Organising a conference: Plastid Preview 2018
By Rhiannon Page, Plastid Preview organising team member.
Plastid Preview is a small, friendly meeting for Early Career Researchers (ECRs) working in the area of chloroplast biology and I had been fortunate enough to attend twice, both in Edinburgh in 2016 and in Cambridge in 2017. So when I was given the opportunity to help organise the conference at Lancaster in 2018, I was super excited. However I was about to learn how much work goes into organising even a small event such as this! Luckily, other researchers in the group, Elizabete Carmo-Silva, Doug Orr and Mike Page, were also part of the organising team. The four of us sat down together almost a year before the meeting and started to make plans.
We set a date, wary to avoid a clash with other events in our field, and made a list of potential sponsors and supporters. Plastid Preview is traditionally free to attend for delegates so it was vital to find enough funding to cover all the costs. There was a bit of a rush to submit funding applications on time but thanks to the generosity of Phyconet, The Company of Biologists, Society for Experimental Biology, New Phytologist, Li-Cor, N8 AgriFood and Gatsby, the meeting could go ahead. It was an easy decision to use the Lancaster Conference Centre at Lancaster University as the venue and a quick meeting with their event organiser sorted the accommodation and conference dinner too. We designed a website to promote the conference and allow online registration and started inviting along participants.
As we eagerly watched the number of attendees increase, we started assembling a programme, abstract booklet and printing name badges. We wanted to make this year’s conference particularly useful to ECRs by trying to provide many opportunities for them to contribute actively to the meeting. We invited ECRs to chair the 6 seminar sessions. There were 20 talks and 18 posters supplemented with flash talks. Mary Williams (ASPB) and Mike Whitfield (New Phytologist) were asked to give talks on how ECRs can best promote themselves and their science, and included an excellent and fun interactive activity. We also arranged prizes for the Best Poster and Best Talk, and persuaded the PIs attending the conference to judge the competition.
When the day of the meeting finally arrived, we were a little tense but all our hard work paid off as the conference went smoothly and we could take part and enjoy proceedings along with all the delegates. I particularly enjoyed running the registration desk and welcoming everyone to Lancaster. This was a great opportunity to get to know all my fellow researchers and start building those all-important relationships. The conference dinner went well, providing a choice of meals and catering for all dietary requirements. As well as relaxing and networking, we managed to secure a willing volunteer to host next year’s Plastid Preview! We promoted the meeting on Twitter through the hashtag #plastidpreview2018, tweeting ourselves, with help from Ali Birkett, our department’s official tweeter, and encouraging participants to use the hashtag during the meeting. We reached over 100,000 impressions through 210 posts by 45 different users. People as far away as Australia, India, Chile and Brazil interacted with these tweets. Additionally, we requested that delegates provide feedback on the meeting and 40 people responded through a quick online survey. Please see the graphs below for a summary:
Following the conference there was still a surprising amount of work left to sort out! Reports needed writing for funders and supporters, travel claims arranged and finances put in order. Organising Plastid Preview 2018 was a lot of work but working with a team of great people made it a fun and exciting experience. I am immensely proud of what we all achieved and that Lancaster could contribute as host for this great series of meetings. We learnt during the meeting that Plastid Preview might have begun as long as 35 years ago! We hope it continues to be a useful meeting for ECRs and look forward to 2019’s edition in York later this year!