The SIGCHI Student Travel Grant Program completes its first year

The SIGCHI Student Travel Grant Program completes its first year

Have you ever read about a conference that you’d love to go to, but know that it’s impossible? Impossible because it’s overseas and your university doesn’t support overseas travel? Impossible because your research is in areas not covered by your advisor’s grants? Impossible because your institution has no travel funding whatsoever? Now there is hope.

The SIGCHI Student Travel Grant program (hereafter the SSTG) was announced on April 21, 2016, by the then SIGCHI VP Conferences Scooter Morris. The program debuted in May 2016, and continued with quarterly deadlines in August, November, and February. Over the course of 2016, we provisionally awarded 34 grants for 10 conferences.

Of course, the history of travel support for students within SIGCHI conferences stretches back to our earliest conferences. Then, as now, support was often targeted at students who had work accepted but found it difficult to get financial support.

However, over the years SIGCHI has been made aware of cases where students weren’t submitting work to our conferences, as they weren’t assured of getting help to defray the cost to attend.

So, in late 2015 and early 2016, the SIGCHI Executive Committee and the Conference Management Committee began developing an advance travel grant program for students. The target audience was students who know that they will be unable to obtain funding to travel to a conference. The goal was to provide students with provisional grants that would be awarded before the earliest submission date of the conference, so that students would know that if they could get submissions accepted, they would have monetary support to attend.

We also made a number of changes to the program, so those who are familiar with the SSTG from 2016 should not assume they understand the workings of the current program.

For the 2017 year, the program has a budget of $90,000 and aims to award 50 grants for any of the 20+ SIGCHI sponsored or co-sponsored conferences. There are a number of things that students interested in the program should be aware of. First and foremost, each conference has a single deadline, and the deadline is much earlier than you would expect. Much, much earlier. This earliness is a consequence of provisionally awarding the grants before the earliest submission dates – and in fact, not only do we want students to know that they will have support in advance, we want them to have at least a few weeks to prepare their submissions!

The SSTG has a couple of particularly nice features. Of course, knowing that you will be supported if you get something accepted is a big win. But it is also the case that there is a lot of flexibility about what counts as an accepted submission. Let’s say you apply for an SSTG for conference X, and you are awarded a provisional grant. So you write a paper and submit it – but, sadly, it is rejected. Do not despair. All is not lost. If the schedule of conference X permits, you can rewrite the paper and submit it as a demo, or a work in progress, or in any other format that can be publicly presented at the conference. Provided that you get something accepted, the grant will support you.

This may come as a surprise. Shouldn’t the SSTG be focusing on papers, which clearly represent the deepest and most mature contributions? Why would we support someone to go to a conference to give a ten-minute talk? Or stand in front of a poster for two hours? What were we thinking? The answer is that the SSTG’s aim is not about supporting just work in the primary track, rather it is about providing students with opportunities to transform their lives and careers.

Conferences offered unparalleled opportunities for students to interact with others. Perhaps a presentation by someone you’ve never heard of will give you a flash of insight. Perhaps a chance encounter with a peer in a poster session will change how you think about what you do. Perhaps – after gathering your courage – approaching ‘someone famous’ at a reception will lead to a chat… and ideas and connections and opportunities. Conferences are serendipity generators, and as such can change lives.

And that is what the SSTG is about.

So, if there is a conference that appears to have been designed just for you, but that is impossible for you to attend, think again.

To learn more about the SSTG, please visit the web site at http://www.sigchi.org/conferences/funding/student-travel-grant for a full description, and the (very, very early) deadlines. ; – )

This blog post provides only an informal introduction to the SSTG; interested students should read the full and official details on the SSTG page.

March 25th, 2017 by Tom Erickson (SSTG Administrative Chair, 2016/2017) and Aaron Quigley (SIGCHI VP Conferences).
One additional point of note that the SIGCHI EC wishes to add:

The SIGCHI EC would like to express its deep thanks and appreciation to both Susan Dumais and Thomas Erickson for their service on establishing and serving on the SIGCHI Student Travel Grant committee. Your efforts have helped lay the foundations of this program, which we hope will go from strength to strength in the years to come. We further wish to pay a special note of thanks to Thomas Erickson for his dedicated and essential work as the administrative chair, which was a challenging task, as this program found its feet.