By Richard Parfitt |


Organising a conference is one of the many things that PhD students do to boost their experience, promote their research, and enhance their CVs. Earlier this year, I arranged a conference with a couple of fellow students. Being Mr Prepared, I read blog after blog and article after article to hoover up all the various bits of advice I could find. All of these were useful in their own way. As such, we had our venue, theme, speakers and food sorted well in advance. We had funding, we had a spreadsheet, it was marvellous. On the day, everything went swimmingly, but there were still a lot of things I learned that aren’t usually in the blogs. I’m hoping I can fill in some of the gaps.




The most time consuming thing about organising a conference isn’t the admin or going through abstracts. You could do everything you actually need to *do* for a conference in less than a day. The thing that holds you up is waiting for other people to respond to e-mails. This is particularly true if you have to deal with university administrative services, which never have enough people or resources. This can take days, weeks, months, often with no indication that they have received the four e-mails and three voicemail messages that you sent them. Make sure that you contact everybody you need contact as soon as possible. That way, you give them the maximum amount of time that they need to read your message, forget about it, file it in the wrong place, take a week long holiday in Majorca, come back, tick your task off the list without actually doing it, realise, do the task incorrectly, send it back to you anyway, realise their error, and then finally get it back to you as required.




Nobody understands tax. Nobody. If you are charging your attendees or paying for anything, you might incur VAT depending on which body you’re organising it through. If your university is processing your payments, in theory they should be VAT exempt, but not necessarily. How the event is categorised from a tax perspective can change depending on what it includes (wine receptions and so on) and whether you’re making a profit or not. If you’re organising it as a private citizen, rather than on behalf of an institution, that too might mean that there are taxes to be paid. Talk to the finance people at your university if at all unsure. They might be unsure too, but they have better access to the information than you do.




Everything will be absolutely fine on the day, apart from some aspect of the technology. With us, it was working out how to switch on the sound (for a music conference) amidst the swarm of wires and switches and antiquated operating systems. There’s bound to be something that breaks, or doesn’t switch on. Make sure to get there early and try everything out. Even then something else will happen with a dodgy PowerPoint halfway through a session, but you’ll minimise issues.


Apple Users


See above. Apple users cause technology problems because Apple Software Is Flawless All Problems Are Caused By Windows.


Shut Up


There will be senior academics who have little or no respect for your carefully worked out timetable. They may have a book to promote. It isn’t fair on you or the rest of the panel. Make sure your panel chairs are empowered to use lethal force to end an over running paper when necessary.




Nothing disappointed me more during my conference running experience than the lack of biscuit access. We had a wonderful range of sugary snacks and hot drinks, but when you’re one of the organisers you inevitably have to deal with questions from speakers and panel chairs, or set something up for the next session. None of this is particularly stressful or taxing, but it does leave less time for biscuits than one might hope.


None of these issues should put you off doing something that is a great experience. I got a huge amount, academically and professionally, out of organising a conference. Get ahead of any potential problems, send out the e-mails early, check the facilities, and you’ll have a wonderful time.


Richard Parfitt is chair of Pubs and Publications.  You can find him on Twitter and on on

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