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Note: I'm primarily interested in answers relevant to Computer Science (Theory), but answers in different areas in CS / totally other disciplines are equally welcome.

In most (if not all) PhD programs, incoming grad students are supposed to take relevant courses and fulfill their TA-ship duties (I'm assuming not everyone gets a RA from the 1st semester itself). During that time, they are also expected (and highly encouraged) to keep reading on their chosen research field, to have a concrete idea of where all the focus in that field is at that moment.

In my opinion, I would consider that attending important conferences and interacting with leading researchers in their field would play a very important role in the development of a young researcher, as he/she would have the chance to get motivated by the best brains in the business! But, it is unlikely that he/she would have publishable results at such venues within such a short time, and if he/she doesn't have a fellowship/travel scholarship, it is unlikely that he'd be able to afford the registration/travel/accommodation expenses from his own stipend.

So, what are the options in front of such a student to make attending such events possible:

  1. Do advisers cover the expenses for their incoming grad students, for attending such talks/conferences, or is there a provision for such funds from the department ?
  2. How much does the answer to the above question vary between different colleges - I've heard (unconfirmed) reports that higher-ranked institutions have more funds to burn, and as such students in such departments can afford to attend talks without publishing in them (at least for the first 2 semesters) ?

  3. Are there specific scholarships/fellowships that exist to primarily cater to conference related expenses for students? If so, it would be great to get some leads on where to look, and what are the primary qualifications (>90% of fellowships in US require the applicant to be an US citizen, making it extremely difficult for international students to get one!) ?

1 Answer 1

For questions 1 and 2: it depends: you have to find out from your individual advisor/department/university. Furthermore, you characterisation

In most (if not all) PhD programs, incoming grad students are supposed to take relevant courses...

is certainly not true internationally. Many PhD positions in Europe, for example, expect the student to already have had a Masters degree and to start doing research the minute they arrive. For those positions attending conferences starting in the first year is almost a must.

For Question 3:

The best place to look is the conference organisation itself. Often funding is given to students to encourage participation. A lot of professional organisations also offer funding for full time graduate students to travel. (But note that preferences for grants maybe given to those individuals presenting [either orally or at a poster session] at the conference.) Some examples:

  • The American Mathematical Society offers travel grants for any full time graduate student in mathematics to go to one of their sectional meetings, and for any last year graduate student in mathematics to go to the Joint Mathematics Meetings.
  • The American Geophysical Union has a host of various travel grants available. And I want to especially outline their Lloyd V. Berkner Travel Fellowship which is designed to be given only to 'AGU members under the age of 35 who are residents of countries designated by the World Bank as “low” or “lower-middle" income per capita.' In particular, the opposite of the US citizen requirement you quoted.
  • Conferences like the Association for Computing Machinery's CCS also offer student travel grants. The website states: "Any graduate student in good standing, regardless of nationality, or any other criteria, except as noted, may apply."

In fact, aside from actual full graduate student fellowships, and some scholarships directly sponsored by the US government, many travel funding opportunities do not have the US residency requirement. (What they may have, however, is a pesky requirement for you to travel on US flag airlines.)