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Old 24th September 2012, 10:13 AM   #1
zooterkin
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TAM Scholarships; are they worth it?

Sorry for the slightly provocative title. This is prompted in part by this blog post which includes this:

Quote:
3. Sending women to large conferences isn’t that great of a cause. This is something that I’ve debated mentioning here, because I know Skepchick has continued to support scholarship funds like the very successful one Surly Amy has run, but one of the things that annoyed me about the Skepchick Calendars was handing over thousands and thousands of dollars every year to the JREF for tickets for women to go to The Amazing Meeting in Las Vegas, and not really seeing much benefit in return. Yes, I got to meet some great women. Yes, we increased the total percentage of women in the audience at that one conference. Yes, the women I sent had a wonderful vacation in Vegas. But did they really learn anything? Did it help them feel more connected to the skeptical community? Did they go home and get involved in their local skeptical group? I have no idea. I asked many of them to write me an essay on how they benefited from the scholarship they got, and I don’t recall ever actually getting one. There were so many better ways to spend that much money and benefit women, but I didn’t have the time to run a large nonprofit scholarship program that actually had solid goals, accountability, and reports on how the money was actually helping anything.
Now, I know the Skepchick sponsorship sent about 22 women to TAM 2012, and there was some publicity about it. I also know that forum members were equally generous, and sent about the same number, though that was a lot more low-key and while it was mentioned from the stage, I don't think it got the same recognition in the auditorium.

Is sending people to TAM (and similar conferences) a useful thing to do? Personally, I certainly can see how it might be, giving someone a reassurance that there really are more people out there like them, and giving them a lot of useful contacts. But does this happen in practice? Is there any follow-up? Any beneficiaries want to share their experiences?

I think it could be a useful discussion, and at a time between TAMs so it doesn't interfere with fund raising for the next one is probably best.
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Old 24th September 2012, 11:36 AM   #2
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I think scholarships are worthwhile when you need them. But, as soon as you become tired of the whole operation, they aren't.


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Old 24th September 2012, 11:55 AM   #3
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The real questions to answer are these ones: "Did it help them feel more connected to the skeptical community? Did they go home and get involved in their local skeptical group?"

I know for myself, my first trip to TAM got me connected to several of my local skeptics, and so actually did make a difference, so it's not impossible, but without data, it's hard to say how many others had the same experiences, or different ones.

If I had access to their data on who have received scholarships in the past, and who is still attending TAM (or other conferences), I'd try to cross-reference the two to see how many are still involved.
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Old 24th September 2012, 12:17 PM   #4
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I received a forum scholarship to attend TAM this year. It was my first TAM, and I was able to appear on a panel. Had I not received the scholarship, I would not have been able to attend and participate. I was already involved with a local skeptics group (went to Skeptics in the Pub, gave a couple of talks at same, participated in a couple of SkeptiCamps, appeared on skeptrack panels at Dragon*Con, served as an officer with IIG-Atlanta).

Shortly after TAM, I moved from Atlanta to Eau Claire, WI (not even Eau Claire--it's Chippewa Falls). There is a thriving skeptics group in Minneapolis, but they often meet on Thursday afternoons/evenings, and I can't get to those meetings. Consequently, much of my current connection to the skeptical community is virtual. Fortunately, at TAM, a few of us got together (including idoubtit and krelnik from this forum) and decided to do a weekly webcast called "Virtual Skeptics." I don't know if this would have come about without TAM.

In conclusion, I would like to say that I am ENORMOUSLY grateful to everyone who contributed to the Forum Scholarship Fund, and I feel I benefited significantly from the experience.
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Old 24th September 2012, 12:55 PM   #5
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Originally Posted by Lucian View Post
I received a forum scholarship to attend TAM this year. It was my first TAM, and I was able to appear on a panel. Had I not received the scholarship, I would not have been able to attend and participate. I was already involved with a local skeptics group (went to Skeptics in the Pub, gave a couple of talks at same, participated in a couple of SkeptiCamps, appeared on skeptrack panels at Dragon*Con, served as an officer with IIG-Atlanta).

Shortly after TAM, I moved from Atlanta to Eau Claire, WI (not even Eau Claire--it's Chippewa Falls). There is a thriving skeptics group in Minneapolis, but they often meet on Thursday afternoons/evenings, and I can't get to those meetings. Consequently, much of my current connection to the skeptical community is virtual. Fortunately, at TAM, a few of us got together (including idoubtit and krelnik from this forum) and decided to do a weekly webcast called "Virtual Skeptics." I don't know if this would have come about without TAM.

