Academic conferences are expensive. Nevertheless, we are expected to have wide scholarly networks and a good record of conference presentations. Realistically, attending conferences (which usually take place in a different city, state, or country) is only possible for those of us who have the financial means to travel. In other words, this system favors those who have tenured jobs, consistent incomes, or financial support from their schools or families. Project Visiting Scholar is designed to help rectify this situation.
Last year, during the Joukowsky Institute for Archaeology and the Ancient World’s “State of the Field: Archaeology and Social Justice,” I hosted a student in our guest-room who wanted to attend the conference but wasn’t eligible for travel funding because they weren’t presenting. I was inspired by the conference, my conversations with the student, and my previous personal experience to launch Project Visiting Scholar.
Project Visiting Scholar is a nonprofit/volunteer project that is an online database. It gathers names of academics and scholars who are willing to host students and early career scholars in their guest rooms for short-term scholarly activities. So how will this database work? When a student/scholar is planning to attend a conference, let’s say in Boston, they will be able to search this database by city, state, or county and find all the volunteer hosts in the area (both in and around MA and in Boston specifically). They will then email their hosts and arrange their stay.
For students, graduate students, or early career academics, attending a conference means facing the financial challenges of paying registration fees, buying travel tickets, and finding reasonable accommodation close to the conference hotels. No travel grant covers all of these expenses. Moreover, travel funds are limited and competitive, and most of them only cover your expenses if you are presenting at that conference.
I know these difficulties personally. I was a graduate student until very recently, the first one in my family. I consider myself lucky to have made it this far, mostly with the support of my family, fellowships, and scholarships. But not all of us get enough grants to cover our educational and living expenses and still have money to go to conferences.
The Project Visiting Scholar database will allow more students and scholars to participate in these conferences and workshops, build networks, and create more diverse academic communities. We need representation of first-generation and low-income scholars in academia, and reducing the financial burden of necessary activities is one way to help accomplish this. If you agree with me, sign up to be a host. Maybe we can’t make conferences cheaper, but we can help each other afford to attend them.
The database website is almost ready and we already have over 200 hosts signed up. It is required for the hosts to sign up with their academic emails (like .edu) so that I can check the names and other sign up information online. However, in light of the hundreds of sexual harassment cases that came out this year, I am also working on having a proper sexual harassment and safety policy to provide protection for our participants. I will be doing a gofundme soon to be able to get legal help on this issue and would welcome pro bono legal advice on the matter.
Project Visiting Scholar’s mission is not only to make this economic injustice in academia visible and find a sustainable solution, but also to raise awareness on issues about inclusivity and diversity in academic conferences. With this mission in mind, Project Visiting Scholar is funding a $300 travel grant for the “At the Margins: Interconnections of Power and Identity in the Ancient Near East” Conference.
I believe many CAMWS students can benefit from this project, both for attending the annual meeting as well as other conferences throughout the year. If you are interested in hosting others, using the database, or learning more about the project, you can visit our temporary website for more information. You can also get updated on Twitter.
If you have any suggestions, questions, and feedback, I am very happy to hear them!
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