Making of a Meeting

Behind the Scenes of #PlantBio18

#PlantBio18 is less than a month away. For most of us this means feverishly working on poster and talks, but for the Program Committee of ASPB work has been ongoing to make #PlantBio18 as successful as possible! I was able to catch up with Dr. Andrew Bent, chair of the program committee to find out what goes into hosting this fantastic meeting.

Q: With all the amazing science being done in the world of plant biology, how are major symposia themes determined?

AB: We have a program committee with six faculty or industry scientist members, chosen for their disciplinary and geographic diversity as well as for being widely networked and high-curiosity people. That group chooses about half of the topics. The others arise from certain award recipients, and that year’s ASPB President, and occasional joint meeting or satellite meeting sponsors like CSPB or ISPR, and from Plant Physiology and Plant Cell Editorial Boards. All of these groups are just openly looking for topics of high current interest and future impact.

Q: If I was interested in a certain workshop topic, could I suggest it for a meeting and how would I do this?

AB: The ASPB Program Committee accepts formal proposals every late summer/early fall, for workshops for the next year’s meeting. You could propose to organize a workshop, regardless of your career level. Alternatively, the meeting survey sent out to attendees soon after each annual meeting is an excellent forum where people share ideas for things like future workshops. It helps if you can suggest names of potential organizers. We definitely listen to these suggestions.

Q: How does one get to be on the program committee?

AB: You get asked, typically by the President-Elect of ASPB. It helps if you have shown some history of being engaged and highly active in the discipline, in scholarship and in any of a wide range of service contributions (other ASPB committees, grant panels, quality referee or editor work, active in other scientific societies, etc.). People who are interested should not be at all shy to let any of the many dozen ASPB leaders and current committee members know of their interest in this type of work.

Q: What’s the hardest part of putting together the program for a meeting of this size?

AB: The integrated whole – that is the hardest part. Much of the speaking program is built from abstract submissions, so reviewing and selecting from those is a huge (but satisfying) task. Program committee scientists also collate and provide feedback about other parts of the meeting (such as: better coffee at the coffee breaks!). Crucially for the scientist-organizers, ASPB has meeting professionals (with Jean Rosenberg at the helm) who know how to do this, and are very good at it. They make it all work. The abstract submission process, payments, the meeting app, room layouts, negotiations with convention centers and hotels, etc. It is a really big complex beast!

Q: How far in advance does meeting planning start?

AB: Five years ahead with site selection and booking. Two years ahead with a lot of the site details. One to 1.5 years in advance for selecting themes of the plenary sessions.

Q: There are a lot of attendees, how do you decide who speaks at concurrent sessions?

AB: In the fall we identify about 12 prominent scientists to lead 12 of the sessions and recruit additional excellent speakers for those sessions. The remaining one or two talks in those sessions, and all speakers in the remaining 18 sessions, are chosen from submitted abstracts. The program committee assigns two or three people to read and score each abstract submitted prior to the talk-consideration deadline in February. We aim to ignore speaker name and institution when we do this. Then we form sessions around areas of greatest interest to our attendees (based on future trends, and also poster/talk submissions and session attendance for the previous year’s meeting). We just pick the best abstracts. We always have a lot of US and international speakers and excellent diversity in speaker age, career stage and gender. We pick strong science that reflects the community of attendees.

Q: How many people does it take to run the meeting once it begins in Montreal?

AB: Yikes! You don’t want to know. Over a hundred, if you consider the whole package.

Q: What do you wish people knew about organizing a meeting?

AB: Our meetings are very inexpensive relative to most, yet are run as well as or better than most, and although we feature top-name speakers, more of our speaking slots are open to grassroots submissions than at most meetings. This is because we do it as a non-profit scientific society. So support ASPB – be a member! Publish in ASPB journals. You are serving yourself and the whole discipline when you do.

Leave a Comment