Organising Your First Conference
by Fiona Martinez
Your PhD will be filled with countless challenges and new experiences, and perhaps one of those challenging new experiences will be organising your first conference. I was perhaps rare, in that I did this in my first year of research, but there’s actually very little that’s daunting about this experience and a lot that’s extremely pleasurable and rewarding! So, now that the dust has settled on my event (Representations of Romantic Relationships and the Romance Genre in Contemporary Women’s Writing) I wanted to share a few top tips on how to help you ensure you have just as wonderful an experience as I did.
- Start Planning Early
Much like when you book a holiday, and it always seems too far away to start packing until the night before when you panic and pack three tubes of toothpaste but no underwear, a conference can creep up on you very quickly! I first decided to host a conference in October 2015 and it took place on the 11th June 2016. This meant that the planning time took almost 9 months. This may seem like a great deal of time, but there’s a great deal to do! From creating a Call for Papers to publicising the event every step in the process requires effort and time, so the longer you have to do all of this the better prepared you will be and the more successful you event is likely to be!
- Get by with a Little Help from My (Your) Friends…
Organising a conference might seem like a lot of work, and it was, but it was made easier by the fact that I was not alone in this endeavour. Thankfully, I worked with the lovely women within the PG CWWN on this event and though I led on the organisation their role was invaluable. Co-organising is a wonderful way to undertake this rewarding task whilst also ensuring you have the support and input of another person or persons. When I felt unsure of how to handle something logistically, or simply wanted a second opinion on a particular issue, I had the help of wise researchers who could share their experience and offer advice. Of course, I’m sure it’s possible to do something like this alone but if you have the offer of help I would definitely recommend taking it.
- Follow Your Passion
I believe one of the major things which made my experience of organising a conference so positive comes from the fact that I chose the subject of the conference. Attending conferences which focus on a subject you love can feel like a very lucky experience, but when you have a particularly niche research area and are able to choose the subject of a conference it’s all the more exciting! Not only can you select a topic which links into and inspires your own research, but you can meet like-minded researchers who share your enthusiasm for a particular area. There were moments during my experience that particularly highlighted the many benefits of my hard work: when I saw researchers I had brought together discussing ideas and swapping contact details, when I heard papers which looked at the area I loved but from an entirely new angle and when I got home and realised that my notebook was full of books I needed to read and the tiny buds of new research ideas. Being passionate about the subject of your conference will make the whole organisation of it more than worthwhile.
- Don’t Underestimate the Little Things
My supervisors said to me ‘It’s the little things that make a good conference.’ I heard those words resounding in my ear when the biscuits were spotted during our first coffee break. It’s the many little things that make a conference run smoothly. I took time to do these little things and I would recommend the same to anybody in the same position. Provide people with location details – it’s helpful and supportive. Make sure there’s water in the room for people presenting – a glass of water can really ease nerves, or cure the often horrifically timed tickly throat! Make name badges for attendees – this will make networking so much easier for all involved. These touches will positively influence people’s overall experience and their memories of the day once it’s over.
Overall, organising a conference is one of the most rewarding and enjoyable things I’ve done as a PhD student. It’s time-consuming, hard work and sometimes stressful but it’s also inspiring, fun and a great way to share your enthusiasm for a subject. With the right amount of planning, a little bit of support, a whole lot of passion and attention to detail (Read: buy biscuits) you have everything you need for a productive and successful conference.