I’ll be up front about the fact that I stole the idea for a survey on the costs of the 2015 AHA annual meeting as well as the questions from Rebecca Schuman’s survey for the 2015 MLA Conference. Unfortunately, my influence on social media and in the AHA are quite small, so I got a total of 28 useable entries and the MLA’s survey had many more than that after only two days. Nevertheless, I think the responses do indicate trends that probably would have held up in a larger survey and show the significant financial strain put on job seeker by interviews at a conference that is held in the most expensive parts of the most expensive cities in the US (this year being New York’s Times Square). My interpretations of the survey are below [numbers current as of January 6th at 8pm Central] but you can also see the spreadsheet with all the responses and comments in this Google Doc.
First, let’s look at those who said they were on the market. About half (14 of 27) of the respondents were on the job market and had been (on average) for between 2 and 3 years. About half of them (6 of 14) received funding to attend the conference with funding ranging from $150 to $800. Some notable costs included travel which averaged $473.79, hotel $452.53, and new clothes $140. The average total out-of-pocket cost came to $1023.64. Remember, that’s paying a thousand dollars just for a chance to get another interview.
So how did respondents on the job market compare to the total averages? In general, job seekers spent more and had less funding. While the numbers of people funded were pretty even (6 grad students got some funding vs 6 unfunded for example), the tenured and tenure-track professors who did get funding got much more money than grad students (4 of 6 noted all their travel expenses would get covered). When using the totals instead of just those on the job market the average total out-of-pocket expense falls from $1023.64 to $828.96. Travel costs also fall to $368.14 and clothes to $81.78. However, hotel expenses go up to $486.76 and daily expenses go to $57.68. I could make some guesses as to the reasons, but my methodology is shoddy enough without using even less scientific means.
While this survey is an imperfect look at the costs of the AHA, it is clear that holding interviews at the AHA is a financial burden on job seekers. Looking at the cost of travel more closely drives this point home. Of top 6 spenders on travel (3 grad students, 2 tenure-track and 1 non-tenure track professors), 5 were on the market and the other preferred not to say. On the other hand, of the 6 who spent the least on travel (4 grad students, an independent scholar and a tenured professor), none were on the job market. This disparity suggests a trend that I know has played into my experience attending the AHA: You only attend the AHA’s annual meeting if you are on the job market OR if you can make it an affordable trip. I feel safe saying that in the majority of cases, these two things do not overlap.
With job seekers spending large amounts of money attending a conference to go to a preliminary interview, I have to agree with one respondent’s sentiment: SKYPE!
P.S. Here are some other noteworthy comments from the survey:
kill the conf interview! Unnecessary expense for an absurd ritual
So far only one of my four interviews will be at AHA (others via Skype).
Thank heavens my department had some funds kicking around at the end of the semester.
Staying on a friend’s couch and am already on the east coast for the holidays, otherwise I wouldn’t be able to afford it out of pocket.