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conference expectations

Pan-SIG 2014

pansig2014

I just got back from this year’s JALT Pan-SIG Conference in Miyazaki. The Pan-SIG is my favourite conference, and it’s one I try not to miss every year. I think this was my fifth or sixth Pan-SIG.

I love the Pan-SIG because it’s run by the SIGs, and everyone is really into what they are doing. It’s more concentrated than the JALT National Conference, and the overall quality of presentations tends to be higher. The smaller size also makes it a great place to meet and talk to people.

This year’s venue was fantastic. I had never been to Miyazaki before, but was really impressed. A friend said “it feels more like Miami than Japan” and I agree: wide streets, palm trees, low buildings, lots of space, and not at all crowded. The university where the conference was held was downtown, easily accessible, and very comfortable.

Unfortunately I was only able to attend the first day as Miyazaki isn’t the easiest place to get to from Sendai 🙂

The 2014 Pan-SIG tried a couple of new things, and I’ll talk about each one below:

1. Information/sustainability

The organizers didn’t produce any printed material for the conference, instead publishing the program online. I completely support this approach and agree that most conferences are very wasteful in terms of printing a bunch of stuff that no-one ends up keeping or reading afterwards.

However, this time round there were a few gaps that should be addressed in the future (or at other conferences). The online information didn’t seem to be complete or at least wasn’t intuitive enough for me to find. I actually didn’t know about some of the rooms so missed half the poster sessions.

I think even if the conference goes paperless a simple one-page handout with a map and a list of presentations is necessary. It’s also necessary to have signs indicating where things are, and to make sure that the student volunteer staff know the rough schedule and where things are (I asked half a dozen people where the poster sessions were, but none of them understood what I was talking about).

2. Replacing presentations with poster sessions

I am not a fan of this. I think posters and presentations are very different beasts, and much prefer to give or attend presentations. Posters work well if they can be displayed in the lunch room or the publisher area and are a great way to get ideas or see what people are doing.

However, I think we lost something this year by not having presentations. Presentations require more preparation, and tend to provide a deeper understanding of a topic. I hope we’ll see a more balanced approach in the future. I think the model of hanging posters in the morning and leaving them up all day, along with a long lunch break with access to the poster presenters, works well. Simultaneous presentation sessions can then be run before and after.

Overall

On the whole, I enjoyed the conference. The first plenary talk about reconstruction in Tohoku was incredible: interesting, accessible, and illuminating. I talked to a lot of friends and met some new ones. The whole thing, with the exception of the information issues above, was extremely smooth and well run.

I’m not sure where the next Pan-SIG will be held, but I’m already looking forward to it.

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