Conferences are a great way to stay current on research. This post highlights the 2016 IV WPSC in Rio de Janeiro. I also give tips about how to attend conferences on the cheap (or free!).


The conference will be held at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, Praia Vermelha Campus (pictured: School of Medicine)

The World Planning Schools Congress will be held in Rio de Janeiro in July of this year; and is an excellent opportunity for students, planning professionals and urbanists to stay current on emerging themes in planning research and debates. The event, held every five years, is put on by the Global Planning Education Association Network, or GPEAN. This year’s theme is global crisis, planning and challenges to spatial justice in the north and the south, and is divided into 20 tracts (see below).

Screenshot 2016-01-31 13.29.10Screenshot 2016-01-31 13.29.21

If unable to attend, keep an eye on the conference website for an updated program with abstracts of paper presentations. These abstracts are especially useful for graduate students thinking about their monographs or putting together an application for a PhD or research masters degree because one sees how research agendas are forming in real time. They also read as a who’s who in your field, so you can begin to follow researchers with similar interests (look up their personal websites, Academia or Research Gate pages, and Twitter handles).

What is the GPEAN?
It’s a network that formed after the first World Planning Schools Congress took place in Shanghai in 2001. Nine regional associations of planning schools are party to the network’s charter, known as the Shanghai agreement, signed in 2003. The purpose of GPEAN as stated in their charter is “to facilitate international communication on equal terms amongst the university planning communities in order to improve the quality and visibility of planning pedagogy, research and practice, and to promote ethical, sustainable, multi-cultural, gender-sensitive, participatory planning.”

Another similarly large conference to attend/follow in 2016 is The RC21 (part of the International Sociological Association) to take place in Mexico City.You can watch the plenary speakers, including David Harvey and Raquel Rolnik, from the RC21 2015 congress here. The Annual Meeting of the Association of American Geographers, to be held in San Francisco, also boasts a large international participation by critical urban scholars, but is not strictly urban focussed. Their preliminary program is already online.

How to attend conferences for free (or cheap)?
Each conference is different, and unless you can count on institutional backing from your university or employer, it might be difficult to attend on someone else’s dime completely. But here are some ways to reduce the costs:

  • Look on the conference website for scholarships. Most offer reduced-price for students and the un(der)employed researchers, and usually a very limited number of scholarships. But don’t stop there…
  • Many professional academic associations offer travel grants and/or bursaries to attend events. Some are even specific to PhD students. Normally they require that you are presenting at the conference and are a due-paying member (students can normally join at reduced rates), which means it pays to plan ahead. The best way to find out about these are to join relevant listserves (ask around or use google) and do a bit of investigative work. There are many speciality groups within professional associations or aligned with peer-reviewed journals looking to support early-career academics and graduate students.
  • If you aren’t presenting at the conference, it’s harder to convince someone to pay for your attendance and travel. But if you live near by, I can think of three ways to attend without paying the registration fee:
    • Volunteer: lot’s of conferences need volunteers to staff information desks etc… Check their website for opportunities or send a message to the general email account of the organizing committee.
    • Gatecrash: some conferences have relatively lax security and you can usually access many of the venues without proof of conference registration, or easily talk your pay past the gatekeeper (tip: ask someone who has attended the conference previously about security. Also, don’t do this unless you live near the venue. It would suck to pay travel costs and then have this strategy fail).
    • Register as press: most conferences allow press and journalists to attend for free. Most require documentation that you are indeed a member of the press, but the bar is often set low. You don’t need to be writing for the Associated Press. You can sometimes gain access as a blogger or freelance writer.

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