Sunday, 3 June 2012

Tips for applying for conference bursaries/sponsored places

As conference season has started and LIS people, in particular new professionals, are starting to look at how they could attend events despite the costs, I thought it would be a good time to share some tips for applying for bursaries and sponsored places to events. This is based on my fairly recent experiences of winning a sponsored full place to attend Umbrella2011 and also helping to judge the applications for a sponsored place to a conference last year.

So you’ve found a conference you really want to attend, but you don’t think your workplace will be able to finance it - or perhaps you’re a student, temporary worker or currently unemployed and would need to fund yourself. Where should you look to find opportunities to apply for bursaries or sponsored places? Mailing lists are a really good place to find them; they are generally advertised here. In the UK, the LIS-LINK, LIS-AWARDS and LIS-PROFESSION Jiscmail lists are good ones to keep an eye on (I’m afraid I can’t recommend listservs outside of the UK as I don’t know them very well). You’ll often see them Tweeted as well; follow the Twitter accounts of your local CILIP branch, Special Interest Groups and CILIPInfo. Opportunities will often be posted on the LISNPN forums so it’s worth checking those too, as well as the webpages for your local CILIP branch and the Special Interest Groups of which you are member, and of course those of any other professional associations you are a part of, such as SLA. Generally you will need to be a member of the CILIP branch or Special Interest Group to apply for the bursary, so this does necessitate being a member of CILIP. I have many complaints about CILIP and their membership fees, but the opportunity to apply for sponsored places is for me a benefit of being a CILIP member. If anyone reading this is aware of sources for bursaries for LIS events which do not require a membership to the group or association offering it, please do add a comment below for the benefit of those looking for them.

Once you’ve found a sponsored place or bursary that you want to apply for, the first thing to do is to check that you are eligible. It sounds simple but do read the instructions carefully, as it only wastes yours and others’ time if you turn out to not be eligible. As previously mentioned, in my experience some kind of membership is usually required, and the opportunity may be restricted to people in certain geographical areas or at certain points in their career. It’s also helpful for those judging if you indicate your eligibility; this doesn’t have to be in the actual application, but do state in your covering email or letter that you are a member of the SIG/a member of the local branch/a new professional etc.

Similarly, take some time to read exactly what they are asking for in the application, and address this clearly. Many will simply ask for a paragraph or a certain number of words on why you want to attend and/or what the benefits of attendance will be for you, but others might ask you to address two or three questions. Treat it like a job application where you need to go through the person specification and explicitly indicate how you meet it; don’t just write a very general paragraph if they have asked specific questions. Look for a word count and stick to it if one is given!

In a similar vein, show that you have taken the time to find out what the conference is about and have considered how this is suitable for you; address the theme of the conference in your application and explain why you feel this makes the conference an ideal or important one for you to attend. If a conference programme is available, have a look at it and pick out the specific sessions which you think would be most useful/beneficial to you, and refer to these in your application. This again shows that you have a genuine interest in the themes and topics of this particular conference, and are not just wanting to go to “a conference”.

Explain what the benefits of your attendance would be – to you, to your service/colleagues, and to any other areas of the LIS community in which you are involved. It’s great that you’re interested in the conference, but what the judges want to see is more than just interest, it’s the reasons why you are the person who would actually benefit most from it, the person to whom the award would be most useful.

Most bursaries/sponsored places have conditions attached; usually a write-up for one of the group/branch’s publications. Mention this in your application to indicate that you’ve registered the conditions and are willing and able to meet them. If there are no conditions given in the guidelines, then mention your willingness to write up your reflections or share them in any other ways that would be useful. This demonstrates your appreciation of the opportunity and your understanding of the importance of sharing learning and outcomes from events with your peers.

Once your application is finished (and proofread and spell-checked!), it’s a good idea to send it in advance of the deadline, just in case the person collating the applications has any problems opening your document.

My final tip is to just go for it – what have you got to lose?! 

If anyone has any other tips or experiences they’d like to share, please do leave a comment.

Good luck everyone!


  1. This is great (and comes at a really good time), thanks Rachel!

    I think the last tip - just go for it - is a really good one. I applied for (and got) a BIALL student bursary to attend their annual conference in a couple of weeks - despite having no experience of law libraries! But it's an area I'm interested in and I guess this showed in my application.


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  3. Hi. I just wanted to thank you for your blog post, which I read a few weeks ago before applying for a conference bursary for the first time. I'm delighted to say that I was successful! I followed your advice - looked up the speakers, talked about what I was hoping to gain from the conference and also about how I would share the experiences with others. All in 200 words! Thank you for taking the time to share your knowledge with others.

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