February 2018

Is Education or Travelling More Important? Why not both? teaser image
When you hop online and look for ‘popular graduate blogs’ a lot of what you find is some version of “how I survived”, “how not to die” or my personal favorite type, “how to live off of ramen because I’m broke”. I’m sure they all contain helpful information and they’re probably written by more experienced bloggers than myself, given that this is my first entry ever, but none of those issues have been prevalent in my graduate school experience. After reading a lot of online entries, I’ve decided to approach this task by talking about the unique experiences that my graduate school experience has afforded me, and some of the benefits of graduate school that don’t get much attention. One of the most exciting opportunities that is often overlooked when thinking about graduate school is the opportunity to travel.

I just returned from a trip to Jacksonville, Florida where I had the opportunity to present an original paper I co-authored with a classmate. While Jacksonville may not seem like the most glamorous destination I was able to make the trip meaningful by adding just a little bit of my own money to the budget for the trip. Flying into Tampa, Florida and renting a car was significantly cheaper than a flight into Jacksonville, and so on the way across the state I had the opportunity to make a stop for something I’d never seen before; manatees over-wintering at Crystal River, Florida.

In addition to my latest trip I’ve had the opportunity to present original work in Washington D.C., San Francisco, San Antonio, New Orleans and nearly a dozen other locations. Not only does travelling to academic conferences expand your network, it gives you a wider perspective on what you like and don’t like about places when you’re thinking about employment when you finally graduate. If you are accepted to an academic conference you should balance some fun activities with the real professional development opportunities these meetings provide. These meetings are ideal locations to find new research ideas and potentially even meet collaborators from other universities that have access to resources or training that could benefit you in future research.

Now you may ask, “How do I take advantage of these chances to travel and see the world?!” Unfortunately, there is no such thing as a free lunch, pardon the economics cliché. Being accepted to conferences requires two things; productive writing and funding. Many conferences require completely original work that hasn’t been presented at in other avenues such as journals or other conferences, which raises the bar on the amount you must write. I’ve used this as a catalyst to try to be more productive.

Occasionally, funding is the more binding constraint on travel. If you don’t have unlimited resources to travel (and I would argue that if you do you don’t need to use academic conferences as an excuse to do so), many departments have internal travel grants for students presenting original research at conferences to help defray some costs. Additionally, working on topics that qualify for external grant support can help defray some costs and has the added benefit of yielding research that private entities and the public are really interested in.

Presenting original work that benefits the people of our state is incredibly fulfilling. Your work has the ability to impact businesses and the lives of your neighbors. The added reward of travelling and extending the reach of your work is one that is often overlooked when thinking about graduate school, but one that has exponentially increased the value of my graduate school experience. 

Justin Benavidez
Justin is a Ph.D. student in the Agricultural Economics department.

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