In conclusion, I would like to say that I am ENORMOUSLY grateful to everyone who contributed to the Forum Scholarship Fund, and I feel I benefited significantly from the experience.
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Old 24th September 2012, 01:15 PM   #6
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Originally Posted by The Central Scrutinizer View Post
How come you don't use a Billiken for your avatar?
Because I'm not in St. Louis anymore. Also, the Billiken is hideous.
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Old 25th September 2012, 11:57 AM   #7
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I went to my first TAM (5) on scholarship. I had just started my own group that investigated the claims of ghost hunters. Going to TAM forged connections with new people that led to me speaking at various conferences, getting articles published in lots of different places, becoming an intern at the JREF, and later becoming the Challenge Coordinator.
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Old 29th September 2012, 04:17 AM   #8
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I'm glad to see, though not terribly surprised, that the responses so far are positive towards the scholarships, and especially glad that previous recipients did feel that they benefitted from them. I've seen how much it has meant to some people (not necessarily scholarship recipients) to find at TAM a whole host of people who share a rational world view, and how the contacts they make can help them afterwards when they return to, for example, a small town in the Bible belt, and extending that to those who could not get there under their own steam seems a worthwhile aim.

Does the forum need to make more noise about the scholarships they give? As I said, they were mentioned at TAM, but I got the impression most people in the audience didn't notice, and the Skepchick group was much more visible (I saw them doing things as a group around the venue, including photographs together). A lot (most, quite probably) of people at TAM seem unaware of the forum, and even some of the JREF staff don't know much about it.

If, as seems likely, Skepchick will not be sponsoring people to go to TAM next year, does the forum need to take up the slack? Or are the people sent by Skepchick unlikely to find the forum in the first place?
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Old 29th September 2012, 04:05 PM   #9
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Originally Posted by zooterkin
If, as seems likely, Skepchick will not be sponsoring people to go to TAM next year, does the forum need to take up the slack? Or are the people sent by Skepchick unlikely to find the forum in the first place?
I'm not sure why Skepchick wouldn't sponsor TAM grants next year, although possibly they will take the events of the past few months more seriously than I expect. There is certainly room for the forum to take up some of the slack, since very few people donate to the forum grant fund. In fact, 40% of the donated funds come from one person.

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Old 30th September 2012, 12:35 PM   #10
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Originally Posted by Paul C. Anagnostopoulos View Post
In fact, 40% of the donated funds come from one person.
Wow--really? I wasn't aware of that. I assume that doesn't include the funds from the auctions, right? Still, it's a lot of money for one individual to cover--I agree more in the forum need to help take up the slack!

ETA: And yes, I think we need to make more noise about the forum-sponsored grants at TAM itself.
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Old 30th September 2012, 06:52 PM   #11
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On the question of "is this a good cause", I have to ask myself if the money I spent this year for myself and my son to attend TAM was well spent. For me I think it was - it recharged my batteries, gave me a chance to learn a lot and to meet some great folks.

I got much more involved in our local groups after my first TAM and I think that is a noble goal of the scholarship fund.

Paul, do you have contact info from our recent scholarship recipients so we can conduct an anonymous survey of their opinion on this?
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Old 1st October 2012, 11:42 AM   #12
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Originally Posted by AdMan
Wow--really? I wasn't aware of that. I assume that doesn't include the funds from the auctions, right? Still, it's a lot of money for one individual to cover--I agree more in the forum need to help take up the slack!
That does include the funds from the auction. Of all the funds I awarded, 40% was donated by one person.

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Old 1st October 2012, 11:43 AM   #13
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Originally Posted by Allecher
Paul, do you have contact info from our recent scholarship recipients so we can conduct an anonymous survey of their opinion on this?
If someone prepares a survey, I can send it to the forum grant recipients.

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Old 1st October 2012, 11:44 AM   #14
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Originally Posted by Lucian View Post
I received a forum scholarship to attend TAM this year. It was my first TAM, and I was able to appear on a panel. Had I not received the scholarship, I would not have been able to attend and participate. I was already involved with a local skeptics group (went to Skeptics in the Pub, gave a couple of talks at same, participated in a couple of SkeptiCamps, appeared on skeptrack panels at Dragon*Con, served as an officer with IIG-Atlanta).

