#EntSoc13 – One for the record books.

This post is not about Bioinspiration. Instead it is about the “service” part of my job. Read the post if you are interested in the Entomological Society of America, otherwise please stay tuned. Another bioinspiration-related post will be posted soon. There is a plea for symposia-ideas for the International Congress of Entomology in 2016 related to Insect Bioinspiration and Insect Biomechanics at end of this post.

I really love my primary professional society. I have been a member of the Entomological Society of America for almost 20 years now, and I have seen it go through changes – most of these changes resulting in a more inclusive and vibrant Society. Ever since my student-days I have tried to be involved within the leadership of the society; as Section leader of my section (first called Section B-> then the poorly named IPMIS-> and now PBT, Physiology, Biochemistry and Toxicology) and currently as a member of the Program Committee for the Annual Meetings.

How does one get to organize the arguably premier entomological conference? Hum, well, what happened was that my PhD advisor, Robert N. Wiedenmann, was elected president of the Society a few years back. I greatly admire Rob, he is one of my favorite people, so I may have, inadvertently, told him that I would do anything to help him make his term successful. Guess who called me back a few weeks later to ask me to serve as one of “his” Program Committee Co-Chairs for the Annual Meetings in Austin in 2013? Of course I said yes, also because the other co-chair Luis Cañas (the Ohio State University) has been a long-time friend. We were going to give the Society an international flair – with Central-American-Western-European-Midwestern sensibilities.

What does it mean to be on the Program Committee? Well, it is basically a 3-year commitment.

The first year you sit in on bi-weekly conference calls and you listen to the current Program co-chairs organize “their” meeting. You take LOTS of notes, and you try to ignore the increasing panic becoming obvious in their voices. During that first year you are also in charge of organizing the Student Competition, which means that at the summer meeting (held at the site for the Annual Meeting) you start badgering the Section Leadership (president and vice president) for names of moderators and judges, and try to figure out where the heck you are going to put all the sessions. No matter how organized you are, how supportive the ESA staff, the week before the Annual Meeting you are going to have missing judges – so this is where you start calling in favors and shaming people to “volunteer”. (This issue is worth a whole different post, and upon reflection this was my least favorite part of my term on the Program Committee). By the way this is where you sign up to volunteer for ESA.

The second year you get to put the program together.

  • Early on in the year you ask for Program symposium ideas. We had about 20-plus ideas to choose from, but we picked 6. The official theme for the meeting was “Entomology in a connected world” and so the topics for the Program symposia had to fit that theme. Our own motto was “inclusiveness and diversity”, we picked symposia that individually, and also as a group, reflected the motto. Diversity in topics, inclusiveness of sections, diversity of organizers and speakers, etc.. Then later in the Spring we picked Section and Member symposia, pretty much using the same criteria. We tried to have the conference as a whole reflect diversity and inclusiveness, it became more of a driving force, which meant that we were forced to turn some of the poorly developed proposals away. But that was a good problem to have.
  • The month before the summer meeting in July we had all the symposia picked and we knew how many posters and ten-minute papers (outside of the symposia) to expect. We started to divide up the symposia and assigned them to dates. we tried, as best we could, to incorporate peoples requests (for tech needs, for instance). We tried to have little overlap in topics. This can be difficult. For instance, the two most popular symposia topics across Sections were pollination and microbiomes. Both topics are relevant to multiple sections, meaning that members from one section do not want to miss symposia in another. Tricky stuff.
To organize all the symposia I went back to basics and used sticky notes. Top left shows me dividing up the P-IE, and bottom right shows my son entering info into ConFex.

To organize all the symposia I went back to basics and used sticky notes. Top left shows me dividing up the P-IE, and bottom right shows my son entering info into ConFex.

  • At the summer meeting we proposed our choices to the Section leadership. Mostly they were happy with the assignments and luckily pointed out a few conflicts which were then fixed. The most difficult part of the summer meeting can be the division of the available meeting rooms. It is Section Leadership who have to decide together in what part of the conference center a particular Section will hold most of its presentations. As you are probably well aware there are prime-areas in conference centers, and then there are not such great rooms. Luckily the Section Leadership worked together very well and and decided on a workable division quickly. Section leadership spent the remainder of the 2 days spell-checking submissions, finding moderators, and contacting potential judges and moderators for the student competitions.
The Program Committee hard at work during the Summer Meeting. Top left - assigning symposia to rooms. Top right - ESA staff entering choices into ConFex. Bottom - sifting through all the submissions looking for duplicate entries, spelling mistakes, etc.

The Program Committee hard at work during the Summer Meeting. Top left – assigning symposia to rooms. Top right – ESA staff entering choices into ConFex. Bottom – sifting through all the submissions looking for duplicate entries, spelling mistakes, etc.

Left: Program Committee of #EntSoc13 at Summer Meeting in Austin. Right: The people who make the meeting go smoothly Tori D. (ConFex), Cindy M. (ESA) & Rosina R. (ESA).

Left: Program Committee of #EntSoc13 at Summer Meeting in Austin. Right: The people who make the meeting go smoothly Tori D. (ConFex), Cindy M. (ESA) & Rosina R. (ESA).

