The awesome thing about going to conferences is that you get to travel. Although I suppose this is less awesome if you hate travelling. But, I generally enjoy it, and it’s nice to get a chance to see some new place partly/mostly/completely paid for by someone else. But, in order to attend many conferences, especially if you reside outside of the US, you’ll need a passport.
I have one friend who’s currently running around getting her passport renewed, as she realized she doesn’t have quite enough time left on it for her next trip overseas. And this is better than the situation another friend found himself in, when he realized the day before leaving that his passport expired the next day. Oops. Both of these are good reminders to double check the expiry date on my own.
I have just over a year left on my passport, so I’ll probably start thinking about renewing it this coming summer, once the new 10-year passports are available. In 2012, I used it for a few trips to the US. This year, I imagine I’ll have a couple more there, and hopefully I’ll get to go somewhere else as well (even if just for fun).
If you’re a grad student, I think it’s almost essential to have a valid passport on hand. The last thing you need/want, is to have a paper accepted somewhere and then be scrambling to get a passport in time to go.
If you are an international student, you’ll have a valid passport, however, you’ll also be (likely) on a student visa. In this case, it’s really important to know a couple of things. First, what the rules of the student visa are for leaving and re-entering the country you’re studying in. Make sure that if you leave for a conference, you can come back. And second, look into what you need to do to visit the country (or countries) where you may end up for conferences. I had one friend who had to skip out on the conference and have another person present their work because of visa issues. It was a long process to get a visa, and he didn’t get started right away. Know approximately how long the process will take (average a week, a month, longer?), what you need to know before getting started on it (do you need the exact dates of your trip, or can you start the process earlier?), and how you get it done (do you need to be there in person or can you mail it? is it in your current city or only another one?). Knowing this information in advance can, and will, save you time in the long run.
One of the few perks of being a grad student is getting to travel. It’s an opportunity to show off your research and meet the people writing all those papers you’re reading. Don’t let a passport be what prevents you from going.