Hack your conference award application

Here at Hack Library School we’re a big fan of conferences, and they are fantastic, fantastic things.  They introduce you to new ideas, best practice; you meet your colleagues from around the country (or the globe!) and you get to just immerse yourself in librarianship for a few days.  They’re also potentially pricy, almost out of the reach of a lot of students, especially for the bigger conferences.  This is where getting an award (or a bursary, a grant or a sponsored place, vocab differs) comes in.

Award applications can be tricky things, as they’re almost but not quite like all sorts of other things you’ll have done – job or course applications, college assignments, reports for work, the list goes on. Here’s a few things I’ve picked up from my own applications and the experiences of others.

Image by hisham_hm via Flickr CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Image by hisham_hm via Flickr
CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Check your deadlines

Don’t be that person trying to send in an application after the deadline’s passed. Please. If you’ve just missed what looked like an excellent opportunity, do some research and work out how often it’s open – if for a specific conference, check when the application process opened this time, or if it’s a seasonal bursary check when it might next reopen, then work back a month or a bit longer and write that date down  – even if you’ve only got an approximate date stick it in your calendar so you know to at least check.

Treat it like a job application

An excellent tip courtesy of 2013 SLA Europe ECCA winner Penny Andrews. The decision makers want to see proper effort – a half-hearted attempt will be obvious, especially if everyone else has put a lot of time into it.  You know your best ways of working – timetable a slot to work on it, or an evening, or write notes as and when. Channel your assignment writing skills into this too – judges want to see well written, though out and persuasive applications.

Ask questions

Do you know a past award winner? Can your school put you in touch with someone? Direct advice can be really helpful here.  Flex your research skills and see if you can find blogs from past award winners – they might talk about the application process quite openly. Don’t be afraid to clarify things with the awarding body too.

Take a risk – but be honest

I was fortunate enough to be awarded one of this year’s SLA Europe’s Early Career Conference Awards, co-sponsored by the Competitive Intelligence Division.  I haven’t had the chance to really explore CI while studying or at my jobs but it’s a field that I find fascinating with applications outside of the expected corporate librarianship world.  I was completely honest about this lack of experience in my application, and was certain that would mean I’d never get it. Obviously that wasn’t the case, so don’t let a lack of direct experience stop you from applying to an awarding body that does things you’re passionate about.

Apply for more than one

Sometimes an award is only a partial award – some of your expenses covered, or money towards attending a conference. With careful planning this doesn’t have to be a massive hurdle – try applying for more than one source of funding. If you’ve already secured part of the money you need with one award then you can make a reasoned application for another one – you’ve shown initiative and you’re clearly a good candidate as other bodies have judged you to be so.

Remember who you’re applying to

This one might seem simple, but if you’re applying to be sponsored by a specific group (special interest group or a more corporate sponsor with specific goals) then try to address how attending this conference will assist you in developing in this area.

Image by Michael A. Herzog CC BY 2.0

Image by Michael A. Herzog
CC BY 2.0

Address your responsibilities

Look into what you’re expected to do if you get the award. This might be nothing, or it might be quite a lot – blog posts are basically to be expected nowadays, but you might also be expected to tweet, give a talk to the awarding body’s members afterwards, or be present at receptions.  Award winners have given acceptance speeches, handed out flyers, set up meeting spaces, and all sorts of other tasks in return for their award.  At the very least you’ll be a visible sign of your awarding body’s presence at the conference, so be prepared for that. Address any responsibilities in your application, especially if it’s something you do a lot – if you blog a lot or tweet a lot that’s a sign you’re comfortable with this.  Do also check when they expect you to discharge these duties by, and budget some time when you get back.

Read the conference schedule

Is there a particular speaker you want to hear? A group of people you hope to meet? If it’s a conference with thematic strands, is one of those strands vital to your capstone project? Be specific about why you want and need to attend this conference. If the judges get the impression you just fancy a holiday or are just applying for the sake of it, you’ll get pipped at the post by someone whose application rings across as more genuine. Get your research done early, but be prepared to tweak details later as the conference organisers confirm speakers or arrangements.

Ask for feedback

If you weren’t successful, and the awarding body haven’t pre-emptively said they won’t give feedback, send a polite email to ask for any comments the judges might have.  If you’re lucky these will be specific things you can work on for next time.

Apply again!

You’ve done it once, you know what the application process is like, you might have feedback – so go for it. No one’s going to look down on you for being keen!

Have you got any more tips and tricks for conference applications? Judged an award process and want to give applicants some insight? Let me know!

4 replies

  1. I’m fortunate that I’ve had good luck receiving conference awards. I think I have won 3 or 4, which is the only reason I’ve attended annual conferences at ALA, ARLIS, and VRA. My advice is this: APPLY! Seriously. So many people hesitate to apply for these awards because they think “Oh, I won’t get it.” I’ve heard time and time again that travel award committees struggle to get people to apply, which is one reason why deadlines are so frequently extended. Since I’m a past recipient, I serve as a current member and the incoming chair of a travel award committee this year and I can confirm that this is indeed true. Just do it!

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