Thursday, October 22, 2009

Organizing a conference

I'm throwing around the idea of organizing a small conference at UBC. I'm not married to the idea, but I'm talking to different people about it (classmates, professors, etc) to get their ideas and find out whether or not they think it's realistic. Themes and logistics aside, is this a good idea?

I know it would take a year to plan a conference, but I'm not sure that I should. What do you think?

I'm particularly interested in hearing from anyone who organized a conference as a grad student, or knows a grad student who organized a conference. Was it useful for them? Was it a huge timesuck? Did it help them get a job? Did anyone actually care other than the people that went to the conference?



EcoGeoFemme said...

I have organized a session at a meeting (which I blogged about a bunch) and I peripherally helped organize a conference at my institution a few years ago.

How big of a conference are you imagining? Will it have a regional focus, or will you try to get participants from abroad? Do you think you can get institutional logical support as a grad student? What about funding? My advice is to think about these parameters before you decide if it's worth the work, and it will be a LOT of work.

I felt that organizing a single session as part of an established meeting was totally doable as a student and worth the substantial time it took. I did it with a partner, and we both thought we had bitten off just about as much as we could chew but that it was worth our while. I got more exposure that I typically would at a national meeting, got to know some of the (famous) people in the session a little, and it resulted in two commentary/summary papers, one of which is already out in a high-ish impact journal.

On the other hand, a conference is REALLY and LOT of work. I'm not sure it would be worthwhile as a student. Yeah, it would help your career, but would it help as much as graduating up to a year sooner, or writing another paper, which you might be able to produce in the same amount of time? Also, I've noticed that even small workshops need at least a small committee to handle everything. If you don't have some committed support, it might be too much to take on as a student.

If it's a perennial topic that will still be relevant in a few years, I would wait. But I think that the organized session route could be a really satisfying alternative. If you do that, you could see what kind of feedback you get; if there seems to be a lot of interest, maybe then it's worth the effort to organize something more involved.

Karina said...

Thanks for commenting, EGF! If the conference happened it would definitely be regional and invitation only. I don't know how many people, but fewer than 25 I think.

There is at least one professor who is excited about the idea. She is willing to help, and we have a great secretary who can help with logistical things. I think we can get funding for it, but I'm not sure on what timescale.

My biggest concern is that none of the other students have ownership of this idea. You know what I mean? Some of them are excited about it but I don't think they're going to take initiative on it (at least not yet).

I'm not sure that an organized session can do what I've got in mind, in part because the audience I have in mind is pretty specific and also because I want to use a nontraditional conference format (no powerpoint presentations about research).

All that said, Jon pointed out to me that I have a lot of irons in the fire right now and should probably focus on my main dissertation project (which seems to be flailing in my mind) before I commit to another 'extra-curricular' project like organizing a conference. I think I'm going to keep floating the idea around and see what kind of responses I get.

Alexandra said...

Unless you can find someone who will be as dedicated to this as you, you may want to organize the conference alone and then utilize volunteers to organize specific sub-groups. I've found that sometimes it is easier to take the lead and organize down like a pyramid than to depend on someone else to do a fair 50% of the work. Then again, I've worked with certain people before where it has been a huge success, so I guess it depends on who your options for partners are. But it does sound like a really good idea.