Instructions and Suggestions for the Organising Committee for ASA Scientific Meetings

This long set of instructions is intended to give meeting organisers a starting point when planning their meeting. It looks intimidating, but hopefully it is useful.

Any amendments or additions are welcome


  • The minimum recommended local organising committee (LOC) should consist of a Chair, Secretary, Treasurer, one person for venue arrangements and one person for travel and accommodation arrangements.
  • Local student organisers (1 or 2) should also be appointed for the Harley Wood School. They should clearly liase with the LOC of the Scientific Meeting, but the organisation is best kept quite separate (see the separate list of organising suggestions). In recent years the HWS has been entirely organised by students.
  • The scientific organising committee (SOC) should have one or two members in common with the LOC and should have expertise in as wide a range of fields as possible, but should probably be no larger than about 4 or 5 people. It is recommended that the Editor of PASA be a member to help maximise the number of PASA contributions resulting from the meeting.
  • It is never too early to begin planning - certainly before Christmas! Plans should be submitted to Council for comment early in the year (e.g. at the first council meeting of the year - around February).


  • Most successful meetings are held away from major cities - at least away from significant concentrations of astronomical institutions/universities. This prevents attendees from dropping in and out of the meeting. This may increase the costs, but leads to a much better environment for the meeting.


  • Meeting venue with adequate space for poster papers. Poster papers must be in the same place (or as close as possible) to the morning/afternoon tea area.
  • Consider where lunch is available and recommend locations.
  • One or two small meeting rooms for use by small groups or the Council.
  • Arrange for registration and secretarial areas.
  • Accommodation in student colleges and motels as required.
  • Venue for pre-conference reception (Sunday evening).
  • Venue for conference dinner. The dinner is best held late in the meeting (allowing presentation of student prizes). Consider how to make attendance attractive to students.
  • Venues for Council meeting (a private room is required) and Council dinner (usually on the Sunday night after the initial Registration session).
  • Venue for a meeting of the Australian Astronomical Directors and Heads Committee (usually on the Monday night, after the first day of the conference).
  • Venue for the Harley Wood Public Lecture.
  • Check public liability insurance for each venue. The ASA has no such insurance!


  • The first step is to request a copy of the budget from the previous meeting, together with any comments from the last LOC on the budget.
  • The ASM now operates with a permanent ASA/AGM Commonwealth Bank account with credit card facilities. Signatories on this account need to be changed betwen meetings, but should include the ASA Treasurer.
  • the Treasurer will provide a float to cover the initial costs, deposited into the ASA/AGM bank account.
  • Accounts of the Meeting must be kept - i.e. statements of income and expenditure and receipts. These accounts will be included as part of the general ASA annual audit.
  • In consultation with Council, decide on the Registration fee, including any additional expenses for visits to observatories and sight-seeing. The aim is to break even.
  • Propose the cost of annual dinner for Council approval. Students pay less, and invited speakers are free (by convention) but the overall dinner budget should balance. Registration should probably include the cost of the dinner since it may be regarded as part of the conference program (and will make it easier to justify to departmental accountants).
  • The student oral and poster prizes need to be worth winning! Council suggests a cheque (from conference funds) and a perhaps certificate (supplied by the Secretary).
  • Ensure the budget has at least 10% added for contingencies.
  • Seek sponsorship support for the meeting and invite sponsors representatives to functions.
  • Promptly acknowledge receipt of registrations etc. by email> Receipts are usually issued at Registration.

Email/Web Information

  • Prepare and distribute the first meeting announcement via the ASA exploder by around the end of February (or earlier!).

  • The meeting must have a web page, accessible from the ASA web pages. Sample information pages and a sample registration page from the ASA2005 meeting are available.
  • Registration should probably include the cost of the dinner since it may be regarded as part of the conference program and will make it easier to justify to departmental accountants.
  • Prepare and distribute preliminary program and details of publication requirements with final circular.