Shortly after TAM, I moved from Atlanta to Eau Claire, WI (not even Eau Claire--it's Chippewa Falls). There is a thriving skeptics group in Minneapolis, but they often meet on Thursday afternoons/evenings, and I can't get to those meetings. Consequently, much of my current connection to the skeptical community is virtual. Fortunately, at TAM, a few of us got together (including idoubtit and krelnik from this forum) and decided to do a weekly webcast called "Virtual Skeptics." I don't know if this would have come about without TAM.

In conclusion, I would like to say that I am ENORMOUSLY grateful to everyone who contributed to the Forum Scholarship Fund, and I feel I benefited significantly from the experience.
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Old 1st October 2012, 01:16 PM   #15
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Originally Posted by Paul C. Anagnostopoulos View Post
If someone prepares a survey, I can send it to the forum grant recipients.l
OK, I will work up a quick anonymous survey. I will extract questions from this thread but if anyone has a question they would like to see included, PM me.
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Old 2nd October 2012, 10:27 PM   #16
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A bump in case anybody missed this!!!. Remember, if you find a thread useful to you, comment in it so it moves up front for others to see. No comments, after a not too long time, no readers.............
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Old 3rd October 2012, 02:22 PM   #17
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501 have looked at it now - let's see about a few more - useful/valuable project!! Help if you can!!!
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Old 4th October 2012, 07:21 AM   #18
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Old 4th October 2012, 10:38 AM   #19
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OK, I have a basic survey ready. Does anyone want to read over it before I ask Paul to send it to the scholarship recipients?
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Old 4th October 2012, 11:17 AM   #20
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Originally Posted by Allecher View Post
OK, I have a basic survey ready. Does anyone want to read over it before I ask Paul to send it to the scholarship recipients?
I ought to do something useful, as I'm partly to blame. I'll take a look, if you like.
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Old 4th October 2012, 04:12 PM   #21
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I saw it, I like it and I hope everyone who got responds........
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Old 6th October 2012, 10:18 PM   #22
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So, just checking on how it's going??
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Old 14th October 2012, 06:39 AM   #23
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i wish I had seen this before the survey went out. I would have asked

What percent of the papers of the conference did you attend?

The reason I ask:

I've donated quite a bit over the past few years - though not near as much as the 'one person' did. I also directly paid, outside of the forum, registration fees five times, and donated a couple airplane fares. I know that those fees were to people who were interested in attending, hearing the speakers, and participating in the discussions. I got at least one "this changed my life".

In 2011, I'm aware of someone who received a scholarship, but then didn't attend any of the conference as far as I can tell. I do know the person when gambling several times, shopped, and slept in. If you aren't going to attend, you don't have to register for TAM, you just buy your ticket and hotel and show up.

You can't control that, and I certainly wouldn't stop donating for that, but I'm curious.

In full disclosure - I didn't donate anything in 2012.

Also, I believe that the women reference in the OP were sent by SurlyRamics, out of Amy's profits, not the Skepchick org.
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Old 14th October 2012, 07:13 AM   #24
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I don't think he has sent it out yet so I can still add a question.

I want to make sure I understand what you mean, though. Are you picturing two questions asking the percentage of papers and the percentage of the main conference events they attended?
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Old 27th October 2012, 03:36 PM   #25
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Originally Posted by Geek Goddess View Post
Also, I believe that the women reference in the OP were sent by SurlyRamics, out of Amy's profits, not the Skepchick org.
Yes, my mistake. The details for the TAM 2012 Surly Women Grants are here. I imagine that there must have been a number of donations, there would have to have been a huge number of pendants sold to send twenty-odd women to TAM (at a rough guess, over a thousand). Some slightly odd questions are asked of the applicants for donation:

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Old 22nd December 2012, 10:53 PM   #26
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Originally Posted by Allecher View Post
OK, I have a basic survey ready. Does anyone want to read over it before I ask Paul to send it to the scholarship recipients?
Ahhh... So that's how those surveys came to be.

I've received several forum grants. Going to TAM keeps me connected to a larger part of the skeptical community. And I'm able to bring my TAM experiences back to the forum and skeptic site that I administrate. It's no small thing to get out there and for five days anyhow, reach beyond my little coven of skeptics. As Allecher said, it recharges my batteries.

