Organizing a Conference
Purpose, Length and Size
Conferences should bring together the top researchers and students working on the subject. Often the conference may bring together mutliple groups that usually do not meet together but are brought together for the conference to develop new synergies. A Conference should last long enough for a "group chemistry" to develop — normally, three to five days. A shorter period is not appropriate for the Research Conference format; a sixth day or half-day may be justifiable, but is considered an absolute maximum. Groups of 50-80 specialists are of optimal size, and participation is usually not to exceed 100.
Normally, two or three conveners are needed to assure some diversity and to spread the workload. A larger number is often too cumbersome. Ideally, participants include industry, academic, and government personnel. Advanced graduate students working seriously on the topics are encouraged. Once a conference is approved, invitations are extended at an early date (preferable 12 to 18 months in advance) to a core group of 20-30 key people widely recognized for current activity related to the theme. These individuals may then be invited to prepare keynote presentations. After the core group has been identified, a larger group of known specialists is contacted at least 10-12 months in advance. General notices of the conference appear in SEPM publications, website and in several other venues. The main advertising for the conference should begin about one year before the conference.
Locations of conferences are usually in pleasant, semi-isolated surroundings with some recreational activities available. Field trips are strongly encouraged. Even if such trips are not essential to the subject, either an excursion or an extended free period midway through the conference will help to break the intensity of the meeting.
Scheduling is very open and flexible. Conveners have great latitude in determining the mix between formal talks, posters, informal discussions and field trips. Numerous time slots for both group and individual discussions are an important attribute for a successful conference. Scheduling of locations and dates is also flexible.
Preliminary ideas for a Research Conference can be sent for preliminary discussion to the SEPM Research Councilor, who chairs the SEPM Research Committee or to the SEPM Executive Director, who can answer questions and discuss how to proceed with a formal proposal. SEPM has three levels of support for conferences:
- Level I is a request to have SEPM endorse the conference, which means the SEPM Logo can be used and SEPM will contribute some advertising in its publications and website - this level requires concurrence from the current SEPM President and the Executive Director.
- Level II support includes Level I but additionally some funds are requested, usually to help with student attendence (lower registration fees or travel stipends) - this level requires the Research Committee's endorsement and then Council approval to expend any monies.
- Level III support is when SEPM operates the conference either alone or in partnership with another organization. SEPM contributes extensive staff time at this level and it must be reviewed by the Research Committee and approved by Council.
A formal request should be sent to the Executive Director for Level I support and a formal proposal should be sent to the Executive Director and Research Councilor for Level II or III. The proposal should include the elements listed below. Ideally, the proposal should be made at least 2 years prior to the planned date for the conference. The SEPM Research Committee will review the proposal and may make recommendations for changes. After this review, and any changes, the committee forwards the proposal to SEPM Council who makes the final approval. After approval, SEPM Headquarters begins actively working with the convenors to make the conference happen. You do not have to be an SEPM member to submit a proposal. A formal proposal includes the following items:
- Conference title
- Names of conveners and contact information
- Dates — starting and ending points of the conference
- Brief summary of the scope of the proposed conference and why it is timely (one page)
- Tentative program outline (oral, poster, discussion, field sessions)
- Tentative list of key participants and the anticipated total number of participants - this should have a minimum number and a maximum number
- Tentative expenses and potential sponsorship sources
Logistical planning for conferences begins early. SEPM Headquarters provides necessary logistical help for conferences, including financial, advertising and website support. The convenors prime responsibility is for the scientific program.
Once a conference has been approved, SEPM Headquarters staff, in cooperation with the conveners, identify and contact the meeting facility to negotiate all details, sign contracts, make deposits, etc. as needed. This process is very important because a carefully negotiated, detailed contract will ensure a smoothly run meeting as well as provide a reliable basis for setting the conference fees. These steps are normally accomplished about 12 months in advance of the conference. Room rates, meal-by-meal menus and costs, coffee breaks, gratuities and taxes, any transportation, and hospitality-room costs must all be included in the budget.
A budget is prepared by SEPM Headquarters. Conferences must be self-supporting but often rely on sponsorships to help reduce the registration costs or to supply supplemental funds for student grants or other specific expense. Once the budget is set, SEPM takes financial responsibility for the conference.
In addition to assistance with the coordination of financial matters, SEPM Headquarters staff will also assist the convenors in handling the production and distribution of necessary promotional materials to relevant associations and/or publications; recieve, acknowledge, and account for abstract submission, registration; prepare and ship materials for on-site use; conduct check-in and oversee contracted services on site; arrange payment and provide accounting for expenses; and assist with the production of any post-conference publication.