Maybe you are going to a conference, but you want to plan something extra so you can meet new colleagues or get some additional feedback on your work. Planning a side event at a conference such as a discussion panel, or side meeting can take a little work before the conference, but often gives big rewards. Here we give some tips on things to keep in mind when planning a panel.
© Deniz Vural, Jilda Caccavo, MariamaDryak, Cynthia Sassenroth, Matias Ricardo (left to right)
Organizing panels or workshops conferences are some of APECS's most frequent activities. They are a very useful way for early career researchers to gain career advice, share their research and to meet some great senior researchers and mentors. And the good thing about them: they are very easy to organize on a low budget!
Every APECS member can organize a panel / workshop at a conference and this guide will provide the organizers with step-by-step introduction on how to do it!
APECS panels / workshops aim to create fora where participants have the opportunity to meet established polar experts from various fields and other early career researchers, in order to draw inspiration and advice from their experience. This will create an informal venue for participants to make contacts and become actively involved in discussions throughout the conference and beyond.
So how do I get started? Some of the basic questions you have to ask yourself are:
- Are the conference organizers interested in having an APECS panel / workshop?
- What should be the topic of the panel / workshop?
- How long should the panel / workshop be?
- Where and when can the panel / workshop occur (time / room)?
- Whom could I invite as panelists / speakers?
- How do I advertise the panel / workshop?
- Do I need to do fundraising?
What are the steps to organizing an APECS Panel / Workshop?
This should be done ideally 3 – 4 months before the start of the conference. Contact the conference organizers (see sample email 1) and ask if it is ok for you to organize an APECS panel at their conference. Provide a brief outline of what APECS is, why you think this panel is important, and what you hope to achieve.
Think about what would be interesting for early career scientists to learn about! We propose a discussion panel that will expose the participants to many aspects of polar research and provide information on various topics including, but not limited to:
• Potential career paths in Polar Research
• How careers in polar research are supported by various National and International organizations and institutes
• How to start a polar research career or project
• The Association of Polar Early Career Scientists (APECS) and how through this network participants can access information about international opportunities in Polar Research and become involved in a range of outreach initiatives and the organization of future meetings and workshops.
• Effectively communicating your Science
• Teaching, Education and Outreach
• Funding your research and activities
• International Collaborations
This can be anywhere from an hour to several hours. We have found that a 1.5 hour block works well. Keep in mind, if you have a longer panel it might be a good idea to schedule in a break so participants and mentors stay energized.
Talk with the conference organizers. See if they would have a room for you to use during the conference. The size and resources provided can be pretty flexible, but keep in mind if you want each panel member to give a short presentation, you will need a laptop, projector, screen, etc. We have found in the past that a room with moveable chairs and tables (i.e. not terraced auditorium seating) provides for a more intimate atmosphere, but the choice is up to you. If you just want it to be a few folks at the head of the room giving an introduction and answering questions, standard conference type seating will work. You may also want to have something smaller with all the chairs in a circle. This will depend on the size and what you want. Make sure you find out in advance how to control the lights and audio visual equipment in the room.
You should also discuss with the conference organizers about how the panel can best fit into the conference schedule so it doesn’t conflict with any other activities. It also might depend on your panelists on which date you can organize the panel. We have done these panels over lunch which works well. We have also had them at the end of the day after the science presentations have concluded. These evening events are very well attended, especially if there are appetizers and refreshments. It is also nice to invite the participants of the event together with the panelists (and any other mentors interested) to a pub for continued discussion in a more informal setting to get to know each other.
It is important to think about to whom you are targeting this panel, and have a rough idea of what you want to achieve before you start contacting mentors. Invite 3-4 senior mentors with various expertises to serve on the panel. It is always good to do some research on if there are any local mentors, or who is planning on attending the conference anyway and then ask those people if they would want to be a panelists in your session. This way you don’t have to raise any funds for getting your panelists to the conference. Invitations should be sent out 2 – 3 months in advance via email (see sample letter 2) to the panelists and reminders about 2 – 3 weeks before the event to confirm they are still on board- flexibility and alternate plans are good to keep in mind up until the last minute- schedules often change up until the last minute.
