Workshop Hosting & Planning: Considerations from an Early Career Researcher

Adriane here–

For the past year and a half, I have been a steering committee member, with the purpose of the committee to develop a series of workshops. In this post, I’ll give some background of the initiative, outline the purpose of the workshops, but mainly focus on factors to think about if you, the reader, are considering creating your own workshop or participating on a workshop committee. 

The International Ocean Discovery Program IMPACT Workshops

The steering committee of which I am a part was formed with significant support from the International Ocean Discovery Program, or IODP for short. IODP is a wonderful program in which scientists from participating countries in the program get to sail for two months at sea on a research vessel, which is currently the JOIDES Resolution (JR), and drill sediment cores from the seafloor (click here to learn more about the JR, where it has most recently sailed, where it currently is, and to read blogs written by scientists currently sailing on the ship). 

Every few decades, the scientific ocean drilling community (the general name used for the community of scientists, artists, science communicators, and others who make the program work) come together to write a science framework. The framework outlines the major approaches and important scientific frontiers for the next phase of scientific ocean drilling. Included in the framework are also some broader impact goals. The new science framework was recently published, which outlines such goals and aspirations through 2050; thus, it is aptly named the 2050 Science Framework. Within the broader impacts section of the 2050 Science Framework, sections are included such as ‘Inspiring Educators and the Public through Discovery’, ‘Training the Next Generation of Scientists’, ‘International Collaboration’, ‘Advancing Diversity and Inclusion’, ‘Knowledge Sharing’, and ‘Engaging with Other Fields’.  

My colleagues and I, who are all passionate about these topics, outlined in the 2050 Science Framework broader impacts section and decided to create a series of workshops to chart the future course of science communication and education outreach for scientific ocean drilling. Such efforts are in direct support of the goals outlined in the 2050 Science Framework. Our steering committee is composed of educators and scientists with various experiences and backgrounds in education, science, and policy, all of whom are passionate about education outreach and science communication. 

We decided to name the workshops the IMPACT Workshop Series, which comprises three workshops that ran this past summer 2021, and a larger workshop to (hopefully!) be held in person in June 2022. We decided to focus on three main topics from the 2050 Science Framework: Engaging the Public, Informing Policymakers, and Preparing the Next Generation. Our main steering committee split into three groups to function as smaller steering committees to create each workshop. Specifically, I was on the Preparing the Next Generation sub-committee with three other steering committee members. 

Factors to consider when hosting workshops

Currently, I am a postdoctoral fellow at a large research university. This means I have lots of responsibilities, the most important of which is to support the students working in my lab and keep doing activities that build my experiences as a researcher, scientist, advisor, and science communicator. In other words, I have a busy schedule with lots to do and keep up with! So, before taking on any tasks or saying ‘yes’ to any opportunities, I need to consider very carefully if such opportunity will be hurtful (take up too much of my time without leading to huge outcomes and do not help build up my experiences), or advantageous (take up my time but lead to very exciting opportunities and build my experiences). In addition, before saying yes to opportunities, I also consider if the opportunity is fulfilling to me and aligns with my passions, self-interests, and goals. This bit is likely true for most early career researchers who are currently looking for permanent employment, are pre-tenured faculty, and others who have limited time but want to be involved with their communities. Thus, the advice below is tailored to help folks who may want to create a workshop or join a workshop steering committee think through the benefits of such an endeavor. 

Carefully consider time commitment and workload

In my opinion, time is the most important factor to consider when thinking about creating a workshop. The IMPACT steering committee met about once a week over a year prior to our first workshop, which ran in June 2021. We met for approximately an hour during our meetings, and because we have members from the east coast of the continental U.S. to Hawai’i, these meeting times were outside of normal workday hours for some of us (e.g., 6 pm EST) — which is not uncommon for projects such as this.

As the Next Generation workshop date approached, our sub-committee began meeting sometimes twice a week, for 2–3 hours per meeting. Such longer meetings were essential to finish outlining, planning, and organizing the workshop. Often, all sub-committee members would walk away from the meeting with a ‘To-Do’ list to accomplish before a deadline we all agreed on. Such tasks outside of meetings included things like drafting and sending emails, writing text for the workshop web pages, gathering resources for our web pages, setting up Google Drive folders, and creating slide shows for the day of the workshops. We also set up meeting times with our speakers prior to our 2-day workshop. All of these small tasks and meetings really added up to a large amount of time. About two weeks prior to the Next Generation workshop, I was spending a good chunk of my time in the office dedicated to planning. 

