How to set up your own conference/workshop

As a PhD student we are expected and encouraged to present our research findings at as many opportunities as possible. Whether this is regularly explaining our results and plans for future work to our supervisors in meetings, presenting a poster, or orally with a power point presentation at a conference or workshop. This helps us to clarify our ideas, work towards more regular deadlines to increase work output and get used to explaining our research as much as possible in preparation for our vivas (and future careers).

The issue I am having is that there are very few conferences at which I can present my research where it will be applicable (my PhD topic is on a new area of research). Of those few, they are mostly international. They therefore require quite a bit of funding to get there, of which there is very little of these days!

It occurred to me that the answer to my problem would be to set up my own conference on my particular area of research in the UK (cascading and linked natural hazards and casualty modelling). So that’s exactly what I am setting out to do!

Here are my top five things to consider for setting up your own conference/workshop:


What is it going to be: a conference or workshop? This will set the tone of the day(s). A conference will be more about people giving presentations on their research and not much discussion. A workshop can be much more useful to niche research as they are interactive and involve more brainstorming. They are also more useful for networking (in my opinion).

What is the conference going to be about? Deciding the title and framing the description of the conference will go massively towards ensuring you receive appropriate applications (not too broad, not too fine a definition).

2. Where?

Where will it be held? If you hold it at your university, it will be cheaper and easier to administrate. If you decide you want to hold it in somewhere more exclusive, you will probably get more “important” people interested, but will have to find funding for the event.

3. When

When will you hold it? Trying to find a suitable time during the year taking into consideration other conflicting conferences of similar topics, university and public holidays, exam and semester blocks etc. can be difficult, but they all need to be thought out.

When during the week will you hold it? Mid-week? Over the weekend? For how long? One day or two days? One day can feel like the better option so as not to inconvenience people by having to stay overnight somewhere. However, two days can be better in terms of not rushing the conference and being able to fit everything in. it also provides an opportunity for an event in the evening for people to talk and network.

4. Who

Who will you invite? Will you restrict it to just postgrads? Or open it up to other academics? And people who work in the industry? Who you invite will set the tone of the day. This will be where your previous conference attendance and networking will really come into play!

Who will be involved in the organisation of the event? If you spread the workload between other PhD students (in your university or others), it will be a lot easier. Also, you will be able to pool your contact resources.

5. How

How will you invite people? You can either open it up to abstract applications and filter the submissions or just invite the people you know and get them to angle their presentations appropriately.

How many will you invite? This will depend on who you know, your venue, and the number of people in the research area. As a first time conference, 30-40 people seem to be a good number.


I hope this helps any of you considering setting up your own conference or workshop. I will let you know what else I discover along the way in planning the event. I will post a follow-up after the conference to let you all know how it went!


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