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== Ten Simple Rules for Organising a Successful Scientific Event ==
Ten Simple Rules for Organising a Successful Scientific Event:
Our experience organising successful scientific and educational events for students in the bioinformatics community (while operating on a low budget).
Our experience organising successful scientific and educational events for students in the bioinformatics community (while operating on a low budget).

Revision as of 08:49, 4 December 2007

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Ten Simple Rules for Organising a Successful Scientific Event: Our experience organising successful scientific and educational events for students in the bioinformatics community (while operating on a low budget).

Manuel Corpas*, Nils Gehlenborg and Sarath Chandra Janga

(* To whom correspondence should be addressed)


More and more scientific career articles [1] are converging on the need for students and researchers to be able to 'know how' to organise a scientific meeting. Scientific meetings are at the heart of the scientist's professional life, since they provide an invaluable opportunity for learning, networking and brainstorming new ideas. In addition, meetings should be enjoyable experiences that add exciting breaks to the usual routine in the lab.

The International Society for Computational Biology (ISCB) Student Council [2] is the young members' section of ISCB that focuses on the organisation of activities and events that facilitate their scientific development. From our experience in organising the Student Council Symposium [3, 4], a satellite meeting of an ISCB-related mainstream conference [5], and other scientific events, we ourselves have learnt a great deal of aspects not so well cared for in the usual academic curricula.

We argue that the experience of organising events by students has immense value for the development of the future scientist; many skills are exercised: organisational, managerial, team work effort, etc. All of these skills are important assets that may make the difference in a successful scientific career path.

Following the logic of a sequential order we have grouped the ten simple rules for organising a successful scientific event into three categories: before the conference (six first rules), during the conference (two rules) and after the conference (two rules).

Before the Conference

  • Allow plenty of planning time

Planning a conference should be both a learning experience and an enjoyable activity. We recommend a minimum planning time that ranges from nine months up to a year, depending on the size of your event, taking into account that bigger conferences require more preparation times. Allow plenty of time to select your venue, for your attendees to book their flights early and for submission and review of material to be presented. Outstanding keynotes will require also many months in advance in order to find a hole in their busy schedules.

  • Study all potential financial issues affecting the event

Sponsors are a great source of income together with your attendants' registration fees. To increase the chances of being sponsored by industry write them a clear proposal stating what the money will be spent on and what they get in return. You may also want to offer some time as industry talks or demos as a way of attracting more sponsors. Before approaching sponsors though, make sure you approach first the ones that match your interest topics the closest. If they say they are not interested this year, keep their contact as they might be able to sponsor you in future events. Approach them early rather than later in any case. The cost of your conference will be proportional to the capacity of the venue; therefore, a good estimation of the number of attendants can tell you a good estimate of your costs. You will need to include meals, coffee breaks together with the actual cost of renting your venue. Additional costs might include fellowships, publication costs of proceedings in a journal and awards for outstanding contributors. All these issues will determine how much you need to charge your participants to attend.

  • Choose an appealing theme/topic for your target audience

When choosing a topic for your conference, it is important to have in mind the needs of your target audience. Make sure that you have a sufficiently wide range of areas, without being too general. The greater the number of topics covered the more likely are people to come, but the lesser the scientific interest. Emerging areas can attract greater interest, try to include them in your program as much as possible; let your audience decide their preferred topics if you have the capability of asking them.

  • Choose the right date and location

If this is your first conference, it needs to be as far apart as possible from established conferences. Alternatively, you may want to organise your event around a main conference, in the form of a satellite meeting or Special Interest Group (SIG). Teaming up with mainstream conferences may increase the chances of attracting more people (specially if this is your first time) and also save you a great deal of administrative work. If you decide to do it on your own, you should consider the accessibility of your location, how easy is to fly there, whether it has a local interested community and has cultural/turistic interest. Turistic resorts may offer the posibility of making of your conference a holiday, so more people may be attracted to come to visit, especially if accommodation is not too expensive. Cheaper accommodation and cheaper airfares to your destination are always a plus.

  • Create a balanced timetable

A conference is a place for people wanting to share and exchange ideas. Having many well known speakers will raise the demand of your event but this has to be balanced with enough time for presentation of submitted materials. We found that a mix senior scientists and junior scientists always work for the better. Young researchers may be more enthusiastic and inspiring for students, while top senior scientists will be able to present a more complete perspective of your fiels. Allow plenty of time for socialising too; breaks and meals are ideal occassions for meeting potential collaborators and fostering networking with peers.

