In its attempts to further the professional development of its members, the APSSC provides this guide on presenting your own research conference. You may choose to have only your department participate but local conferences are always more successful if they are held in collaboration with nearby colleges. In addition, you may want to consider inviting students from related fields such as philosophy, business and computer science. You would be surprised how much overlap there is among research topics. Don't try to plan a major conference. These events are more successful if you plan for just a one day event.
This guide is intended as a simple means of providing you with the information you'll need to start a conference. Your faculty should be willing to assist in certain aspects of the planning so don't hesitate to seek out their advice.
What follows are the items you'll need to consider when planning a conference. In addition, we've tried to include samples to assist you in your planning.
Setting the Date
Conferences can be held during any time of the year, but, if you want to ensure active involvement, it's best if they're held in the summer. If you do decide on a summer conference, set the date by the end of they spring term and reserve your rooms as soon as possible. You will want to solicit input from other students to determine the best time for everyone. One other point to consider is that Fridays are usually better than weekends for faculty attendance.
Request Money from your Department
Your department or graduate student organization should be willing to fund some aspect of your conference (either lunch and/or a picnic afterwards). Before requesting funds, you will want to demonstrate that you have a firm hold on the organization of the conference. Because of this, you might want to wait until you have a list of potential presenters, etc.
Call for Organizers
Do not try to do everything yourself. The conference will run much smoother if you get assistance from other students on tasks such as getting speakers, writing up and distributing programs, chairing sessions and organizing meals.
Send out a "Call for Presenters"
Once you've set the date, you'll want to officially send out a call for presenters. This should be a professionally drafted flyer explaining the purpose of the conference, along with the date and time. In addition to sending this to all eligible students, you'll want to send a letter to faculty urging them to ensure that their students participate. What follows is an example of a flyer and sample text for a letter to faculty. Click here for a sample "flyer".
Get Faculty Speakers
You may want to consider having opening and closing comments made by faculty members. In this way, faculty can provide valuable insights into the research that gets presented and can add professional wisdom and experience to the days events.
Plan a Party or Picnic at the end of the Conference
One way to ensure good attendance is to have a party of sorts at the end of the conference. A picnic or party is a nice reward for those presenting and attending, and can cap off the day on a memorable note.
Design the Program
You'll want to put together a professional looking conference program. You can make your own decisions on layout, but remember to keep the organization easy to follow.
Provide Presenters with "How To" Information
You should ensure that your presenters have a clear idea about what is expected of them. At a minimum, you should provide speakers with the time of their talk and the expected length of their talk. What follows is sample information you can provide speakers and poster presenters.
* Information for Poster Presenters
* Information for Speakers
* Helpful Hints from Dr. Gordon Bower on Giving a Research Talk
Once you have your list of presenters and the Conference is only a few weeks away, you will want to send formal invitations to ALL students and faculty in the department. This will produce a great deal of positive public relations with your campus community and should increase participation markedly. Click here for a sample letter to faculty.
The Day of the Conference
Other than a few common sense precautions, the hard work should be over. Some things to plan for on the day of the conference include:
After the Conference
Last but not least, don't forget to thank any faculty that helped. You should send thank- you notes to faculty presenters and to those responsible for allocating any departmental funds towards the conference.
We hope that this guidebook provides you with a simple and straight-forward way to put together a conference. Successful conferences are a fantastic way for students to gain professional presentation skills and should provide all those presenting with a rewarding experience. Good luck!
Jennifer Wiley and Stephen M. Fiore of the University of Pittsburgh produced this handbook. It is based upon the "Pitt-CMU Annual Conference on Cognition" which was initiated on the suggestion of Gordon Bower, Ph.D.