In the third blog accompanying the At Home In Empire: Colonial Experiences of Intimacy and Mobility conference, Hannah Dennettand Liz Egan share their experience of planning a conference.
The Warwick Humanities Research Centre Doctoral Fellowship competition awards three fellowships to doctoral students supervised in the Faculty of Arts and Philosophy at the University of Warwick and is designed to allow students to enhance their PhD research and give them the opportunity to organise a one-day interdisciplinary conference on a topic close to their dissertation area. We hope that this blog encourages any Warwick doctoral candidates to apply to this competition, but also offers advice and support to anyone considering running their first academic conference. As first-time organisers, we wanted to share our 'top tips' for approaching this daunting task.
Start Early: You can never start planning too early!
The Warwick HRC Doctoral Fellowship competition closes in March, which gives potential applicants plenty of time to craft, draft and finalise their conference proposals. There are several elements to the application process, including creating a prospective programme for the day, with possible timings and numbers of speakers/panels, and a budget for the event. While the world of online conferences currently means budgeting for travel, accommodation and catering may not be a priority this year, these are important costs you may need to factor into future conference plans. By starting early, you can ensure you have enough time to gather all the information you need and be as prepared as possible. Once you have decided on a potential date, you also need to allow plenty of notice when inviting keynote speakers.
Collaborate: Two heads are better than one!
Co-organising a conference is a great way to work with another person with similar interests to explore a common theme, as well as sharing the workload. Working together has helped us to develop the scope of our conference theme to encompass our overlapping interests in imperial history. Dividing tasks between two people also means you can play to each other’s strengths and stay on task. For us, deciding panels has been one of the most difficult tasks we have faced so far, but collaborating ensured we captured different perspectives across a range of disciplines, periods and locations. If you are organising a conference on your own, remember to reach out to others for support and advice.
Ask for advice: Plenty of people have gone before you!
Never be afraid to ask for advice. Sue Rae, the HRC administrator, is a fount of knowledge and an essential source of support and advice at every stage of the application and organisation process. Outside the HRC, colleagues and peers will be able to offer advice from their own experiences. As more conferences move online, seeking support from others will help you to understand what works well in the digital world and how to make the most of online platforms.
Choose a theme: What interests you?
Choose a theme that relates to your own research and which will help you to connect with scholars across the world working on similar areas. It was important to us that our theme crossed disciplines and encompassed different perspectives on the multiple meanings of home. We thought carefully about the kind of conference we would most want to attend, and used this to help us shape our core themes, and eventually our Call for Papers. A strong theme gives the conference focus - essential when selecting panels.
Spread the word: Maximise your connections!
Just as with asking for advice, make the most of the people around you to help advertise the Call for Papers and the conference as a whole. Social media is becoming an increasingly important avenue for academics, and a strong Twitter presence can help raise the profile of your conference. Mailing lists, forums such as H-Net, and individual connections can all play an important part in ensuring your conference reaches interested scholars from across the globe.
Ultimately, planning a conference is an exciting challenge, so make the most of the opportunity!