Academic conferences are a big part of developing as a scientist, and a great opportunity to present your work in front of experts in your field. But, to use computational terms, there is a lot going on at the “back-end”. In this blog post, we talk about our experience as organisers of the Systems Genomics Summit 2021 in Galway. SysGen21 is a primarily computational biology conference which SBI has been heavily involved in since its early days in 2010 (as the Computational Biology and Innovation PhD Symposium).
Hearing from last year’s committee, the biggest challenge they faced was the symposium unexpectedly having to move to an online format. We knew we would be in a similar situation, so we were lucky to have a sense of what goes into the planning. In March 2021, we started planning for an in-person conference in Galway, bearing in mind the possibility that we might have to move to an online platform at any point. Planning for a large-scale in-person event in these precarious times added an extra layer of frailty to every part of the project: from inviting keynote speakers to securing a venue.
The symposium moved from its usual in-person venue, the Conway Institute in UCD, to Galway, where the Genomics Data Science CRT is based. This proved to be a challenge, since only two members of our committee are actually based in Galway. Although we were initially keen to hold the event on the NUIG campus, pandemic uncertainty made this impossible, and we had to look for an alternate venue. We decided on the Salthill Hotel, where we hope to see many of you on 2nd and 3rd of December!
Since this would be the first in-person iteration of the symposium outside Dublin, we embarked on a rebranding campaign, coming up with a new name and logo. In the eight months of zoom meetings since then, the nine of us (perfect number of participants for a zoom grid!) managed to develop a new website, get sponsorships for the event, get a brilliant line-up of speakers from Ireland, Europe and USA and have more than 140 sign-ups for the event.
The #SysGen21 organising team having one of their very first meetings!
Having so many things to look after: speakers, venue, sponsors, abstract submissions, prizes, travel and accommodation, food catering, social media, website, etc. we had to break into teams, taking small bites each week. Very helpful with this process was a tool we can confidently recommend to everyone: Notion.so. Notion allows you to productively organise and allocate your work as an individual or as a team. They aren’t on our sponsor list, so you know we mean it.
There were two things we were particularly anxious about: speakers and sponsors. Regarding speakers, lockdown may have worked to our advantage - people’s calendars were free, and everyone was looking forward to their next in-person event. Sponsorships were also particularly important to our planning since we were keen to keep ticket prices low. With generous support from our sponsors, including The Ireland Funds and Systems Biology Ireland we were able to keep our tickets free!
It was a long (but very fun) journey and we hope in the end we will be able to deliver a great, safe conference on the 2nd and 3rd of December at #SysGen21. We hope everyone will enjoy some science and socializing to the fullest after almost two years of not being able to attend in-person conferences!
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About the Authors:
Anjan Venkatesh, Ryan Group (left) and Cosmin Tudose, Ryan/Bond groups (right), joined SBI as PhD students in 2021.