Organising a Conference

One of the things I’ve been rather busy with over the past couple of months has been organising a conference at my university. 

It was a postgraduate conference in my academic field. The organising committee consisted of 4 post-grad students from a couple of disciplines who didn’t really know what we were supposed to be doing, and one lecturer who whipped us into shape. We started planning in November, stepped it up in January, and then hosted the conference at the end of May. It went really well and we had great feedback. 

However, during the process I realised a lot of things that I would have like to have known at the start. For my benefit (so I can look back over this next time) and hopefully for yours, here are some tips for conference organising:


– Make notes, if you have received funding, of dates and details required by the funding body. They may want an interrim report and/or a post-conference report. Make sure you are aware that these will need doing otherwise they’ll fall through the net. 

– Delegate someone to keep an eye on money – how much you’re being given by funders, how much you’re spending. They can keep hold of receipts in a central place so that the finance report is not a big mess at the end. 

– Hold regular meetings. More shorter meetings are much better than fewer longer meetings. 


– If you’re on the organising committee, don’t present a paper as well. All of us on our committee presented papers. Some handled it better than others but I would advise that the two are not done together. If you are organising, stick to that. If presenting a paper, then give your time to that. 

– Make sure, if you are chairing a panel, that you are not afraid to stick to the time. A lot of conferences do not stick to the schedule. Make sure beforehand that all the speakers know that they will be stopped after a certain amount of time. 

– Make sure the food is good. If you are providing lunch or snacks, make sure it is top quality – don’t scrimp here. People appreciate good quality catering at events. 

– Enjoy it. Don’t get bogged down in what should be happening, who should be where. Enjoy speaking with people and comparing ideas on academia and on your field. Tell those who have given papers what you thought (be nice), and encourage those yet to give their papers. 


– Get feedback. This is not only a great confidence boost for you as you reflect on the success of the conference, but it provides some concrete evidence for the running of the conference and aids you for next time. 

– Write down what you’d do differently or what you’d do the same (hello!). By the time it comes round to another conference committee, you’ll have forgotten otherwise. 

– Get back to work! You’ll have spent so much time on the conference that now you need to get head down and get moving on the PhD. So on that note, I’d better get my head down. 


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