You should organise an event. Yes, you. It doesn’t matter if it is a massive conference or a reading group or a seminar. For what it’s worth, I think doing something that’s not perfect is nearly always better than doing nothing. Getting people talking and listening is what academia should be about, and events come in all shapes and sizes. You don’t need a whacking great budget, or a prestigious Institute or plush surroundings. What you do need is a bit of hustle, and hopefully some of these ideas from my experience will help with that.
- Pick your collaborators carefully. We’ve all got friends who do amazing work but couldn’t organise a bun fight in a patisserie. Whoever you work with, you’re probably going to be spending a lot of time debating issues small and big, and it helps if they aren’t energy sucking prognosticators of doom. Or, go it alone and get volunteers to help on the day. It often helps to make sure that everyone involved knows their roles and responsibilities for big events: mostly so you don’t get stuck in reply-all email hell over the catering.
- Scope out money, but don’t be afraid to improvise. Start with your Institution and see whether there is money set aside for PhDs or ECRs, this can often be in the guise of training, networking and bid support. Then move on to Department Heads and *ask nicely*, never presuming, if they might like to sponsor a wine reception or some biscuits. This will, hopefully, yield enough for you to think the event is feasible and to put out a call. In the meantime, apply to subject associations like it was going out of style. Look at how these two KCL PhDs scoped out fancy partners like true bosses: https://fournationshistory.wordpress.com/partners/ Be flexible over catering, venues etc. You might want to show off and be fancy, but no one remembers the food unless it was truly inedible. Universities often run their estates as a profit making venture, so be canny about rooming. There is someone in your department who is wise and sage and knows how to get round these costs, befriend this sanguine Owl and find out the secrets. They will also explain to you how finance works and whether your fees will get top sliced.
- Food and drink. Personally, having been to lots of great events in London which didn’t have catering, I now do BYO lunch for my events. This also means not having to deal with dietary restrictions, and is good if you have a city campus near things. But ALWAYS provide coffee. And tea. But mostly coffee. Or have decent coffee nearby. Imagine being stuck at a conference without coffee. I did once have Northern Irish traybakes at an event and people still mention them to me, so bribing people with confectionery has worked.
- Use simple tools to get your message out: your Uni might have a byzantine way to get a website updated and you need to be more flexible than that. I use academia.edu to both assess how popular a CFP is (you can see who in the world has downloaded it) and have an easily shareable link. You might want to use a wordpress blog as your hype man, or Twitter/Facebook. Send your CFP out through every subject association and List Serv. Even if it doesn’t yield a million delegates you’ll still get your name, your research interests and the fact that you actually do things out there.
- I’ve talked about this again and again: but if your event isn’t inclusive then you’re not doing it right. If your event isn’t accessible to delegates with disabilities, then it’s exclusionary. This needs to be built in from the start.
So, what would you add to that? It doesn’t cover half the stuff on the day and leading up to it: projectors not working, delegates who demand you print their papers when you’ve to fetch someone from the train station, travel problems. Despite all this drama, you’ll be so glad you did it. You’ll be glad you stuck your neck out there, brought people together and started some conversations. You never know where it could lead!
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