  • In consultation with Council, decide on any special themes for the Scientific Sessions.
  • Some of the most successful meetings have involved either the opening of a facility or a visit to a facility. Consider any possibilities which may be made to coincide with the conference dates.
  • The conference organisers select the invited speakers, however Council should be consulted before invitations are issued. Registration fees are not charged for invited speakers, however no contribution is usually made to their travel costs, except perhaps for keynote speakers. Attempt to finalise invited speakers by around the end of February. Invited speakers must be aware that a written version of their paper is required for refereeing and publication in PASA. They should receive a letter (not email) formally offering them an invited presentation and pointing out this requirement.
  • Avoid parallel sessions!! The ASA meeting is an opportunity for Australian astronomers to hear about local work outside their own fields. Parallel sessions discourage this interaction.
  • Authors presenting papers at the ASM are generally restricted to financial ASA members. However authors may present a paper once as a non-member. This generally applies to students, although they should be encouraged to join the society. Check with the Treasurer for the master list of financial members.
  • Consider how to handle student talks. This is an important aspect of the ASM since it provides good training for students. Some meetings have been criticised for forcing too many student presentations into the poster sessions. A poll of students in 1998 showed divided opinion over whether preference should be given to early year postgrads (inexperienced) or postgrads nearing completion (reporting their thesis work).
  • Avoid isolated times for less popular sessions (e.g. education, cosmic rays) which discourages attendance.
  • Avoid scheduling students on the last day (as far as possible) to allow a timely announcement (at the dinner) of student prizes.
  • Invite a high profile person to open the meeting.
  • Suggestions for the Harley Wood lecturer should be submitted to council for consideration at the first Council meeting of the year (around February). The Council has responsibility for choosing the speaker.
  • The Ellery lecturer should be chosen (only every second year - e.g. 2005, 2007,..) by the Council early in the year (e.g. at first Council meeting around February). The Ellery Lecture is a prestigious award of the society. In recent years the lecture has become somewhat lost in the main program of the meeting. Consider ways to emphasise its importance - preferably making it the opening talk of the meeting, when dignatories may be attending.
  • The presentation to the Bok prize winner (for 3rd year or Honours reports completed in the previous year) and a talk by the recipient may require a time slot.
  • Invite session chairs well ahead to allow publication of their names in the final program.


  • Establish media contacts to inform the media of the meeting (see appended note with further suggestions).
  • In consultation with the Council, select two or three scientific highlights to be featured in press releases before the meeting. All press releases will be handled by the Council when there is any suggestion of speaking on behalf of the Society.
  • Arrange publicity of Harley Wood lecture.
  • In consultation with the Council, ensure a gift is arranged for the Harley Wood lecturer.
  • Prepare a small program for the Harley Wood lecture, including the history of the lecture. See previous examples.
  • Solicit displays from Corporate members.
  • Provide space if necessary for display by sponsors and Corporate members. Invite them to display.

Other Arrangements

  • Consider possibilities for a guests' program.
  • Arrange morning and afternoon tea and coffee. Make sure lunches can be obtained in sufficient numbers from nearby facilities.
  • Organise local transport - e.g. accommodation to conference venue, Harley Wood Lecture, opening reception and conference dinner.
  • Make arrangements for the Business Meeting and Scientific Sessions - provide projectors (including spares), tables, timers etc.
  • Make arrangements for the poster area (at or near the morning/afternoon tea area) - provide poster boards, poster numbers, pins etc.
  • Book a photographer for the conference photo. Unfortunately, this has been neglected in recent years.
  • Plan to provide electronic mail access for delegates, photocopying and fax facilities.
  • Liaise with editor of PASA about publication of papers resulting from the conference.
  • Make provision to receive manuscripts at the meeting (usually these are few).
  • Organise for electronic submission of abstracts and registrations and posting of notices wherever possible (to minimise postage).
  • Prepare abstracts booklet.
  • Prepare final program (including names of session chairs).
  • Prepare conference satchels containing information such as - list of participants, map of venue, transport timetables, restaurant information, list of motels etc.
  • Prepare name tags - with large print!
  • Ensure all venues are well sign-posted.
  • In consultation with the council, select 2 examiners for the best student verbal and poster papers.
  • Try not to lose temper with members who refuse to reply or read instructions.
  • Try not to lose temper with LOC members who don't deliver on time!
  • Be prepared for last-minute changes to the scientific program!

