Thursday, March 30, 2006

Unusual juxtapositions inspire creativity, right?

Does anyone out there have experience with organising conference sessions? I've been fiddling with the programme for the conference workshop I am organising for July (which has now (d)evolved into a two day affair), and I just cannot find a sensible way to order them into groups that doesn't leave at least one random person all by themselves.

I feel a bit like I'm planning the seating for a wedding where Aunt Edna can't sit next to Cousin James because they haven't spoken in ten years, and Uncle Arthur isn't allowed to be too close to the bar, while Cousin Amanda in her gothic makeup will give the religious side of the family a heart-attack if she's in their line of sight.

I finally thought I had something workable (although it left the one person who's giving a talk on Spanish tacked onto the end of the Australianist afternoon), but now I've had requests from two people to be moved from Saturday to Sunday because they'll be arriving late, and that screws up all the sessions all over again.

Also if anyone pulls out at the last minute, I have four substitutes waiting in the metaphorical wings, but their papers are on completely different topics, so I can't just slot them into the sessions that have a gap without it being really obvious they are last-minute fill-ins. On the other hand, I don't want to have to reorganise the whole programme again later down the track if anyone does pull out.

There's the added complication that the main conference sessions running parallel to ours are being planned around us (i.e. we have sent our preliminary programme to their organiser, and she will try not to schedule parallel sessions that will be of interest to our presenters for times when they are speaking.) So any major changes now will not just screw things up for us, but also for the organisers of the main conference.

Does anyone have any helpful tips? Or opinions on how important it is that papers at conferences follow some sort of thematic grouping?

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