  • Select carefully your key helpers: the organising committee

You do not need to master all needed skills for the successful organisation of your meeting, but the organising committee should cover most of them. You might want to separate the areas of responsabilities between your helpers depending on their interests and availability of time. Some potential responsabilities you may be able to delegate are 1) contents and design of website; 2) promotion materials and marketing; 3) finance and administration 4) fundraising; 5) reviews of submitted material; 6) local organisation issues; 7) programme and speakers; 7) awards. Your organising committee should be large enough to handle all the above but not too large, avoiding free loaders. It is invaluable to have a local organising committee; they will be able to involve local institutions, speakers and companies. Local organisations may also help you with administrative tasks, dealing with registration of attendees and finding suitable accommodation around the venue.

During the Conference

  • Meet everyone from the organising committees the day before the event

For many people in the organisation may be the first time they come to the place, so it is crucial that they get familiarised with the venue. Make sure you have inspected all the facilities and the necessary materials for presenters: poster boards, pointers, a working computer, projectors, etc. Only then it is advisable to distribute responsabilities for the helpers: some of them will be needed at the registration table, some others carrying the microphones during sessions, recording if you have it, organise and change presentations, introduce the speakers, etc.

  • Have contact information for all relevant people

You want to be best prepared with a contingency plan if something goes wrong, especially if you need to make last minute decisions. We recommend that you have at hand a list of the all names of the organisers, their mobile phones and their specific duties. Also have at hand the names and contact information of caterers, building managers, administrative personnel, technicians and the main conference organiser if you are having your event as part of another conference. It is also important that you have a designated meeting point where someone of the organisation is going to be avaliable at all times or where helpers may find someone to ask.

After the Conference

  • Make have a lasting impact in your community

This is important for you as the organiser, particularly if you are planning to organise future editions. If you had evaluation sheets given to your audience for feedback, make this information publicly accessible through your website. Evaluations may help you improve the focus of your conference and will let you know if there are issues that you were not aware of that people did not like. Get ready your submitted materials for publication in a journal, bering in mind that this may cost money depending on the journal. Upload to the website photos and videos (if you have any) and post the names of the awarded people and travel fellowship recipients. Always give credit where credit is due: recognise contributions by sponsors, speakers, organising committee, etc. Giving some simple gifts to your keynotes will leave them a good impression. You might want to invite them in for future events as well.

  • Send one last email a couple of months after the event

Apart of remining them of a (hopefully) memorable event, it is useful to inform delegates about the things that have happened since the conference ended. By then videos and photos will have been uploaded, related articles published and announcements about your next conference ready if you are brave enough to repeat the experience!


We have presented here a set of guidelines and suggestions for the organisation of a scientific event. Although our experience comes from catering the student community in the field of Computational Biology, but we believe that such principles are valid to any scientific event, regardless of their target audience or topic. We have both organised satellite meetings associated to a mainstream conference (Student Council Symposium in ISMB [6]) and helped the organisation of standalone events (BioSysBio [7]). As we have shown, a wide range of skills are required for the successful accomplishment of a scientific event. We believe that knowing how to organise scientific events should be part of the educational experience of the developing scientist as well as a distinctive mark of a successful scientific career path.


We would like to acknowledge the International Society for Computational Biology (ISCB) for their support towards the organisation of the Student Council Symposiums, in particular BJ Morrison-McKay and Steven Leard. We are also grateful to all the Student Council leadership for their enthusiasm and hard work in the many activities the Student Council organises.


  • Tomazou EM & Powell GT (2007) Look who's talking too: graduates developing skills through communication. 8, 724-726 (September 2007) | doi:10.1038/nrg2177
  • Corpas M (2005) Scientists and Societies. Nature 436, 1204 doi:10.1038/nj7054-1204b
  • Gehlenborg N, Corpas M, Janga SC (2007) Highlights from the Third International Society for Computational Biology (ISCB) Student Council Symposium at the Fifteenth Annual International Conference on Intelligent Systems for Molecular Biology (ISMB). BMC Bioinformatics 8(Suppl 8):I1
  • Lengauer T, McKay BJM, Rost B (2007) ISMB/ECCB 2007: The Premier Conference on Computational Biology. PLoS Comput Biol 3(5): e96 doi:10.1371/journal.pcbi.0030096