I'm a bit late to this party, and the questionare has already gone out. And really, I have no questions. But if I'm asked if the grants really make a difference, they sure do for me.
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Old 23rd December 2012, 02:13 PM   #27
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I got a reduced fee or something like that the first time I visited TAM, when I was poor and unemployed (fortunately my luck turned pretty much immediately after). I've visited once more since and gave a little bit back, but I guess I'll have to give a couple of times more before I've paid back what I got. Since I live in Sweden I'm not likely to come every year but certainly I expect to pay back what I got with interest and then some as long as TAM or similar events keep going.
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Old 27th December 2012, 11:54 PM   #28
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I got some assistance to go to my first TAM, from a private party; and I think I might have gotten a partial "tuition" once, though I'm not sure. JREF and TAM have made my life much better, and I am involved in promoting skepticism, though NOT in the official realm. I just do things like debate the likelihood of there being Bigfoot or "ancient aliens" with local teens, and give my kid's school skeptic books, and my entire (multi-year) back issue collection of Skeptical Inquirer to their middle school classroom.

I occasionally attend skeptic meet-up events, but I'm a mom in the suburbs and all the events seem to happen on weeknights in Seattle. It's just not feasible for me to attend, nor can I realistically at this time form a local meetup. Don't have the time or the money. I am active on this forum, and in a skeptical chat room; I have made lifetime friends through skepticism, and I am raising a skeptic kid.

Also, I recently discovered that a (veterinarian) friend of mine wants to attend TAM with me this summer! (I am frantically saving pennies starting now.) Apparently, she wants to see what moved my thinking and actions in the direction they have gone. Given that the Seattle area has a fair bit of what she calls "crunchy granola vet care," this upcoming TAM could have far-ranging effects. She is a go-getter and her son is graduating high school this spring: She will have time, and makes enough money, to get some form of skeptical veterinary resource put together if that moves into her focus.

But if what you're asking is, "Do TAM scholarships produce the next Harriet Hall?" I don't think you can bet on that. If that's what you're measuring by, then you should be targeting your donations to something that has more measurable results. Attending TAM can, and sometimes does, result in big, public, networking, organizational or debunking activity. It also often does not. It "just" helps people to get clearer in their own thinking; to feel less alone in the world; to find that being a skeptic does not always have to feel like being on a battlefield.

Providing people who can't afford the event a chance to go to TAM "only" makes the lives of people who share some fundamental values with you a lot better. It "only" helps people re-discover their own intelligence and strength; it "only" helps them be a voice of reason, calm, and clear thinking in their circle of friends and acquaintance. It "only" gives someone living in a desert of the soul an oasis to refresh them for the rest of their long, unpredictable journey through life.

If that's not a good return on investment, I don't know what is.


Thank you, Mr 40% and whomever else contributed. I wouldn't be in this Forum to write this if you hadn't.

-- Miss_Kitt
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Last edited by Miss_Kitt; 27th December 2012 at 11:57 PM. Reason: wrong verb tense
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Old 16th January 2013, 02:27 PM   #29
Eos of the Eons
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I know TAM changed my life. I was a lost a soul until TAM3. I was found after that, and have tried all I can to spread skepticism far and wide. I'm ever grateful for that chance to go. I am so sorry to hear someone squandered it.

The friendships I made there will last a life time as well. JREF means so much to me now, and I will forever enourage people to go to TAM. Right now I'm working on getting a group there again this year, whether or not I go myself. I tried to road trip it last year, and one gentleman that signed up on that road trip went to TAM for the first time in his life and loved it.

I feel the scholarship really paid off with me, and I hope all I've done since, and volunteering I did when I was there gave back something as well.

When my kids are grown, I will give back! I will make it to TAM again someday, but always have people thanking me when they go at my urging. Everyone I've pushed to go has paid their own way.

I wouldn't have met so many people from my own province even if I hadn't gone. Since then these meetings have spawned podcasts, websites, and blogs. I participate in a podcast with folks I met at TAM, and manage a website myself.

Meeting James Randi was overwhelming, I'm sure his humble self doesn't get how much. His inspiration will live in me until the day I die, and my gratitude for forumites will also overwhelm me the same way until the end of moi.

I see the efforts of kitty and Geek Goddess on Facebook and elsewhere, and I will be forever in awe of how dedicated they are to this. Thank you. Every time I meet you and other people I know are behind the scenes making every TAM wonderful, I am spurned on to do what I can as well.

