To begin our PGR season of events, Dr Stacy Gillis delivered a workshop aimed at PGRs and ECRs who are considering organising their own conferences or symposia.
After deciding what kind of event you’ll be organising (anything from a single seminar to a large conference), she presented three key questions to ask yourself throughout the organising process.
How should I organise this event?
Stacy pointed to several factors to consider when getting started with the practicalities of event organising.
The first is timescale: for a single seminar or panel event having a lead in of a month or so is sufficient, but for large conferences, getting started with room bookings and CFPs should be happening at least 18-months ahead of conference dates. Because of the scale of work involved in conference organising, you should also consider when this would manageable work for you to take on (e.g. the post-submission, pre-viva period). Your timescale should also factor in plenty of time for publicity.
With that said, you should also expect the unexpected. Conference programmes can be expected to be subject-to-change up to the last minute, and there will always be unplanned for events that will need to be navigated as they arise.
Budgeting should also be a key consideration. There can be some small pots of departmental/university funding for inviting guest speakers or organising a single panel event, however these won’t cover the costs of a multi-day conference. The costs for large conferences can run up to somewhere around £16-18k and this needs to be balanced through avenues such as external funding and charging attendance/speaker fees.
Accessibility should also be a central consideration. As Stacy pointed out, women and other marginalised scholars are underrepresented in conference spaces, so consider providing a creche, having options for hybrid/asynchronous/online sessions, and ensure your venue has more accessible architecture.
“The same skills and knowledge apply whether you’re organising an afternoon seminar or a multi-panel, 4-day conference. The only difference is scale.”
- While you can get funding from research institutes, publishers, etc. but before signing on check if they have any event requirements and how hands-on/off they’ll be in the organising process.
- Learn to use Excel.
- Make sure to schedule ample break and meal times into your conference schedule, and provide food and drink where able.
- Take care of yourself and ask for help from colleagues.
Why am I organising this event?
When taking on demanding work like conference organising, you should make sure it aligns with your interests and development, Stacy advises. You should ask yourself what you want to get out of the experience, whether and how it will help build your CV, if it will help you develop networks, or be beneficial to your development as a scholar.
As an organiser, it is inadvisable for you to put yourself on the programme or plan to attend many speakers/panels, so organising may be less beneficial to you if your current focus is on extending the reach of your research or learning from others’.
Conferences can also be a good way to build an edited book or journal volume, however this will likely be another 18 months to 2 years after the event itself, so consider if and how this timescale fits into your career plans.
Finally, as women, marginalised, and junior scholars we should also be wary of taking on work for others. If you’ve been asked to do organising work for someone else, question why you’re being asked to do this labour and who will benefit from your work. Large event organising is time consuming, so make sure it benefits you and isn’t taking away from time that might be spent on your own project(s) and rest.
What is my role as an organiser?
As an organiser, your job at an event is to facilitate and be a point of contact for attendees. This can involve a wide range of things depending on the event and will be a busy job so be sure to take care of yourself and make sure you’re not taking on too much.
In the run up to an event, your role will be different depending on the scale of the event, funding requirements, and your team. While you can organise single seminars or panel discussions by yourself, for most organising work you’ll be with a team. As much as possible, make sure this team is comprised of people you trust (people who will do their work), and people who have a diverse skill set.
“[Organisers are] there to facilitate the dynamic phatic and and social environment of a conference…Feed people well!”
Finally, as an organiser your role is not to be a travel agent. While you can put together a local guide, organise activities, negotiate deals with local hotels and transport agencies, it is not your job to book accommodation, activities, and transportation for individual attendees.
With thanks again to Dr Stacy Gillis for delivering such an informative talk. Please see below for a recording of the event: