What To Expect When You Co-Organise A Conference

What To Expect When You Co-Organise A Conference

Though I started my research degree having done several conference presentations, I had no idea what, exactly, went in to making conferences themselves work. And I certainly hadn’t expected this to be one of the first things I would learn as a research student. But, as discussed in our ‘How to Organise a Conference’ post, experience in planning and organizing an academic conference not only adds to your CV, but better prepares PGR students for future academic situations. I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to help co-organize a small, half-day conference this past academic year and everything I learned has helped me both personally and academically. So here’s some advice and encouragement for PGRs who want to be involved on the organization side of conferences.

The Conference Doesn’t Have to be Your Idea

I know a few PGR students who have put on conferences where the idea was completely their own. While that is something I strive to do one day, in no way was I prepared for that during my first year. The conference I was involved with was my secondary supervisor’s idea, and I only jumped on board when she asked if I’d like to help. Make no mistake, though. Even as a co-organiser for an event that was someone else’s idea, you’ll work just as hard and, in the end, the event will most likely feel as if it was partly yours all along.

[Image Description: Several people put their hands together in the middle of a circle. The image looks down from above.]

Photo by Alvaro Reyes on Unsplash

Share the Workload!

Co-organising a conference with even just one other person is basically a voluntary group project. When you sign on to help, you’re dedicating a portion of your time to spend working toward the end goal. A few of the more common tasks involved with planning conferences include grant proposals, securing a venue, managing finances, drafting and sending calls for papers, organising keynote speakers, liaising with conference attendees and venue personnel, managing registration – believe me, the list goes on. It’s understandable why conferences are often headed by more than one person. So if you’re part of that team, make sure you’re pulling your weight as well!

Expect the Unexpected

The trickiest parts of conference planning are 1) some things you just can’t control and 2) many of the tasks can’t be completed until either right before the conference or on the day. One of the ultimately uncontrollable aspects of conferences is abstract proposal submissions. It’s impossible to know exactly how many submissions you’ll receive, especially when you know a fair amount of people will wait to submit until the deadline. The most you can do is ensure the Call for Papers is sent around to as many universities, departments and groups as possible and plan the deadline for a date that would be easy enough to extend without setting your schedule too far back.

Perhaps the most frustrating part, though, is having to wait until the week of the conference to complete most of your tasks. I always prefer to have everything set before the day of something important, but conferences just don’t work that way. You can order food or hire catering well before the date, but it obviously can only be delivered on the day. You can decide early on what you’ll be doing for technology, but presenters usually bring their presentations on flash drives on the day. And, the biggest one: you can plan as well as possible and things might still go wrong. It’s the curse of conference day. So, expect the unexpected and you might not be as stressed when you’re faced with a sudden problem.

[Image Description: A person stands with her back to the camera and has their left arm raised in the air with a clinched fist.]

Photo by Miguel Bruna on Unsplash

I might have made all of this sound quite intimidating, but choosing to co-organise a conference was honestly one of the best decisions I made this past year. I connected with several academics whose work inspired me and I gained valuable skills that I can apply to both my research and any work I do in the future. If, like me, you’re not quite ready to come up with your own idea for a conference, try asking your supervisor if they know of any teams you can join. You can also check if your college puts on any student-led conferences, like the annual College of Arts Postgraduate Conference. Find a way to get involved; I promise you won’t regret it!

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