  • The rest of the summer is a blur. This is when you have to field the complaints for assignments from members (1% of the membership takes up 90% of your time), and resolve timing/room conflicts. You have to double check that all the functions are accounted for. This is also when we distributed the Program Enhancement Funds, a difficult task because the need is great but there is never enough money. …..And….most of my twitter followers know what is coming….during the summer had to deal with the Common Names Index. Lets just say, people like to make sh*t up. Also, people have a difficult time spelling “Coleoptera”, even people who work on “Coleoptera” (See archived tweets in this section, and at the end of this post). I can proudly say that I saved a lot of trees because I spent most of my summer, while traveling by rail through Europe, to reduce an unedited 20+ page index to just over 3 pages. Surprisingly, I would rather create the many time tables in the front of the program book than do that task again. I will spend a lot of time over the next few months working with ConFex and the current Program co-chairs to make this onerous task more pleasant.
  • After much proof-reading (Honestly? not really, because at this point any spelling mistakes were in my opinion the responsibility of the submitter – I am looking at YOU, submitter) – the Program was finally done early on in the Fall and ready to be printed. This has to happen so early because type-setting, printing and shipping actually takes a long time. And then after all is finished, then the cancellations start pouring in. Of course. So here is a lesson for when attending an Annual Meeting, start relying on the mobile app more, that is where the changes are reflected in a more modern age fashion.
  • And then for 2 months or so you just wait, and wait, and wait, and you live with this feeling that you have forgotten to do something very important. But ESA staff is so incredibly competent, they seemed to have everything under control. So you wait for the shoe to drop.

And then, the meeting just starts, happens, and ends. And all the while you just bask in the glow, because the ESA staff has everything under control.

ESAstaff3

The awesome ESA staff. They make the meeting run smoothly.

The third year you that you serve on the Program committee you still attend the conference calls, the summer meeting, and you are in charge of the Poster sessions. But your primary purpose is to serve as a wise sage to the new Program Committee Chairs and Student Competition Chairs. A lot less work is involved, and you get to go more sessions, talks and posters at the Annual Meeting. Or at least that is what I think you do, guess I will find out next year.

As you might have heard by now the meetings were a big success. We had a record registration of almost 3500 entomologists, we had a record number of symposia and talks. Some of the things I am most proud of that we accomplished:

  • From the beginning of putting the Program together we had diversity and inclusiveness in mind. When soliticiting symposia ideas we included in the announcement that organizers should keep the same criteria in mind. Many symposia organizers (close to 50%) were female. I cannot think of one symposium that only had male speakers, which was a common occurrence when I was a graduate student.
  • President Wiedenmann included this mindset in his communications to the society. His “Ethics” essay for “Articulated Segments” was promted by another society’s study on inclusivness on women. I was only one of the people that pointed this issue out to him and asked him to address it from an ESA standpoint – it felt good to realize that those in power actually listen and appreciate input on challenging issues.

It is important that we “do the right thing,” looking out for each other and ourselves and, importantly, holding each other and ourselves accountable. As a professional society, we need to have clear policies, and we must be willing to act when ethical transgressions are found. Not necessarily to act swiftly, but to act fairly and boldly. –  R.N. Wiedenmann, President of the Entomological Society of America

  • Just prior to the Annual Meetings the other work-related community I care much about, the science communication community, just kinda seemed to implode. Much of the issues raised did not speak to me directly, but I did think that as organizers of a big meeting we could not ignore it. ESA was aware of the issues and agreed to take action promptly. Quickly they put up a no-harrassment policy onto the main page of the Annual Meeting website*, and the ethics and Governing Board considered a strongly stated ethics statement about harassment. This is no longer your good ol’ Entomological Society of America. Bravo!

Harassment of ESA participants of Entomology 2013 will not be tolerated in any form. Harassment includes offensive verbal comments related to ethnicity, religion, disability, physical appearance, gender, or sexual orientation in public spaces, deliberate intimidation, stalking, following, harassing photography or recording, sustained disruption of talks or other events, inappropriate physical contact, and unwelcome attention. Participants asked to stop any harassing behavior are expected to comply immediately. Retrieved from the http://entsoc.org/entomology2013 website.

Things I hope to help improve:

  • Incorporate non-standard symposia into the program. For instance, shorter traditional sessions, which then move into ten-minute papers and posters. Our new Society President – Frank Zalom has charged the new Program Committee to make this happen.
  • Child care at the meeting is important to many of our members. The Society has tried formal childcare, but it was far too expensive for the number of people using it. I think the society can be of assistance with informal childcare options that includes a virtual discussion board where people can set-up a childcare cooperative arrangement, as well as a parenting room where children can play and sleep.
  • I plan to encourage more people from under-represented groups to participate in serving the society at different levels. It can be very rewarding. My favorite part is that I get to spend more time with old friends but also make new ones, often people who are in completely different research areas as myself. It is key to find financial support for people in non-traditional academic or professional jobs to take on a committment to serve the society. In my case I do not have grant that can help me pay for registration, hotel and travel, and my Department has not given me financial support either (Granted, I have never asked). I can imagine that the very people that we want to attract to take increase diversity in leadership positions might have a difficult time to make such a financial commitment.

Serving on the Program Committee is a big commitment. It requires time away from your academic job, from family, and it costs money since you are committed to pay registration and travel and hotel to all three Annual Meetings. No, “I think I’ll skip this year and send my grad student”. (NB: travel to summer meetings and hotel are paid for by ESA)

I am glad that I was able to serve the Society as Program committee co-chair. I learned a lot, especially about the Society itself. The Entomological Society of America has many members, all from different backgrounds and with different reasons for why they are members and why they attend Annual Meetings. I myself often feel different from my entomology colleagues because of my non-traditional job description and my research & teaching interests, but being this involved in the ESA’s functioning always makes me realize that none of us really fits in a neat box – thank goodness! After almost 125 years the Society is strong and yet not content with the status quo. And because I am a glutton for punishment, I am also involved in the Program Committee for the 2016 International Congress of Entomology to be held in Orlando. (Please consider submitting symposia topics on Insect Bioinspiration and Insect Biomechanics – contact me!).

And then there were these reasons:

  1. Ten pounds of candy.
  2. Good friends.

As promised:

Below are my archived tweets from the Common Names & Program Book Index saga. I love how you can just see that I get pissier and pissier over the course of a few months.

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