An Insight into Our Scholarship Process

Earlier this year, we closed our scholarship applications for JSConf and CSSconf EU 2018 for travel grants outside of Europe. As in previous years, we received a great number of diverse submissions from all over the world and in this post, we would like to address our voting process as part of our ongoing commitment to transparency to the events that we run and that are so important to us, as well as the community as a whole. Below we have discussed the role and names of the jury who took part in the selection process this year, the various factors impacting their voting decisions, and finally - the results of this year’s scholarship program.

About the scholarship program

Since the program’s initiation in 2015, JSConf EU and CSSconf EU have jointly strived continuously to improve the scholarship program. As a member of the JSConf team and someone who has both a personal and professional experience in the area, Simone became the person in charge of managing the scholarship program, including serving as a liaison between applicants, scholars and the team, as well as all communications related to the scholarship program. We felt it was important to nominate a dedicated person to not only create a personal contact for those applying and attending the conferences on a scholarship, but also to ensure that all logistical matters related to the scholarship program, such as helping scholars obtain visas where needed, booking and coordinating the logistics of their travels, and helping them get their bearings on their first steps in Berlin.

The purpose of the scholarship

As the popularity of the program grew, so did the number of applications submitted, and so did the greatest challenge of the selection process: How do we make sure to choose the right people for the limited number of scholarships we could offer?” The answer to this challenge was to clearly lay down the purpose of the scholarship program, as follows:

To grant access to CSSconf EU and JSConf EU to people who would not have the opportunity to attend otherwise. This mainly includes, but is not limited to, people from underrepresented groups including people of color, white women, LGBTQIA+ people, people with disabilities, and people facing economic or social hardships.

Optimizing the application process

Because of the nature of the scholarship program, we quickly learned that the majority of applicants required a visa to travel to Germany. Visas are often an obstacle that can in some cases be very time consuming, as well as requiring certain documentation on our part (e.g. a letter of invitation) to be granted.

  1. Applicants outside of Europe requiring a travel grant as part of their scholarship, as well as potentially a visa sponsorship, would need to apply no later than 6 months prior to the event dates.
  2. Applicants within Europe, regardless of travel grant needs, could apply up to 3 months prior to the event dates.

Factors affecting the voting process

We decided that our voting process has to be anonymous, unbiased and fair in order to produce the results that we think are the most appropriate. However, there are still factors affecting the selection process:

  1. Limited scholarship budget from the conference side
  2. The applicants’ country of origin

The decision about the number of scholarships and travel grants depends on the amount of sponsorship money we receive from attendees and sponsors. Even though we try to invite a large number of people, we are forced to look at the costs. Sometimes the costs for an individual’s flight tickets are more expensive than the travel grant we could provide them, which is why it’s not financially feasible to have many applicants come from, for example, Australia, where travel costs exceed 1000 Euro. This makes the voting process difficult because we have to look at the country the applicant comes from and the amount of travel grant they need.

The voting process

As we noticed with last year’s scholarship process, there was a problem: Our organizing team wasn’t as diverse as we wanted it to be, and it felt wrong to vote on such a diverse program while lacking diversity within our own ranks. An idea came up to include people into our scholarship voting process who had previously received a scholarship to JSConf EU and/or CSSconf EU, or people who had otherwise made contributions to the JSConf/CSSconf ecosystem. We felt that these people might not only know the general idea of the program, but also appreciate and understand how important inclusiveness and diversity is. The decision about whom we could include was made quickly and we felt grateful that both were eager to help.

Olivia is part of the volunteer team for JSConf EU 2018. Princiya held a scholarship in 2015. Following the conference, she got a job in Berlin and was part of a lot more conferences, both as an attendee and a speaker.

Their help is highly appreciated and both are great examples for the scholarship program to be door openers to build one’s own future.

The jury in action

The jury first met in person in Berlin in January and decided to vote on each anonymized submission on a custom scale based on the applicant’s motivation to attend the conference. The jury members read through every submission and were honoured to read some very inspiring stories, citations of great work, and some ardent zeal and motivation to learn and give back to the community.

The shortlists

Based on the jury’s decisions, deserving applicants have been shortlisted to receive the scholarships.

In our selections, we strived to strike a balance between the following points:

  • Applicants who are underrepresented in the tech community
  • Applicants who come from regions with little tech presence
  • Applicants who are new to the tech world
  • Applicants who are transitioning from a non-tech background
  • Applicants who face economic and social hardships
  • Applicants who want to give back to the community

We are still accepting applications for ticket and travel grants within Europe until March, 31st 2018.

Part of the international CSSconf family