Possible panelists include:
• Undergraduate, graduate student
• New Faculty member
• Mid-Career level researcher
• Senior researcher
• Researchers that work outside of academia (NGOs, Industry). Definitely have at least one not in academia!
• Representative from funding agency
• Education and Outreach specialist
• Someone involved with science planning
• Someone from one of the large international polar bodies, such as the Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research (SCAR), the International Arctic Science Committee (IASC), the Arctic Ocean Sciences Board (AOSB), the Climate and the Cryosphere Program (CliC), etc.
• Someone involved with logistical operations for polar field research (this provides an alternative career path, as well as a point of contact for young researchers when filling out the often daunting logistic requirements for field work)
• Someone involved in polar policy (with increased awareness of polar regions and the importance of these regions to not only global climate, but the global economy, a person from this area will provide participant with insight into how polar policy is formed, the important organizations and sensitivities when dealing with polar policy)
You want to make sure people actually know about your panel! So ask the conference organizers to include you in the program and on their website. We will of course add the panel to the APECS website once you have set a date for it and can send the APECS members an email about it. But try to see where else you would want to advertise your panel so as many early career researchers as possible that attend the conference will be able to attend (e.g. posters, slides in lecture rooms during breaks).
Contact the conference organizers ahead of time to see if you can use a room free of charge for the APECS event and at what time. If you want to offer some refreshments (always nice), also try to get some funding from the conference organizers. If they can't provide any funding, try the agencies that are sponsoring the conference, as well as polar research organizations, companies producing measurement equipment for polar research, or even local businesses (cafe’s, outdoor gear stores, etc.; see sample email 3). Try to organize everything at the lowest cost possible or best for free!
If the event is in the evening, it is likely that people will want to go out for food and/or drinks afterwards. Make sure to have a plan for that. Consult locals to choose a place (within walking distance, if possible) and if appropriate book a table/space beforehand.
...you should submit a short writeup as an article to the APECS website and to be included in the APECS newsletter. Make sure to take video / pictures wherever possible, thank those who made the event happen, and summarize the key points that were made by the panellists.
And here a few additional advice for your planning:
The session should start with an introduction to APECS by the APECS member organizing the event. We have a generic PowerPoint presentation for this but you don't need to make it that formal – a short summary touching on what APECS is, and what we do enough. Each mentor then introduces him or herself and gives a few pieces of career advice according to your panel topic. Then participants can ask the panelists questions and an open discussion occurs. Make sure there is enough time for questions (at least 30 minutes), and rather have a panelists less than one too many. To keep the panelists on topic and make it an interesting session, make sure to have some questions prepared beforehand. It can be helpful to lead off with a quick but insightful question (e.g. what do you wish you had know about _____ when you started your career?) to keep things on topic from the start. You can use the same questions for all panelists to get a different perspective, or different ones to avoid repetition. To use time effectively, make sure panellists know that not all of them have to answer every question, and as a moderator you should direct questions to particular panellists. It is also a nice idea to have some kind of thank-you gift for the panelists, e.g. Chocolates, APECS cups, etc.
- What is the one piece of advice you wish you had heard at an earlier stage in your career?
- What makes a strong application, besides a good publication record for academic positions?
- How do I find out about opportunities and jobs outside the academic world?
- Do you recommend approaching professors about postdoc (or other) positions even if they don't have any posted?
- How do you go about finding a mentor who isn't your adviser?
- If all of my training has been in academia (i.e. Through the Ph.D. process) how do I learn how to write a resume or cover letter for a non-academic job?
- How do you know if you are over or under-qualified for a job?
- Is it possible to have a research career with a Masters degree, or do you need a Ph.D.?
