Inviting Speakers and Organizing Symposia: How to Engage as a Student
By Jordan Twombly Ellis
Editor’s Note: This post is part of a series contributed by the ESA Student Affairs Committee. See other posts by and for entomology students here at Entomology Today.
As a new graduate student in entomology in 2019, I was enamored attending departmental seminars to see experts discuss their research. I was amazed by the availability of in-person talks from scientists studying topics that I had been interested in for years. This form of interaction and networking was new to me but, just when I had been introduced to these opportunities, the world shut down.
After a long couple of years, we are back to in-person departmental seminars and in-person meetings hosted by other groups and scientific societies. With this comes the opportunity to invite speakers and organize symposia—yes, even as students. However, due to the pandemic, my peers and I have little experience with this and may not even be aware the ability to invite speakers, let alone know the best ways to do so.
At Texas A&M University, we have weekly departmental seminars where professors can invite peers and colleagues to speak. We are also lucky to have two graduate student organizations that are allowed to invite speakers, giving students the chance to nominate speakers ourselves.
This is a great privilege, but the prospect of organizing such events can feel intimidating for students. But the good news is that it’s not as hard as it might seem. I have spoken to student organizations here at A&M to learn the best ways others have found to invite speakers. With their advice and some knowledge of tools at your disposal, I hope my fellow graduate students can feel more equipped to organize these talks, whether at your home institution or for a conference or other similar event.
The President of Texas A&M Entomological Graduate Student Organization shared that when she invites a departmental speaker, she makes sure to include all of the information and details of the invitation upfront in the email. It is also important to indicate some familiarity and interest in their work. She also makes sure her emails contain a professional introduction and information about funding and logistics. This allows the invited speaker (most often a professor or researcher) to immediately determine if they are available and willing to give the presentation, and there is less need for many logistical emails.
Symposia are another option for students to interact with and hear presentations from professionals they admire. In advance of meetings (such as the ESA Annual Meeting, or that of other scientific societies), organizers will send out a call for symposia proposals. To propose a symposium, you need to have an idea for a topic as well as some proposed speakers that would fit the topic well. It is important to invite a diverse array of speakers to enhance the depth and perspectives discussed surrounding your topic. Not only is this important for creating a well-rounded symposium, but it is also regarded favorably by the reviewers of submissions and people attending the symposium.
Student organizations, or even students in a lab or peers in a cohort, can propose a symposium. I was able to help organize a symposium at the International Union for the Study of Social Insects 2022 Congress in San Diego. It wasn’t a huge time commitment and was worth every minute. The topic was closely related to my research, and I was able to invite speakers whose work I have cited for years.
One of our student organizations here at Texas A&M, the Aggie Women in Entomology, meanwhile, organized a symposium at the 2022 Joint Annual Meeting of the Entomological Societies of America, Canada, and British Columbia. All of the speakers they invited to their symposium said yes to their invitation. This is a testament both to the strength of their topic and professionalism as well as to the fact that speakers are excited to be invited and recognized by students for their work. This is an accessible way to get involved at meetings as a student, gain professional experience, meet awesome scientists, and build a resume. (For more advice, see “Organizing a Science Symposium: Don’t Be Intimidated!” by Amanda Skidmore, January 25, 2019, on Entomology Today.)
When speaking to students, I received a lot of logistical pointers for inviting speakers. However, then I asked a few of our invited speakers what they look for in an invitation to speak. One speaker talked about how the period in their career is important to consider when inviting speakers. Professors that have not yet been given tenure are especially likely to accept invitations. Another speaker I talked to emphasized that emails to speakers should be professional and demonstrate some knowledge about the work of the person being invited. For any professional, it can be surprising to be invited to speak by someone you don’t know, so including the reason for the invitation as well as the expectations can make saying yes that much easier. Both professors I spoke to emphasized that it is very flattering to be invited by students and that people love to say yes to student invitations.
Ultimately, inviting speakers as students is an important form of networking and is often underutilized. If, as a student, you are interested in inviting speakers for presentations or symposia, you can contact student organizations in your department. Scientific meetings also send out calls for symposia; within ESA, the 2023 Joint North Central and Southwestern Branch Meeting call for symposia is open through December 12, 2022 (while remaining Branches are now accepting presentations and posters, and the call for Program, Section, and Member Symposia; Organized Meeting; and Workshops is now open for the 2023 ESA Annual Meeting, due March 1. Various other conferences would be glad to have student organized symposia, as well. Therefore, if this is something you are interested in, do it!
Jordan Twombly Ellis is a Ph.D. candidate in entomology at Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.