As soon as possible after the meeting:

  • Collect a sample of the circulars, programme, book of abstracts and any other printed material and send it to the Secretary (John O'Byrne) for archiving.
  • Prepare a statement of accounts (income and expenditure is sufficient) and a report on all aspects of the ASM for the next Council meeting.

Publicity for meetings - by Helen Sim (ATNF)

Publicity should be considered by the meeting's organising committee from an early stage, as it needs resources: people, money and equipment.
  • The first thing to decide is what you are trying to achieve. Is the publicity intended to promote the organisation that's hosting it or is it just to reinforce the message that astronomy is fun and interesting? In fact, is it worth doing publicity at all?
  • Think about what photographs you may need to have taken for particular purposes - e.g. a follow-up story for a university newsletter, research report or conference proceedings - who will take them, and how much it will cost?
  • Publicity need not be limited to the workaday press release. You might,for instance, have a public talk worked into your program. However, organising and publicising this is a separate event in itself.
  • Select a number of possible stories related to your program. These might centre around the papers being presented or around the speakers themselves. In selecting these, consider:
    • is the story easy to explain in simple language?
    • does it have a strong visual element? (This is very important.)
    • does it have 'human interest'?
    • is it Australian?
    • is it a 'first'?
    • does it lead to benefits for people (e.g. through a spinoff)?
    • does it deal with the Big Questions?
    • why should it interest a non-astronomer?
    • what can the story be linked to?
    • what sort of person will want to read this story?
  • Having chosen your stories, you can then consider what kind of media they are suitable for: daily press (national? local? tabloid?), specialist magazine, radio (and which programs in particular? SBS ethnic radio?) or TV? Don't forget the wire services (e.g. AAP).
  • After choosing stories, contact the relevant speakers, check that they would be happy to be interviewed during the time of the meeting, discuss the story, and get all the necessary material, *especially* pictures and video tape. You will also need their contact details before, during and after the meeting.
  • Check out the venue and environs for interesting backgrounds for photographs. At this point you should also know who are going to be the people at the conference who are going to be the contact points for the media. They must be AVAILABLE during the conference.
  • At this point (a couple of weeks before the event) you can start sounding out individual journalists to see if they are (1) going to be around at the time of the meeting and (2) if they are interested in it. The most reliable list of journalists available as a regular publication is Margaret Gees' media guide, which is updated three times a year. Better than that, however, is a list compiled by someone who deals with the science media all the time, because even Margaret Gee can get out of date.
  • Get the logos of the meeting's sponsors and make up a media release form, into which you can drop your text. The media release form has to include all the obvious stuff: the date of release, the contact names and numbers (don't give just one), and who is sending out the release.
  • Write the media releases and have them checked by everybody who needs to check them. Decide if you are going to embargo them or send them out marked "for immediate release". Think about any predictable events scheduled for the week of your meeting that might adversely affect your coverage (e.g. NASA landing on Mars).
  • Make up copies of the program, the relevant papers and other background materials, photos and so on, for the journalists.
  • If you are at a university, tell your media unit that the meeting is taking place, when and where, and who are the contact people. Also tell your switchboard operators. Tell the people who will staff the meeting office what you are doing and which speakers might need to be contacted. Give everyone all the relevant phone numbers.
  • Make sure that there is at least one fixed phone in a QUIET area, close to the meeting area, which can be used for phone interviews. Make sure that it has STD access at least and, if you think a story may be big, IDD for international interviews (they can ring you for the story, but you may have to ring back). Also get a mobile (or two).
  • Have a reliable fax machine (again, with no STD bar) and photocopier close to hand.
  • When calls for interviews come in, it's good to write them down on the kind of message pad that has carbon duplicates: that's the easiest way to keep track of who contacted you and what they wanted.
  • NEVER let a newspaper photographer take one of your speakers away, saying, "we'll be back in half an hour". If they must go off the premises, send along a reliable contact person armed with a mobile phone. Otherwise your speaker will disappear for at least two hours, and in that time will miss four other interviews that you have lined up - or another newspaper will turn up to photograph him/her.
  • Afterwards, assess how well you went, what worked and what didn't, and write this down for the benefit of the next conference organisers.

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