So, careful consideration should be given to how much time you are willing to contribute to creating a workshop, as the time invested can be immense to make the workshop run as smoothly as possible. Looking back, my time and that of my colleagues’ was a good investment, as I am quite passionate about the topics the workshop touched on and know the information we have gathered will help shape the scientific ocean drilling community. 

Fostering a supportive environment for the team

From the above section regarding time commitments, it should be clear that workshop planning takes a lot of work! It is quite easy to join a committee, board, or group and just jump in without being mindful of our behaviors and simple ways in which we may be excluding others (or being excluded ourselves by others’ behaviors), and working and/or communicating in ways that are ineffective .Thus, it is imperative to consider how you can and will create an environment that is comfortable for everyone to talk, listen, and plan together as a team. 

Along those same lines, it is also important  that the team itself is efficient, mindful of others, and works well together. I feel very fortunate that the IMPACT Steering Committee is composed of folks who have previous leadership experience, and bring a lot of different perspectives to the table. These differing perspectives, experience working with groups, and leadership capabilities have created a space where every committee member’s opinion is heard, and it is a comfortable place to voice my own concerns and opinions. This isn’t to say we always agree with one another (we are human, after all), but having a team that knows how to communicate, compromise, and listen is very valuable. 

When building your own team or committee, it is important to have folks involved who have prior leadership experience and are highly organized. In this way, those who may not have had prior leadership experience can learn from this person, and begin to develop their own methods of and style of leadership. For example, one of our steering committee members has had extensive experience organizing and planning workshops. She suggested we have our speakers meet virtually prior to our workshop in order for them to meet one another, for us to more thoroughly explain the workshop goals, and walk them through the schedule. Even though I have leadership experience, this was a new method to me, and it worked wonderfully! I have also learned a ton of other leadership and organizational tips and tricks from the more experienced members on our committee. 

It is also imperative to build a team of people who represent different identities, life experiences, stages in their careers, and specialities. Our IMPACT workshop steering committee decided from the start that we would conduct the meetings and workshops within a JEDIA (justice, equity, diversity, inclusion, accessibility) framework. Breaking down barriers within STEM, or anywhere, to create a more equitaqble, inclusive, and accessible environment for everyone, is a hard and persistent task, and one that is best done when folks from different identities and backgrounds come together and work hard. This is why it is of utmost importance to be sure you are including folks from different identities on your team. For example, I have had to advocate a few times to my group to please include more early career researchers. Other times, folks have pointed out that all of our speakers on our list of potential invitees were white folks. Every time someone on the team has pointed out an observation that does not align with our JEDIA principles, we have worked hard to correct our actions. Thus, when building your team, think about who is not in the room, and whose voices are being excluded. And it is not enough to simply include folks from different identities; ensure, as a leader, they are being heard and respected by all members of the committee. 

Be prepared to be an effective communicator and listener 

As touched on above, communication is key to any successful relationship of any nature. Working with your colleagues on a steering committee to plan a workshop is no different. Clear and concise communication is imperative to make workshop planning as smooth as possible, and can even translate to a more positive experience for your workshop speakers and attendees. Often, such workshop committees are composed of an array of folks from different backgrounds, life experiences, and ages. This means that everyone’s level of comfort with different means of communication will vary, and the best means of communication should be discussed and respected from the start. For example, the IMPACT committee uses email as our primary way of group communication, but we also set up a Slack channel. In addition, the Steering Committee chairs create an agenda for each meeting, and we take Minutes. In this way, if one of our team members is not able to make a meeting, they can easily see what we discussed and the major points of the meeting.

Good communication also includes speaking up when you don’t understand someone’s ideas or thoughts, or are uncomfortable with the direction in which an initiative is heading. But, good communication is more than talking- it also includes good listening skills. Personally, I am trying to teach myself to be a better active and mindful listener to really hear my friends, family, and colleagues. So, when thinking about planning a workshop or joining a workshop committee, get comfortable with good communication (easier said than done, I know), and be open to being more open with your colleagues. 

Acquiring funding for your workshop 

Often, workshops require some level of financial support. Other workshops, if held virtually, may not require funds. If your workshop does require funding, it is important to think about how much funding (approximately) your workshop will require, and how funding will be obtained prior to the initiation of the project. In my opinion, it is totally okay to reach out to other organizations, non-profits, societies, etc. whose missions align with the goals of your workshop and ask for financial support. In addition, there are pots of money available to support workshops, such as the U.S. Science Support Program and the European Consortium for Ocean Research Drilling’s MagellanPlus Workshop Series Programme (both to support endeavors related to scientific ocean drilling).

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