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Organizing an International Conference as a Student

Marta Szczerska photo

Marta Szczerska [Image: Courtesy of M. Szczerska]

As an undergraduate student studying management at Gdańsk University of Technology, Poland, and a board member of the university’s Optica student chapter, I’ve been involved in organizing OPTO 2023, an international conference scheduled for 17–21 July in Gdańsk, Poland. This annual event brings together Optica student chapters from around the world to discuss the latest developments in optics, photonics and related fields. It aims to provide a platform for early-career researchers to present and discuss their scientific achievements and to network with other students in the same discipline.

Opportunities for growth

Hosting OPTO 2023 has given me a unique opportunity to improve my leadership and organizational ability. As a member of the organizing committee, I have learned how to effectively communicate with different stakeholders and manage their expectations, which is an essential soft skill in any professional setting. And as the conference’s marketing and promotions officer, I have had to apply my tactics on a global scale, reaching out to people via various means of communication—social media, websites and emails—to be most effective.

So far, organizing the event has been a great chance to improve my personal skills and expand my professional network, meeting new people from all over the world. Overall, it has been a rewarding experience.

Conference photo

A group photo from the OPTO 2022 conference. [Image: Courtesy of M. Szczerska] [Enlarge image]

Trials and tribulations

However, that doesn’t mean that there haven’t been trials and tribulations. One of the biggest challenges of organizing conference as a student is time management. Being in a university, I have a busy schedule with classes, assignments and exams. All of these take up a lot of time, and the responsibilities related to the conference sometimes seem exhausting. Careful planning, therefore, is essential to get all tasks done on time.

Another challenge I’ve faced is delegating work. This is something that just about everyone has experienced—for example, with smaller projects during coursework. But for an international conference, the tasks are larger and more time consuming, which, to be honest, I didn’t realize at the beginning.

Determining the exact division of responsibilities among committee members should go hand-in-hand with setting appropriate, practical deadlines that account for unforeseen situations that may arise. The discussion of due dates can make the work delegation complicated and challenging, especially when there are many tasks to be handled—including marketing, finances and logistics. It is particularly difficult to adjust the roles accordingly when there are people with a variety of skills at different levels.

Poster session

A poster session during OPTO 2019. [Image: Courtesy of M. Szczerska]

Advice for other students

To any student considering hosting a conference, my advice is to start planning early because doing so provides greater flexibility and better control over the whole process. This approach gives you a higher likelihood of achieving your desired outcomes and reduces the potential for last-minute crises.

It is also critical to have a vision of what you want to attain. A clear and reasonable objective will help direct your planning process and ensure the success of your event. To achieve a goal, every project needs a team—in a perfect world, one that’s motivated to work—as you cannot do everything on your own. It’s important to delegate tasks appropriately and make sure everyone agrees on expectations and deadlines.

Finally, be ready for unexpected obstacles and setbacks. Even with careful planning, things can go wrong, so it’s important that you maintain flexibility and adaptability in your approach. The key to overcoming challenges is developing strong communication and problem-solving skills.

All in all, organizing a conference while a student can be a rewarding experience that offers a variety of personal and professional growth opportunities.

Marta Szczerska is an undergraduate student studying management at Gdańsk University of Technology, Poland, expected to graduate in June 2023. She has been on the board of the university’s Optica student chapter since 2021 and has served since July 2022 as an organizing committee member for OPTO 2023.

Publish Date: 23 May 2023

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