Discussion Thread

  • 1.  How to ask your company if they can sponsor you to attend a conference?

    Posted 02-10-2020 10:10 AM
    The first conference I attended was in 2019 in Nashville, TN. This conference was with ASCE and the UESI Pipeline conference. I attended as a student scholarship recipient and I can say I loved the experience. I feel conferences are a great opportunity to catch up with the most current technology and to connect with other people that have the same passion. As I transition to a full-time engineer I want to be able to attend at least one conference per year, but I curious to see how to approach my supervisor to see if the company can sponsor me to attend to one. 

    These are the questions I have:
    How to approach your supervisor to see if the company can sponsor you to attend a conference?
    What is the supervisor or manager looking for when someone asks to go to a conference?
    What are other alternatives you as an employee may be able to negotiate? (e.g. is it normal to ask for partial sponsorship, like registration cost only?) 

    Julian Valencia A.M.ASCE
    Project Engineer
    Houston, TX

  • 2.  RE: How to ask your company if they can sponsor you to attend a conference?

    Posted 02-11-2020 10:13 AM

    Hi Julian,

    A toughy but a goody.

    Unfortunately, like all approaches to communication, it's going to be individual to you, your supervisor, and the relationship between you two. But I appreciate that isn't too helpful - I DO have some principles that I hope will help.

    • Firstly, I would get crystal clear on why you want to go and why you want them to sponsor your attendance? Would you go without their sponsorship? You say, conferences are a great way to catch up with the most current technology and connect with other people with the same passion - but is it the best way? I agree face-to-face networking breeds the deepest connections, but is that what you want? Deep connection? Or many connections? Is it worth your precious time? Don't get me wrong; I love conferences too, and I am flying to LA for one next week. But my answers don't matter here, yours do.
    • Secondly, I would get crystal clear on how your supervisor feels about the idea. Why might they say 'no,' and why might they say 'yes?' Why should they sponsor you? Why should they let you go in the first place? What is in it for them? You need to understand this to get to the third step.
    • Third, you need to deliver an effective presentation to your supervisor. By effective, I mean it works. To quote S Covey, "Who do they send back to school when the salesman doesn't sell - the buyer?" Focus first on describing your supervisor's situation better than they could describe it themselves. Show that you understand them in depth. Then, you can carefully explain the logic behind your request clarifying why the better outcome is that you attend, with sponsorship. Once you've proven you understand them, you can then seek to be understood.

    Again, this is all individual to your situation. I hope it helps.

    To try and answer your three questions:

    1. How to approach your supervisor to see if the company can sponsor you to attend a conference? My best answer is above.
    2. What is the supervisor or manager looking for when someone asks to go to a conference? They'll want to feel confident that this is a good use of the company's time and money as well as an effective way to develop you.
    3. What are other alternatives you as an employee may be able to negotiate? Can you clarify this question? What are you asking for here? Alternatives to what?

    "You get what you pitch for... and you are always pitching", Daniel Priestly.

    George Lintern Aff.M.ASCE
    Civil Engineer
    Nashville TN

  • 3.  RE: How to ask your company if they can sponsor you to attend a conference?

    Posted 02-12-2020 10:07 AM
    Hi George, 

    Thank you for your amazing reply. I like how you divided the task into these three principles. These principles have given me a crystal clear guide on how to approach my supervisor.

    For the last question, I want to see if there are other alternatives in case my supervisor says "no". I do understand one of the alternatives is to take time off and attend the conference but is it normal if I try to negotiate the sponsorship for just the registration to the conference? I feel that will be the only other alternative since I cannot think of what other ways the company could help. 

    Thanks again for your help!

    Julian Valencia A.M.ASCE
    Project Engineer
    Houston, TX

  • 4.  RE: How to ask your company if they can sponsor you to attend a conference?

    Posted 02-12-2020 10:06 AM

    I feel as though it is fairly standard for consulting firms to send employees to conferences and/or multi-day training sessions, if not once a year, then every other year. However, the conferences are usually relevant to at least one of the company's business lines. I personally don't feel as though the actual ask should be some intricate professional dance, but you do need to be prepared. 

    To me the choice of conference is key and here are some points I liked to consider when asking to go to a conference:
    1. Which conferences does the company normally attend and/or sponsor? 
      1. Do any of these interest you? If yes, then just ask if you can go. They will more than likely be sending a team anyway and will appreciate that you volunteered. 
    2. If the answer to 1a is no, then you need to carefully consider a conference that is not just good for you personally, but good for the company in some way. Most likely this will be a technical conference that may provide you with new skills that you can, in turn, use on projects for your company (and they can put these skills on your corporate resume for SOQs). You will also be able to gain new connections in your industry at this type of conference. 
      1. You don't need to make this just about you. Would your coworkers and/or supervisor be interested in this conference? Does the company even know that it exists?
    3. If you are wanting to attend ASCE conferences for example, it is unlikely that your company will sponsor your attendance, but not impossible. If you are going to MRLC, then ASCE National pays for part of that cost anyway and your branch/section will probably cover the rest.
    4. Location is also important: don't ask to go to a conference on the other side of the country that is going to cost the company more than it's worth in flights alone. Besides, Texas has plenty of conferences for all disciplines by itself. :-) Personally, I prefer the ones in San Antonio or Austin. 
    As for the actual ask: just ask them. In person is usually better than email, but you shouldn't have to be afraid to ask your supervisor for something like that. The worst than can happen is that your supervisor says no.

    Maegan Nunley P.E., M.ASCE
    Luna Engineering
    Columbus OH

  • 5.  RE: How to ask your company if they can sponsor you to attend a conference?

