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Overseas TT

Great thread! I agree with most of what the original poster wrote, including the point about venues preferably close to the conference venue. It's nice to go to cool places, but I favor convenience over exquisiteness, and I'm sure I'm not unique. I only commented on those questions where I have any meaningful disagreement:

-how many days should a workshop or conference last?

I think 3 days is still OK if the schedule is sufficiently breezy, e.g. there are "free time" events somewhere in the middle. One drawback, of course, is that this makes the event more expensive than squeezing it all into 2 days.

-how long should a talk last?

Maybe that's just me, but to my mind one hour is very, very long. To be completely honest I find it very difficult to sustain attention for more than 45 minutes. In fact, I think 30 and maximum 40 minutes is ideal for a talk. I think talks are a bit like papers. Some papers need to be 15-20k words long, but most authors who think that *their* paper has to be that long are just wrong. Almost all very long papers I read, including those published in "top" journals, contain a much tighter, better written and more focused 10-12k long paper. In my opinion, so it is with talks. I cannot recall a single one-hour long talk that could not have been shorter and tighter (and I'll say that speakers and authors themselves are not necessarily the best judges of this).

-do you like it when there is a respondent?

I do like it when it's done well, and in fact I often better understand the talk after the commentary. But I'm also sensitive to the worry about extensive inside baseball. I think that can be avoided by giving more detailed instructions to the commentators. I think it can work out very well.

About the issue of eating into Q&A time, I will say that one thing that often annoys me about conferences is a lack of enforcing official time limits. This encourages poorly organized talks where the speaker berserks through the last 30% of the slides in the last 2% of the time, where the commentator barely gets to the point, and when people give incomprehensible 10-minute long mini-lectures under the guise of questions (followed by similarly incomprehensible "clarifications"). I hate all that stuff.

Here's one data point: a few years ago I organized a conference where I did most of the chairing. I announced at the very beginning that I would be unusually heavy-handed about enforcing time limits and that I would have a very strict "absolutely no follow-ups until there are no more questions in the queue" policy. The first speaker and first questioner didn't really believe me until I actually cut them off, but magically, all the remaining speakers somehow managed to finish in time, and as far as I can recall, every single person who wanted to ask a question in the Q&As managed to ask it for the rest of the event. After the conference, several people confided in me that they thought I chaired ruthlessly but that on the whole it was a very good thing. Make of this what you want; I wanted to add it because overly lenient chairing (especially when it's selective in favor of "big shots") is one of the things that drives me crazy at conferences.

-How crucial is coffee/tea at the opening of the event?

Yes, mandatory, and I would like to add: please have something better than instant coffee (more common at European conferences I think). I'm not a coffee snob but some of us not used to instant coffee really cannot stomach it.

-is a conference fee acceptable?

I think conferences fees are OK if they are not obnoxiously high and go some way to covering a conference dinner (though I understand the original poster's reservations about conference dinners).


Great post.

-how long should a talk last?

-how long should Q&A last?

Time keeping, time keeping, please! Watch the clock, it's not that hard. Chairs, be merciless with speakers running over time and misbehaved audience members asking "questions". Zero tolerance.

One hour is way too long, even for a keynote I'd say.

-do you like it when there is a respondent?

With papers, yes, if they are competent, mindful of the audience and of the clock. With author meets critics, no, when they don't provide information that cannot be useful to the audience unless they've read the book.

-should a conference reception/dinner be on offer?

Only if the food is good, there are decent vegan options available, and it's not ridiculously priced.

-how crucial is coffee/tea at the opening of the event?

Essential. No instant coffee, please, and enough coffee for everyone. Incentivize the use of reusable mugs. For instance, provide a discount or tokens for free drinks at the reception to those who bring their own cup/mug.

I would add: snacks, with clearly labeled dietary restrictions on snacks. Honestly, just bring vegan cookies by default, they're good for everyone.

-is a conference fee acceptable?

Yes, as long as it's clear that it's covering reasonable expenses, not the keynote's expensive first class plane ticket.

Martin Lenz

Helpful post and thread! And yes, I'm always surprised that sticking to the given time is still such an issue.

Anyway, I just thought that a few more questions might belong the nuts and bolts:

- How far in advance should I invite people? (About a year)

- If I do a CFP, what are the selection criteria? (And do I want to provide feedback to the applicants?)

- Is the line-up suffciently diverse?

- Is the venue (and dining place) easily accessible (for people with disabilies) ?

- Can I offer child care or direct people to pertinent facilities?

- Can I offer plant-based food for the paricipants? (In Groningen the standard is now plant-based, and people who want something different are requested to ask upfront)


Hi Alex, I'd also add

- Is the conference accessible for participants with disabilities?

- What about child care? Can it be provided or can a list of possibilities be shared with participants?

- Consider LGBT participants. Are gender-neutral bathrooms available, accessible, and well-marked? Are you hosting in a country safe for these participants, and what information could help them navigate their stay?

I very much like Martin's suggestion about plant-based as default. As long as nutritional needs are met, I don't see that flesh-based foods have to be part of the default meals. Having protein needs met by legumes a few meals is not a significant burden.


