Pros and Con(ference)s: Why Attending a Conference as a Student is Totally Worth It

I get it. You have work, homework, essays, thesis, and not enough spare money to buy a plane ticket to fly across the country. So why even bother trying to go to that conference your professor recommended to you? Although attending a conference seems like more work than gain, I urge you to go in spite of all the hurdles.

A few weeks ago, I attended the J Street conference (pro-Israel, pro-Palestine, pro-peace organization) in Washington, D.C. About a month before the conference, however, I wanted to cancel my trip. I had a midterm the day after I returned, and my flight wound up costing more than I had anticipated. I reasoned that attending the conference would be an unnecessary burden.

Thankfully, some friends encouraged me to keep my flight and conference ticket, study on the plane, and find outside funding to cover my flights, lodging, and meals. In the end, I absolutely loved the conference and hope that my fellow peers take the time to attend a conference for a cause they are passionate about.

Last semester, I met with J Street’s campus coordinator who encouraged me to attend the J Street conference at the end of February. I was new to the organization and eager to learn more about it, so I figured attending the conference would be a good opportunity for me to do just that. I signed up for the conference a few months in advance, when the prospect of midterms and thesis felt like distant obligations I could worry about later.

The ticket, with two nights of student housing, was only around $80—a steal compared to the usual few-hundred-dollar ticket and costly DC hotel room. Not one to turn down a good deal, I registered online without fully realizing how much a flight to DC would cost. Admittedly, I was irresponsible to not take the cost of a flight into account, but it is absolutely true that student discounts at conferences are an incredible opportunity to attend conferences that would cost significantly more post graduation.

Also, as I quickly learned, there are many financial resources available to students who wish to attend conferences. My round trip flight from Ontario Airport to DC cost me much more than my savings could cover. Luckily, J Street offered flight stipends to students, which was able to cover about a third of my flight.

I applied to funding from The Motley and Scripps Associated Students to cover the remaining costs. Within a matter of days, I received enough funding for the entire cost of my flight a month prior to the start of the conference. I was ready to go, until my thesis advisor notified me I was falling behind on my timeline and I realized my professor had scheduled our midterm the day after I returned from the conference.

Rather than look forward to spending a weekend in DC with other Jewish activists, I began to question whether or not I should go. After all, I was unsure whether I would recover from losing an entire weekend’s worth of work. Ultimately, I decided to sacrifice some study time for the chance to attend my first J Street Conference. Screw it, I told myself, you’re a senior, go to the conference.

The conference far surpassed my expectations. I spent all day Sunday sitting in on fascinating panels ranging from the future of the Iran deal to the best strategies young Jewish leaders can employ to counter Trump’s agenda.

The following day, I sat a mere few hundred feet from the stage as Senator Bernie Sanders addressed the crowd with an inspiring speech about combatting hate and fear in American and Israeli politics. (I still don’t think I’m over how great the speech was and how close I was to Bernie).

J Street placed students in hostels scattered around the city, allowing them to meet like-minded peers from universities across the country. I befriended students from Carleton College, UC Berkeley, and Arizona State University, and after a long day at the conference we all enjoyed lounging around the hostel and talking for hours late into the night.

I am so glad I attended the conference and had the opportunity to learn more about J Street’s advocacy work. Despite my initial hesitance, I was able to attend the conference while still managing to study for my midterm and turning in my thesis chapter on time.

Attending a conference as a student is a special opportunity I hope my Claremont friends take advantage of. Not only is it far less expensive to be a student at a conference, it is also easier to socialize and network when so many other student attendees are eager to connect with students from other schools to share tips and experiences. When accounting for all of the pros and cons, attending a conference is always worth it.

Joelle Leib SC '17 is an American Studies major. She is also an amateur surfer.