Bringing the tropics to Stirling: BES-TEG 2015

The British Ecological Society has a special interest Tropical Ecology Group (BES-TEG), there for all us “tropicologists” to get together, whether it’s via social media or through the annual BES-TEG meeting for early career researchers. This annual meeting is generally organised by PhD students and hosted at their university. A fellow PhD student – Rebekah Mayhew – and I organised this year’s BES-TEG meeting at the University of Stirling, 3-4th September 2015.

BES-TEGWe were asked to organise the meeting whilst in Panama, when we were both coming to the end of our respective field seasons. “Sure!” we said “absolutely no problem,” as we sat in the tropical sunshine feeling a rather colder sort of sweat spreading over us than we were used to. Neither of us had even been to a conference at this point, so we just jumped head first into organising this one and hoped for the best.

Being given the opportunity to organise an event like this is one that doesn’t come around very often, and provides experiences you can’t get in many other ways: we were able to contact and interact with some eminent scientists in a bid to find our wonderful keynote speakers, get to know members of the BES-TEG committee really well, and do our favourite thing, plan a big party! There’s a lot of freedom too: we’d had a meeting amongst the T.E.A.C (Tropical Ecology And Conservation) group up in Stirling, and come up with the meeting theme “Tropical Ecology and Land-use Change” with four focal sessions. Then we basically had a blank slate to do what we wanted in terms of venue, structure of the meeting, how to publicise, and most importantly how many tea breaks to schedule in.

From blank slate to two-day conference

We thought it might be useful to give a timeline of how we structured organising the event, as allowing plenty of time for everything was vital given the number of different things to organise and people involved.

April 2015 – accept the 2015 BES-TEG challenge. Promptly ignore most conference-related things and carry on with field season.

May 2015 – realise you probably should do something about that conference you said you’d organise. Book venue and work out how much essential things will cost e.g. catering for two days and who can provide this. Work out a basic budget, and see how much travel you can cover for keynote speakers (local vs international for example). Start contacting keynote speakers.

June 2015 – Finalise budget and work out how much delegate tickets will cost. Create event “save the date” for peoples’ diaries and get the keynote speakers finalised. Book venue for conference dinner with an estimate of how many people will come along.

July 2015 – Create webpage for ticket sales and publicise widely.

August 2015 – Panic that nobody has bought a ticket yet and start frantic Twitter,Bird Facebook, email bombardment, and begging campaign. Sort out any last-minute glitches (minimal if you’ve been organised and started a few months ago!). Get documents ready for delegates and make sure there’s enough wine coming for the poster and nibbles session.

September 2015 – realise you haven’t written a talk or done a poster for your own conference. Stay up all night before the conference doing this. Then be prepared for two-days of high adrenaline as you constantly worry if people are OK and things are going well. Realise everything is fine and enjoy some great science chat and meeting new “tropicologists.”

How we structured BES-TEG 2015

We split the meeting into four sessions: “Function and value of secondary forests,” “Current drivers of land-use change in tropical ecosystems,” Quantifying land-use change” and “Implications for biodiversity and ecosystem processes.” We’re lucky to have a really active bunch of tropic
al ecologists here in Stirling, working from the Neotropics, to Africa to S.E. Asia. It made sense to get as many as we could involved in the conference, and so each session had a chair person (from T.E.A.C.) as well as a keynote speaker from elsewhere: Dr. Cristina Banks-Leite (Imperial College London), Dr. Edward Mitchard (University of Edinburgh), Dr. Nicola Anthony (University of New Orleans) and Dr. Emma Sayer (University of Lancaster).

We invited our delegates to present a talk (15mins total including question time) in one of our four sessions, and / or a poster which we had displayed throughout the meeting and showcased during a drinks and networking session.

Because there were differing numbers of people presenting in each session, we were able to use some of the time for discussion groups and a Q and A session with our chairs and speakers: delegates were invited to quiz the chairs and speakers about anything, and ranged from how to build capacity in countries where your fieldwork is taking place through to questions about individual career paths.

All in all we had 27 delegates giving 13 talks and 10 posters. We had a couple of prizes for the best talk and the best poster, won this year by Claire Wordley (talk) and Hsiao-Hang Tao (poster) with Maria Kaye and Wallace Beiroz highly commended.

Take-home messages for would-be conference organisers

  • Have at least two of you organising: it keeps everyone sane and is more fun. You can also schedule in gin and tonics as a “conference catch-up and planning session”
  • Get started on planning early, but be flexible, as things never go exactly the way you want them to
  • Be prepared for last-minute registrations (and even requests for attending a few days after the registration deadline)
  • Don’t underestimate how many emails you need to send asking for help e.g. when asking people to publicise your event to their lab groups…sending gentle reminders is OK too!

Our thanks

We couldn’t have created the 2015 BES-TEG meeting without our keynote speakers Cris Banks-Leite, Ed Mitchard, EmmaSayer and Nicola Anthony, our session chairs from Stirling, Nils Bunnefeld, Daisy Dent, Al Jump and Kate Abernethy, and all the support from the BES and Tropical Ecology Group with special thanks to Lindsay Banin.

Lastly, our thanks go to all the early career researchers who ventured up to Stirling and made the meeting so enjoyable and sparkling with interesting tropical ecology…already looking forward to next year and handing over the BES-TEG annual meeting baton!

Everyone who made BES-TEG 2015 a brilliant early career research meeting

BES-TEG Poster

BES-TEG 2015 Poster

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