Organizing Events and Programs

Organizing an event can be incredibly taxing and difficult, especially for a graduate student. However, grad students are often brought into projects of this sort. It provides an event or program with capable staff or assistants of whatever sort, and also provides the student with an important type of experience. The managerial and administrative skills grad students can learn and refine from these experiences is important and useful. If anything can teach time-management, putting together a conference or workshop certainly can.

The type of work undertaken can be varied, as can be the time-commitment and intensity of work. Some students may help with the logistics of a conference and wind up incredibly busy for a 3-day period, while others may be junior members of the organizing committee and wind up working a moderate amount* over a longer period of time.

*And keep in mind, such duties and such work are undertaken in addition to existing obligations towards research, teaching, or coursework. So “moderate” is more than it sounds, perhaps.

From my perspective, these skills are sometimes hard to describe or quantify. Some of the skills may be specific to the type of event being organized, while others may be widely applicable. Having been graduate coordinator for the DIMACS REU for several years, I believe some of the experience may only be applicable in scenarios with undergraduate research. Other skills, however, may transfer to scenarios like organizing a conference or working within a department or university bureaucracy. In some sense, one learns how to do things, how to get things done, whether that means learning to adapt to certain scenarios, understanding how to navigate certain structures, or simply having the experience of making something happen. In the future, stepping up to the figurative plate will be easier and more natural.

One important virtue in organizing events and programs that I have come to value as almost universally applicable and of great importance is this: Set yourself up to succeed. Front-load the work, make sure it is done right, have a plan, and always be as prepared as possible.  Don’t forget to follow up on important emails. Make sure that contingencies have been covered. Accidents will happen, disasters will occur, and you will make mistakes. Have a timetable, have back-up plans, and so on.

That sounds like many principles, but to me it really is one coherent guiding idea. Success in organizational and administrative tasks can be decided, or at least heavily weighted, by the organizational and managerial efforts invested, especially those invested early. That lesson, and a little experience, can help a capable grad student or young faculty member successfully bring together virtually any meeting, conference, project, or program.

Author: Kellen Myers

I am a Mathematics graduate student at Rutgers University. I am a Ph.D. candidate, which means at this point, my work is towards writing my dissertation. My advisor is Doron Zeilberger. My research interests are in combinatorics. A few specific interests are within Ramsey Theory, especially Ramsey Theory on the integers. This means I have an interest in both Ramsey Theory (on the whole), and on the theory of arithmetic structure in the integers. I would characterize my interest in mathematics, in general, as very broad. I enjoy the interdisciplinary nature of certain types of mathematics, and appreciate collaboration between mathematicians with diverse interests. I also take special interest in developing my skills as an educator and as a member of the academic community and workplace. I was the graduate coordinator for the DIMACS REU 2010-2013, and I participate in many other projects and endeavors to develop my skills as a teacher, a mentor, and an administrator.

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