Sent to Technical Program Co-chairs for Baltimore 2010 Meeting as a “heads up.”
This is part of a document I prepared after the 2006 Camp Hill NE Section meeting for Wally Bothner who was going to run the 2007 meeting in Durham. A few things in it are out of date, and we need to deal with two sections, but I hope this will make you think about what can go right and wrong.
I think there is no doubt that it is primarily the diversity and quality of the Technical Program that makes people want to come to the meeting. Getting a good program together requires a good bit of conversation with our diverse clientele and deserves careful attention. Go for diversity. Watch out for the seemingly good topic that falls into your lap but may be deadly. We had one proposal for a session on economic resources, and the proposer promised to get people together from each state where this resource occurs. However, on further investigation it became clear that most of the papers would have been a recitation of production statistics rather than any substantial discussion of the interesting geologic problems of how this resource accumulated and is produced.
We thought we had some good topics that didn't fly. Saratoga had a nice, well-attended session on the History of Geology in the northeast. One of the people who would have been an advocate for this session was out of the country in the Fall when abstracts would have been solicited, and the other advocate tried, but simply didn't know how to contact people they knew and say "You're working on so and so—wouldn't you do a paper on that at our meeting?" This session got only 2-3 papers. Another was proposed on "From Pleistocene to Present: Landscape Dynamics of the Susquehanna River Basin and Chesapeake Bay." In this case it probably lost papers to other sessions on geomorphology and Quaternary geology. And the Time Slices session on the Alleghanian didn't fly. In contrast, we expected a session on problems of Acid Mine Drainage to get a minimal number of papers, and it got enough for an oral session plus a few poster papers.
The Program Chairs and I started brainstorming topics for possible Theme and Symposium sessions a month or two before the Saratoga meeting. Ask lots of people beyond your own sub-disciplines what the hot topics are in their research areas. Are there any good topics specific to your region? For example, there must be some good topics related to the igneous and metamorphic rocks of northern New England. New England and New York Quaternary folks seem to be doing a lot with climate history that can be deciphered from lakes and their sediments.
Then put your troops to work at the meeting prior to yours (Camp Hill for you). Ask contacts for ideas. Only in the most important cases should you make commitments until you have all possible topics in hand. But do ask people who suggest a topic if they would be a convener and be willing to help smoke out papers if you ask them. Get your troops to write down these ideas and contacts. Probably 75% of our topics evolved from or were refined through conversations at Saratoga.
We knew that the loosely-organized Northeast Tectonics Group, who seem to be mostly igneous and metamorphic petrologists had some of the largest and liveliest sessions at recent NE GSA meetings. Noel had been given the impression that they gathered over beer after their sessions and conjured up what to do next year. But they apparently don't do this right away. Instead, we proposed a general topic, and they took off with it.
It was only a chance encounter that led to this year's nice series of sessions on Time Slices Across the Appalachians. Weecha Crawford, from Bryn Mawr College, suggested the idea, but didn't want to be an organizer. The original idea was to have one or more sessions in which authors would discuss what was happening in a given time interval from the igneous and metamorphic provinces of New England to sedimentary deposition in New York. The same could have been done from SE to NW Pennsylvania. Noel then talked with Craig Dietsch, a former student, and he said that he does field trips on just that theme from SW New England to New York. We urged him to talk with friends, and it all took off from there. As an example of what can happen when an advocate aggressively pursues papers, Craig got 24 papers for his Cambro-Ordovician Time Slices theme session, and the Siluro-Devonian folks did nearly as well.
After Saratoga we met and put together the topics we had gathered. We looked for "holes" among the topics using the disciplines under which one can submit papers to GSA. For example, we didn't have any proposed session on the Quaternary, which usually attracts a substantial following. So we invented a generic session on "New Developments in Late Quaternary History and Climate in the Northeast," and got a friend from the NE Friends of the Pleistocene to help us find a convener. Similarly we invented a session on hydrology and "dirty" water, which usually attracts a number of papers. A session on geological education always attracts more than a few papers.