-what time do you think an event should start and end?

I agree 10am is ideal, but definitely no earlier than 9. Think that if someone lives on the west coast, and goes to an east coast conference, 9am is their 6am, and they just traveled across the country.

End between 4 and 6.

-how many talks do you want to attend in a day?

between 4 and 6

-how many days should a workshop or conference last?

2 in the school year and 3 in the summer. One is too short to justify traveling a long distance, but if it is a local thing that might be okay. And more than 2 during the school year is not time most can afford.

-how long should a talk last?

One hour is way too long! - I say 30 minutes, with 45 minutes for Q and A, and also the possible addition of a 10 to 15 minute respondent.

-do you like it when there is a respondent?
Yes, IF the talk is short enough and the response is 10 to 15 minutes.

-should a conference reception/dinner be on offer?
I prefer an optional thing or a small get together with just the speakers and key organizers. Those who want to go to dinner together always can and often do. So there is no need for something official. And I know lots of people just have no desire for a large conference dinner after a long day of talks. Having an official dinner, even if people can, of course, not go, puts pressure on people. This sort of thing (official conference dinner) makes a lot of people unnecessarily dread conferences.

-how long should a lunch break be?
One hour - not more than 1.5 Any longer than that I am sitting around wondering what to do, as it is not long enough to really do something , and way too long to eat lunch and talk, unless you happen to be at a conference with close friends.

-how crucial is coffee/tea at the opening of the event?
Coffee is sooo important! And please have enough so it doesn't run out by the afternoon. This is when I need it! I *hate* it when conferences have no afternoon coffee. Having water available is also important and very annoying when there is not water.

-is a conference fee acceptable? - sure people need to pay for the conference! If there is no conference fee, that would make it *very* difficult for many non-private universities to ever host conferences. I hosted a conference once that I would have loved to make yearly, but there just wasn't the money. If people don't want to pay the fee, they don't have to go. And it is always possible to have waivers for grad students and contingently employed persons.


-what time do you think an event should start and end?

certainly no earlier than 9am. 10am is nice. talks/official events shouldn't go past 6pm, and it should be socially acceptable for people to wander off after dinner around 10pm.

-how many talks do you want to attend in a day?

four is great; six is a bit of a stretch; eight or more is really difficult for me.

-how many days should a workshop or conference last?

two or three! sensitivity to issues of cost is important. if talks are well spaced and well timed, three days is more humane than two in terms of attention fatigue and social fatigue.

-how long should a talk last?

half-hour talks seem to me to get almost nothing done. 45 minutes is a fairly good length; an hour is most comfortable to me. chairs should be absolutely ruthless about time-keeping. i think it shouldn't be OK to extend the Q&A because the session started late. the session needs to end when advertised (and start when advertised, but the ending always feels more pressing).

-how long should Q&A last?

no less than 20 minutes, no more than an hour; about as long as the talk itself.

-do you like it when there is a respondent?

yes, if they do a good job. for longer talks (~1 hour) it's super helpful to have someone summarize what just happened.

-should a conference reception/dinner be on offer?


-how long should a lunch break be?

at least one hour long. two hours is very helpful for those who need to recover from a lot of social time.

-how crucial is coffee/tea at the opening of the event?


-is a conference fee acceptable?

yes; waivers for students are very helpful.


Echoing part of Malcolm's comment above, I think that issues about making sure conferences are accessible and welcoming to people who typically have been excluded or made to feel unwelcome are important. There are a number of resources online, particularly relating to making sure conferences are as accessible as they can be. For example, there are a number of relevant posts at the PhDisabled blog (https://phdisabled.wordpress.com/) and the Diability and Disadvantage blog (https://philosophycommons.typepad.com/disability_and_disadvanta/) - the latter has recently stopped posting, but Melinda Hall and Shelley Tremain have a successor (https://biopoliticalphilosophy.com/). The BPA have also produced a guide recently: https://www.bpa.ac.uk/uploads/2018/BPA:SWIP%20Guidelines%20for%20Accessible%20Conferences.pdf

Something which people have emphasised to me is that it's vital to make sure that the kinds of practices these resources describe become *institutional* practice, not something that a few people opt into. That means that the aim isn't just to follow such guidelines when organising a conference oneself. One needs to get them accepted as the norm for all conferences organised within one's department (contrast the rollout of the BPA's guidelines for accessible conferences with the BPA/SWIP Good Practice Scheme, which required departments to actively sign up by committing to enacting some version of the suggestions), to build them in to the guidance offered for events organised by a different set of people each year (such as the Joint Session), and to ask that events that one has been invited to are organised so as to be accessible.

Alex Grzankowski

Thank you all for your helpful input. And thank you Aidan for including those links. In response to Malcom's helpful post, the BPA guidelines came to mind, so thanks for including that link and some links I didn't previously know about.

On issues such as scheduling and talk times, I'm happy to see that there wasn't massive divergence, but still plenty to take into consideration, so thank you all.

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