    Posted 02-13-2020 08:44 AM
    In my experience, the willingness to send engineers to conferences - especially in smaller firms - varies greatly from office to office, and can even vary by the specific manager and your workload (i.e. don't ask to attend a conference right before a big deadline). As someone who has never worked (in an employee capacity) in an office that actually had a written policy related to conference attendance, I wanted to offer some additional thoughts towards how to ask if there isn't a policy and you've made the observation that others in your office don't often go to conferences:

    First, to reiterate what others have said: when you ask,  consider what you can give in return that makes it a good idea for an employer to send you. You want to make it easy for your employer to say yes. 

    Before asking, consider the following question: Is this important enough to my career that I'd pay my own way if needed? If the answer is no, I'd reconsider asking because if you haven't sold yourself on why you should attend, you're going to have a difficult time justifying it to your employer. The first conference I ever attended, my employer gave me the days off paid and I paid the rest myself. To say that first one forever changed my career trajectory is an understatement (and yes, it was an ASCE conference), but I went in believing it was important and that I would do what I needed to do to attend. That absolute certainty put me in a much better position to negotiate.

    Here's a couple of ways you can "sell" your attendance at a conference (once again assuming it is necessary):
    1. Conferences can create great employer PR, especially in our current environment where many firms are trying to be more active on social media.  For example, being a presenter or moderator at a conference helps position both you and your employer as an expert in that space. Participating as an organizer, a volunteer, or a very active networker during a conference can help similarly if done right. Here's a couple of ways you could do that, even if you are just starting out:
      • Get involved in a volunteer committee of interest. Committees - such as the young professionals' committees - often put together abstracts for presenting at a conference. Even if you are just starting out, you can offer to participate, and may be able to a moderator for one of the sessions.
      • Offer to write a blog about the conference and what you learned that can be posted on your firm's website. 
      • Some conferences have volunteer opportunities that help the community (like Structures Congress coming up soon). Once again, this is great PR (in addition to a great networking opportunity for you). Assuming you can get permission to take pictures, take them and give them to your company's blog or social media coordinator.
      • Is your firm an expert in a particular technical area? Consider offering to put together an abstract for a conference next year (with you as the moderator) to demonstrate that expertise.
      • Consider carefully the types of conferences you want to attend. Are there potential clients you can meet? Are there sessions on things your clients really care about (that can be a blog topic)? Some conferences are engineering peers only, while others are more broad. I've personally found it easier to get a "yes" for conferences that clients attend than other types, unless I was presenting at them.
    2. One of most common objections I have heard on sending people to conferences - especially for small firms or offices that may not have a policy in place - is: "If we send you, we have to send everyone." If that is the objection, here are a couple of ways you can get around that:
    • Get involved with a committee related to a particular conference, or apply to be a speaker/moderator. Some conferences give you a discount on attendance if you act in that capacity, which makes it easier for companies to sponsor you specifically because you've already put in some work - often on your own time - and the costs are reduced (but only for you as compared to others in your office). 
    • Offer to do a write-up or give a presentation over lunch in your office on what you learned at the conference that is relative to everyone, so they can learn too. This increases the perceived fairness of you attending because while many people may want to attend conferences, less are willing to publically present what was learned. There are some offices that actually have this as a policy for anyone who attends a conference (which I think is great!).
    • AS @Maegan Nunley has already said, focus on drivable conferences, or better yet in-your-city-conferences and networking events where possible. For the cost of airfare and lodging, companies can send many more people for the same price as one person further away. 
    • If you hear this objection, make it clear that you're happy to rotate with others on attendance at conferences (i.e. you go this year, someone else can go next).
    One final thought: If you are told no, follow up with two questions: "Can you help me understand why?" (so you understand how to better frame your argument next time). After you understand that ask, "What can I do to get a yes on this next time?" Asking that last question is really important, as it creates an environment where you are both brainstorming to find a win-win solution, even if it's not right now.

    Stephanie Slocum P.E., M.ASCE
    Engineers Rising LLC

  • 6.  RE: How to ask your company if they can sponsor you to attend a conference?

    Posted 02-14-2020 02:56 PM
    Julian,  I've read over a number of the responses to your inquiry, and agree with them on their approach.   It must be in the area of their primary business or activity. 

    Although I'm an academic now, I was a regional Vice President of a large engineering company before I became an academic and dealt with issue many times for my staff.  The best way I know is to submit an abstract, maybe about a project you are working on (you must get approval from your supervisor and your client first if you work for a consultant).  If it gets accepted, you can then ask to represent the company at the conference and make the presentation (you can put the company and client logo on the first slide (only), but will get the company and client recognized.  Of course writing the abstract and putting together the presentation will be "on your own time."   Consultants don't have an overhead number to charge to for this activity.  I would assume the same may be true for public agencies.  Also if you are active on a committee of the conference organization, that will help.   Getting on the conference organizing committee is a very good step 

    Public agencies and consulting companies have budgets for these activities.  Often it is important to get your request in early.  I would try local conferences first (i.e., state associations like the WEF, APWA, AWWA, WaterReuse, etc).  registration fees and travel expenses are much less and you will get your name out there; also committees of these organizations are easier to get on.  This will also get you some experience at presentations.  Then you can try a national conference; but abstracts are more difficult to get accepted. and you'll get more "Dear John" emails.

    The key is get an abstract submitted and approved.  The company will not likely turn you down.  If they do, agree to pay some portion: do it on your time (i.e, personal time off); company pays registration and travel; personal time off, you pay registration, company pays travel.  If the conference is in a place where you can stay with a friend or relative, throw that in.  I doubt you'll have to do this, but it's a bartering chip.  

    But don't expect to go every year.

    Joseph Reichenberger P.E., F.ASCE
    Professor of Civil Engineering
    Monterey Park CA