Between August 5th and 9th, we were the hosts and organisers for a small conference with associated workshops (small = 35 people on the busiest day). Organising a conference makes the experience of being at the event quite different - for a start, some days you don't even get close enough to the coffee table at break to grab a biscuit!
The meeting was supported by the Crackles Bequest Project, which pays Michelle's salary at the moment. The goals of the conference are described here. We'll write more about the research later as we get final results and work on the papers; this blog post is about the experience of organising a small conference.
The process began in January when we sent out emails checking the availability of our project partners (a wonderful group of people who provided all sorts of support for fieldwork in different parts of Europe, arranging permits, translating, bringing their students and colleagues along to help our team with the actual work, and being enthusiastic about what we are trying to do, which really helps when you're half-way up a mountain in the driving rain or crawling around in a haymeadow in thirty degree heat trying to identify a lot of very small green leaves, which does tend to start you wondering why this ever seemed like a good idea). We then set the dates so that as many of these people as possible could come, and began to plan in earnest.
The 'who can come when' spreadsheet was just the first of many. We had to work out how much to charge for registration at the meeting, to cover printing abstract volumes and lecture handouts, provide copies of software and pens, and of course the all-important regular infusions of caffeine (and biscuits) to keep everyone alert. We got quotes for a conference dinner and developed teaching plans for the workshops. We booked rooms on campus, contacted the local conference bureau to get their help with negotiating some cheap rates with local hotels, and put together an advertisement to send out to the pollen-counting community via various mailing lists. We even had lists of the lists we needed to make!
Although it felt like we did a lot of planning in advance, and the deadlines for booking to attend the conference and to get the hotel rates were relatively early on the 31st of May (over two months before), the week before the event ended up being manic. I really should be used to that by now, but it always takes me by surprise.
|Michelle demonstrates field methods in a field|
|Attendees in the quad|
|Before a session starts (in the earth science lab)|
|A summer's evening in the Hull docks area|
Organising this meeting was a huge amount of work - I think we've finally dealt with the last of the expenses claims and bits of paperwork, and can sign off on the last spreadsheet, now it's October. However, it is also very rewarding - all the intellectual stimulation of a conference PLUS you still get to sleep in your own bed, and don't have to put your pets in kennels. But maybe we can all go to India or South Africa next time?