My life seriously has been changed and I will forever champion TAM and the scholarships.
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Old 16th January 2013, 06:44 PM   #30
Allecher
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That is a great testimonial, Eos. If you have not already completed the online survey about your experience as a TAM scholarship recipient then PM me or Paul for the link.

I will try to compile the results in the next week so.
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Old 16th January 2013, 08:18 PM   #31
AdMan
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Originally Posted by Eos of the Eons View Post
I know TAM changed my life. I was a lost a soul until TAM3. I was found after that, and have tried all I can to spread skepticism far and wide. I'm ever grateful for that chance to go. I am so sorry to hear someone squandered it.

The friendships I made there will last a life time as well. JREF means so much to me now, and I will forever enourage people to go to TAM. Right now I'm working on getting a group there again this year, whether or not I go myself. I tried to road trip it last year, and one gentleman that signed up on that road trip went to TAM for the first time in his life and loved it.

I feel the scholarship really paid off with me, and I hope all I've done since, and volunteering I did when I was there gave back something as well.

When my kids are grown, I will give back! I will make it to TAM again someday, but always have people thanking me when they go at my urging. Everyone I've pushed to go has paid their own way.

I wouldn't have met so many people from my own province even if I hadn't gone. Since then these meetings have spawned podcasts, websites, and blogs. I participate in a podcast with folks I met at TAM, and manage a website myself.

Meeting James Randi was overwhelming, I'm sure his humble self doesn't get how much. His inspiration will live in me until the day I die, and my gratitude for forumites will also overwhelm me the same way until the end of moi.

I see the efforts of kitty and Geek Goddess on Facebook and elsewhere, and I will be forever in awe of how dedicated they are to this. Thank you. Every time I meet you and other people I know are behind the scenes making every TAM wonderful, I am spurned on to do what I can as well.

My life seriously has been changed and I will forever champion TAM and the scholarships.

As someone who's been lucky enough to be able to help others to go to TAM, I have to say you don't know how encouraging this is. Thanks for your post. I hope to meet you at a TAM sometime.
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Old 26th January 2013, 04:28 PM   #32
Calculon
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I sent in my online survey re: TAM scholarship.
It was important for me. I have met people I never would have met otherwise and stay in touch and discuss matters between TAMs.

No one will get away with discrimination based on sex, race, gender identity, etc. But by not having a vehicle for those less well-off to attend, it is by default discrimination based on income.
No one has right to come, of course, but a lot of active and engaged people would be shut out.

As the money is raised by people who are volunteering to raise money, I see no reason why it would be ended.
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Old 23rd February 2013, 07:31 PM   #33
Allecher
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Survey results (so far)

The survey responses have trickled in over the last few months, but I thought it would be best if I report the findings now, as we prepare for another TAM. There have been 21 responses to date and here is a summary

Number of TAMs attended Count
1 6
2-3 8
>3 7

Number of TAMs attended on grant Count
1 8
2-3 9
>3 4

3 respondents attended TAM on their own after attending on a grant

On a scale of 1-10
I got to meet some great people 9.86
I enjoyed the conference 9.82
I enjoyed the extra-curricular parts of the event 8.6
I learned something at TAM 9.24
After attending TAM I feel more connected to the skeptical community 9.05
I am now more involved in skepticism at home after attending TAM 8.19
I think the JREF forum should publicize their grants more freely 7.52
I would have been willing to be recognized as a JREF forum grant recipient at the event (ie I do not think anonymity is necessary) 8.05

There were two open response questions that are hard to effectively summarize. When asked what they learned at TAM many listed particular topics of interest and others mentioned networking or a better understanding of the community makeup.

When asked for comments on the forum grant one common response is that grants particularly help young and lower income folks participate in the community.

The survey is still open, so if you have received a grant in the past and have not given your feedback please do.
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Old 27th February 2013, 02:44 PM   #34
Soapy Sam
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Are the "scholarships" simply a payment, from donations, of a third party's enrollment fee? Or do they cover other costs?
Also, does JREF give any discount towards the scholarships?
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Old 27th February 2013, 03:02 PM   #35
The Central Scrutinizer
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Originally Posted by Soapy Sam View Post
Are the "scholarships" simply a payment, from donations, of a third party's enrollment fee? Or do they cover other costs?
Also, does JREF give any discount towards the scholarships?
Yes. No. No.
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