When you choose titles, choose the words carefully. A word added or left out can exclude or include more than a few potential papers. For example, our “Metamorphic Rocks and Shear Zones: Stitching Together Appalachian Terranes” might have attracted more papers had we left out the word “Appalachian.”
Several sessions are traditionally sponsored by other organizations or by Divisions of GSA. We had been under the impression that these groups came up with the proposals for the sessions. Indeed, our Forensic Geology session was proposed by Sue Halsey on behalf of the Geology and Society Division of GSA, and it looks like a good one. On the other hand, for years the Society for Sedimentary Geology (SEPM) has sponsored 2 or 3 sessions at NE GSA. We contacted the officers (Bosiljka Glumac, President, and Al Curran, Secretary, both at Smith College) and urged them to get their members to suggest Theme topics. They e-mailed their membership. We got no suggestions, and I stuck my foot in it by suggesting to Bosiljka and Al that this might mean they'd have a party and no one would come. Al, with long experience with the group, then told me that the tradition was that the Program people came up with topics, and then SEPM chose from among the sessions to be sponsors. Two of the sessions are being convened by SEPM members, but they just didn't think of proposing sponsorship until we pushed it. I suggested that it would be much better for SEPM members to take the initiative, but we worked things out so that they are sponsors of 2-3 sessions and one field trip. We urge you to contact the SEPM folks early and try to get them to suggest good topics—the experts should know best what would be good topics.
The Pander Society (conodont folks) meets at a section meeting somewhere around the country each year. They are not likely to meet back in the NE for a few years. The Northeastern Section of the Paleontological Society has traditionally sponsored a session at NE GSA. I had a contact for this, but officers changed, and by the time we got in touch with the new President, it was August or September—too late to get a session into the GSA Today version of the Preliminary Announcement. However, we did get their Theme session added to the on-line version, which most people use when they submit abstracts, and they got a modest number of papers.
Let me emphasize the timing needed for all this. Authors will submit papers to Theme sessions that will be listed in the Preliminary Announcement. This appears in early September on line and in GSA Today, but copy for the Preliminary Announcement is due at GSA at the end of June. You need to have most of your Themes agreed upon by mid-June.
We had GSA send an e-mail blast to the NE Section members soliciting them for topics, and asked that they be sent to one of our Technical Program co-chairs by May 6. We got a few suggestions this way, some off the wall, but most evolved from conversations at Saratoga, or were invented by us. By the time we sorted all possible topics and settled on the ones we wanted, it was mid- to late May. Then a new problem arose—many people whom we needed to contact to confirm that they would act as advocates/conveners and get their contact information (e-mail, phone) had finished their academic semester and headed for the field or Timbuktu. I urge you to try to select most of your Theme sessions and line up advocates by early May—you’ll save yourself a lot of headaches. The person (General Chair?) preparing the copy for the Preliminary Announcement should set a deadline for receiving all copy (in large part the Theme and Symposia information) a few days before copy is due at GSA so that there’s time to make sure it is in order (you don’t get to look at galleys of this).
One session literally fell into our lap at the last minute. One and a half weeks before the Abstracts deadline Pete got a call from someone who noted that a new Geology and Health Division of GSA had been formed in November. They wondered if they could have a session? Pete acted quickly and told them that if they could get enough papers submitted, we would add a Theme session. They did and we did, with help from Nancy Carlson (now Wright) at GSA. They have 7 papers in what appears to be a nice session.
Last April or May Steve Pollock (NE Section Secretary) came back from the “Secretary’s Summit” in Boulder and told me that the GSA Division Chairs were ready to help with Theme topics for Section meetings. In theory I thought this was wonderful, but finding those people, especially with an interest in the NE Section, was too daunting for me. Indeed in mid-Summer I chanced to meet one Division Chair who had received a request for help from another Section, and didn’t even know that she was expected to do this. In August someone in the Baltimore area associated with the Engineering Geology Division contacted me and offered to help, but by then the Preliminary Program was about to come out in GSA Today. IF you want help from Divisions, find out who is in charge from the GSA web site and contact them in April. (This year, 2009, Chuck and I will meet many Division representatives in March in Boulder.)