- What do people look for in Polar scholarship applications and Polar science funding applications?
- How do you put your involvement in Education and Outreach activities (school talks, news spots, radio interviews etc.) on your C.V.? How important are these activities to your funding and job applications?
- How do you get in contact with the scientists who you consider leaders in your field when you've read their papers and you want to work with them?
- How do you make contacts outside of your country or discipline if you're finding it hard to meet people with similar interests?
- How do you start international collaborations in the field of Polar research?
- Are there sources of funding for independent people (such as journalists and artists) to work in the Polar Regions?
- How many postdoc positions is too many? To what extent should your postdoc be in a similar field to the specific field of your Ph.D. or should you try to diversify?
- How many authors can you be down the author's list on a publication before you don't really count?
- When making funding decisions, do people take into consideration people will get more publications out of a Ph.D. in some subject areas than others (i.e. that some fields are easier to publish in than others)?
- What role do young/early career scientists play in shaping the future of Polar research?
Here are some email drafts that you can use when planning your panel. Please note! These are just outlines, and should only be used as a guide to get you started- you should try to tailor your letter specifically to who you are sending it to, and what goals you aim to achieve by holding this panel.
Dear Mr. YYY,
I am a Ph.D./Master student at XYZ University. I am a member of APECS (Association of Polar Early Career Scientists) and would like to organize a panel discussion on XXX during your XYZ conference in XYZ.
One of APECS`s primary objectives is to help early career scientists and students to better interact with their colleagues and with senior scientists. The purpose of this panel is to ``break the ice`` and help generate conversation among those who know the field best: experienced scientists and professionals, and those who could benefit most from their experience and perspectives: young researchers and students. For this purpose we plan to invite three to four panelists, who will give a short overview of their XXX and then answer some questions we will provide in advance, as well as additional questions from the audience.
Would this be of interest for the conference organizers at the XYZ conference?
Please don’t hesitate to contact me at xxxx so we can further discuss this proposal.
Thank you very much!
Dear Prof. YYY,
I am a Ph.D./Master student at XYZ University, and I am organizing an APECS (Association of Polar Early Career Scientists) panel discussion on polar careers during the XYZ conference in XYZ. I would like to invite you share your experience and advice with young polar scientists by being one of our panelists at this event.
One of APECS`s primary objectives is to help early career scientists and students to better interact with their colleagues and with senior scientists. The purpose of this panel is to ``break the ice`` and help generate conversation among those who know the field best: experienced scientists and professionals, and those who could benefit most from their experience and perspectives: young researchers and students. For this purpose we plan to invite three to four panelists, who will give a short overview of their career path and then answer some questions we will provide in advance, as well as additional questions from the audience.
The questions we would ask you to answer in about 5-8 minutes are the following (PICK SOMETHING THAT MATCHES YOUR PANEL GOAL, SEE THE SAMPLE QUESTION LIST FOR EXAMPLES):
The event will most likely take place on XYZ at XYZ pm. Please let me know as soon as possible, but in any case before XYZ, whether you will be able to attend the panel as panelist.
on behalf of the Association of Polar Early Career Scientists (APECS), I am organizing a panel discussion on careers in polar sciences during the XYZ conference in PLACE in DATE. The panel discussion will feature four leading senior polar researchers who will share their experiences and advice on polar research careers with the participants and answer questions. We expect XYZ participants to attend the panel discussion.
Past APECS career panels and workshops have been a great success, and we would like to use the XYZ conference to continue to promote the careers of early career polar scientists. In order to attract potential participants to these events, we would like to provide some refreshments and snacks, and we hope ORGANIZATION YOU’RE ASKING would be interested in sponsoring these APECS activities with a contribution of $XYZ. If you are interested, we would be pleased to give you or a representative of ORAGNIZATION who is attending the XYZ conference the opportunity to present the activities of your company in a short talk during the panel discussion.
If you have any further questions on the planned activities, please do not hesitate to contact me.