysis: A Regression Based Approach by Andrew F. Hayes

Speaking of PROCESS, if you are a quantitative researcher, you can’t live without it. Dr. Hayes’s book delves much more into the mathematical reasoning and equations behind these processes, so I recommend warming up with Field’s chapter on basic moderation & mediation so you have a good overview. Make sure you also have the downloaded materials that come with the PROCESS package handy as there are a lot of models there that are not illustrated in the book.

Qualitative Research

Basics of Qualitative Research: Techniques and Procedures for Developing Grounded Theory (3rd ed.) by Juliet Corbin & Anselm Strauss

The Strauss lineage of books is a great place to start with qualitative research. I recommend the later editions as they delve more into the use of technologically-mediated sites for research and computer programs for analysis. Note: there is a 4th edition set to come out in fall 2014.

Qualitative Communication Research Methods by Thomas R. Lindolf & Bryan C. Taylor

Yes, I’m partial to this book in part because Dr. Lindolf is affiliated with the University of Kentucky and I get to see examples from all my former profs in here. This book is also a useful addition to the Corbin & Strauss volume because it is very helpful to see how qualitative methods are incorporated specifically in communication research. Occasionally I have trouble identifying with and extrapolating from examples from other fields, so it’s helpful to have a good in-house text. I also find the writing very lucid, which is refreshing when many methods books (both qual and quant) are unnecessarily obtuse.


This is a work in progress, so if you have any other suggestions, I’d be happy to hear them.

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