A lot of academic events are free but it can be frustrating when a conference on a theme of particular relevance costs the earth to attend, especially if it’s in another city or country. Certainly for a PhD student, financing can be at a premium, although this is perhaps an issue for all researchers.
This is the position that Diana Hereld found herself in when she found out about the 2nd world congress on clincal neuromusicology in Vienna. A graduate research assistant in Los Angeles, she is currently preparing a proposal for PhD research music psychology (after doing a masters). After reducing the cost of attending as much as possible, she found she was still $350 short the day before she was due to fly to out to England for meetings with various potential supervisers. So close and yet so far.
So she wrote a post on her blog, As the Spirit Wanes, describing the programme of the conference, how much she wanted to go but could not afford it, the steps she’d taken so far and how much she needed. She also outlined what the money would cover. When I met up with her a week after she wrote the post, she said that she had managed to raise $500 in the space of two days.
She promoted the blog post about 4 times on Twitter and posted a separate plea on Facebook 3 times. That’s pretty much it. So her success sounds like a miracle. There are so many email and web scams from people pretending to be hard luck cases. She knew it was ‘a long shot’ but she had nothing to lose by trying.
So why would the 9 donors who responded agree to fund a stranger’s attendance at a conference? Via Facebook, Diana said:
The reasons they gave for donating were quite simple and forward – they felt like they knew me. Through the use of self-disclosure I tend to have on my blog, they said they feel as if they are going on this journey with me. The post I linked to in my post asking for donations was the one “as the spirit wanes, or the hope of plasticity”, [which] is really quite personal, and one of the main reasons I think people actually care about what I’m doing. It’s a brand new field, slightly yet lacking in really main-stream media representation, but because I love it so passionately, and make it relevant (through the use of popular music icons such as Bjork or Joy Division), it becomes a tangible study for people.”
Not only was Diana able to use social media to help others get to know her and be comfortable but she attempted to make her research interests sound like something to which ordinary people could relate.
What Diana did – crowdfunding – may sound an unusual way for funding an academic activity but it is an increasing phenomenon in the not for profit and small business market. Just googling ‘crowdfunding’ reveals a lot of purpose-built platforms and websites but Diana’s experience perhaps indicates that all you need is effective use of a WordPress blog, Twitter and/or Facebook.
In many ways, a PhD or a research project has much in common with business venture or charitable cause and requires many of the same transferrable skills. Furthermore, in light of the cuts to university budgets, academic research projects could find crowdfunding as an alternative source of income. What is interesting from Diana’s own experience is that crowdfunding could perhaps force academics (in a good way) to engage with a wider audience and demonstrate the impact of their research.
You can follow Diana Hereld on Twitter @christypaffgen.