This past semester, WiSci held our first professional development event, "Mapping Your Path in Science." For two days in mid-November, we brought together local science professionals, faculty, and students for panel discussions, interactive workshops, and networking opportunities. See more details on the event here: http://wisciuga.weebly.com/symposium.html. It took a huge effort on the parts of the officers and volunteers to make the symposium come together, and I think it's a testament to this hard work that we were able to pull off this event just a year after WiSci was founded. Overall I am really proud of what we were able to accomplish, and based on feedback I've received from attendees, many felt that the symposium was worthwhile and inspiring.
Because this was our first time as an officer board to organize such a large event (we had estimated 30-70 registrants, and ended up having 140!), we didn't have a template to work from. We had to start from the ground up in terms of identifying our goals for the symposium, brainstorming activities and topics, securing professionals to participate, organizing venue and food logistics, and more. The following are some of my own impressions of what we did well and what we could work on if we hold a similar event in the future. They may also be useful to other groups who are also planning a "first big event."
What worked well
- Starting early: We first drafted a budget and potential schedule in March 2015, as part of a grant application to the UGA Parents & Families Association. In April we were awarded $5000 (to support this event as well as a school outreach event) and by June we had decided on the dates, venue, and created five committees (advertisement & printed materials, panelists & workshop speakers, venue, food, and souvenirs) to divide the planning effort. We needed the next several months to recruit local speakers to participate. If we had wanted to secure out of state speakers, I think we would have needed to have sent invitations a year or more in advance.
- Using existing connections: We debated between having the symposium in a student center or in the Ecology building (where many of our officers are based). Although a student center would have been more centrally located, we decided in the end that we wanted to make our money stretch as much as we could. Holding the event in the Ecology building allowed us to put money towards food and drinks rather than a rental fee. It was also useful because we were familiar with the Ecology staff who supported us with the logistics of room availability and AV setup.
- Providing a space for authenticity: A participant pointed out to me, and I agree, that one of our biggest successes was that our invited science professionals were authentic and open about their experiences as female scientists. All credit is due to our panelists and workshop facilitators for being so honest in sharing their stories, but I think two organizational details might have helped contribute. First, we tried to provide lots of time for students, faculty, and professionals to mingle in between our panels and workshops. I think this helped establish personal connections rather than a more formal speaker-audience relationship. Second, although this could use improvement, we tried to gather a diverse set of speakers who could complement each other in background and current paths.
- Soliciting post-event feedback: We used Google Forms to create an online survey to gather feedback from symposium participants. We wanted to learn more about who had attended the event, what they liked (and didn't like), and whether our panels and workshops were helpful and productive. Now we have concrete information that can be shared with next year's officer group and future funders to show our success and how we plan to improve.
In the future, we'd like to
- Increase diversity of panelists and attendees
- Streamline registration and distribution of souvenirs
- Increase member participation in event planning and execution
- Increase advertisement to undergraduates and faculty
- Broaden discussions of work-life balance beyond work-children
If you have feedback on our event, or tips for other first-time event planners, please share below!