Perhaps right after national GSA it is a good time to remind advocate/conveners that it is their job to “beat the bushes” for papers. If they sit on their rears with their brains in neutral, the chances are good that they won’t get many papers for their sessions. Tell them your rules and tell them to remind authors of the Abstract Deadline.
Note that for Symposia, the papers are invited. This presumes a strong advocate who knows what they are doing and can get a group together to do it. Theme Sessions, on the other hand, consist of submitted papers. We sweetened the pot by telling advocates that they could have up to 2 invited papers, and that for other papers they must say “I urge you to submit.” Some find “being invited” useful on their vita. A few conveners chose to invite someone of stature to give a special keynote talk in a double slot (40 minutes) to open their session. (Note added 12/06: I recently heard from Wally asking about GSA’s rule that says something like “other than symposium presenters, an author may be speaker on no more than one paper.” An invited theme session presenter wanted to also present a paper in another session. A convener argued that this rule had been violated in the past. For our meeting, someone may have slipped through, but not intentionally. As I understand it, Wally’s committee decided to stick with the rule.) Whatever you decide about these issues, make sure you get it straight early and tell all of your advocate/conveners. Otherwise headaches will ensue. (Note added February, 2009: I think this rule has changed now, at least for posters.)
Putting the Technical Program Together. Nancy Carlson (now Wright), who manages putting the Program together and getting it printed for GSA is tremendously helpful and a can-do lady. She introduced us to the Confex computer program that receives and allows sorting of abstracts. Once she gives you access to the system, you will be able to see on-line how many abstracts have come in and which ones have been submitted for which theme sessions, symposia, and disciplinary topics. In our case, I chose to have access along with my Program Chairs, but I decided not to manipulate the program. Conveners/advocates are given access to their sessions, and are told by e-mail to arrange their papers, and move ones they don't want into a general pool. Some conveners will be laggards, and you will have to make some phone calls. People may be difficult to reach over the Holidays.
It helps to be ready to say what a half-day schedule of oral papers will look like. You will need start times, how many, coffee break, whether there will be time for a short introduction, and bottom line—how many papers you can put in a half day session. These times are all eventually entered into the system. For oral papers, attention needs to be paid to whether there are too many (need another session, or move some to posters) or too few (2-4 papers may cause you to cancel the session and move the papers elsewhere, OR you may end up with two short back-to-back sessions in a half day. Similarly, some attention needs to be given to spreading like topics out so that the hardrockers, for example don't have to choose from 3 similar sessions in one half day. Posters need to be arranged to not overflow the number of poster panels you have planned and have room for—be careful, for overflow is easy to do as the last papers get shuffled around. It is also as you finish the Program that you will need the names of rooms that various sessions will be assigned to, taking account of what sessions you think will require larger or smaller oral sessions based on attendance expected. For oral general discipline sessions you will need to find and contact session chairs.
Meanwhile you should have the Program copy other than the Technical Sessions ready to submit to Nancy. From there on, you will only have some adjustments to make. Nancy arranges the e-mails of acceptance to be sent out. A couple of weeks later you will receive galleys of the whole Program as a pdf file, and have 2-3 days to check it. Ours was in excellent shape, but somehow the paper titles in the Technical Program, which are in upper and lower case, had some glitches being translated from the Abstract titles with all caps as submitted. We had Ny instead of NY, and Morb instead of MORB, etc. These are being fixed and should be fine.
You (General Chair) will be asked as you return the galleys to place an order for Programs (the ones given out at Registration), and Abstracts with Programs (which are sold). Unfortunately this occurs a week or two before the Pre-registration deadline, so you will be guessing at how many you need based on past years' statistics and your guess as to how your meeting will differ from previous ones. Our programs are costing about $1.05 apiece, and Abstracts with Programs are sold to us at $12 apiece, and we are told to sell them for $15 or more. You will be stuck with the leftovers and their cost. On the other hand, near the end of our meeting we ran out of Programs, and had to photocopy another 50.