Top Ten Reasons People Don’t Submit Session Proposals for the SAA Conference

10. They have an idea but think they can’t find others to be on the panel.

We can help you find potential speakers. Just ask for help.

9. They think no one will be interested in their topic.

You’ll never know unless you submit. And you might find a bunch of people are interested.

8. They think only SAA Fellows and big wigs can present.

Program Committees look at more than just the presenters.

7. They are scared to speak in front of large groups.

Submit your proposal and know you are speaking in front of your friends and colleagues.

6. They are scared to write a big paper.

You don’t have to. There are many different session types where there is no need for a paper. This includes new formats such as fish bowl, world cafe and Pecha Kucha where there is the opportunity encourage audience interaction and participation.

5. They don’t know how to get session endorsements.

Contact the section and roundtable chairs for details. They will be more than happy to help you.

4. They think the form will take too long to fill out.

Most of the questions limit the number of words in the answer to less than 150. It’s quick, easy and painless.

3. Somebody did the same thing last year.

Is it a hot topic that needs deeper exploration? Did someone present and you disagreed and want to give a different point of view? Do you have a different spin on the topic? Then submit your proposal.

2. A person on the Program Committee doesn’t like me and will make sure my session isn’t accepted.

There are ten people on the Program Committee. One won’t stop a good proposal from succeeding.

1. They forgot…

The deadline for session proposals is September 30th. The link to the form is on the SAA home page.

15 responses to “Top Ten Reasons People Don’t Submit Session Proposals for the SAA Conference

  1. Actually, I think a big reason is because the deadline for proposals is a full 11 months before the next conference, and just one month after the previous conference is over. I really think the deadline this far out doesn’t give people ample time to mull over the ideas they just heard, and makes it a challenge to bring the work we are most engaged in and excited about to the conference.

    • Thanks for the comment Chela. If you had your druthers when do you think we should set the deadline for proposals? And would your deadline change if you knew that we had to have the program set and to company that does all the artwork and other publicity materials by early February so that it’s ready for release in early May? I’d absolutely love some suggestions on how to make a later deadline date work given the deadlines from the SAA Office.

  2. Danna,

    The issue Chela raises is one I have heard frequently from members, including a quite pointed exchange this past August when I was speaking to members of a roundtable in my capacity as an SAA Council member. I think that framing the parameters of the problem in terms of working backwards from the deadlines set by our current model of printing and advertising is not the best way to approach the issue. I think it would be more in keeping with the Council-approved “Principles and Priorities for Continuously Improving the SAA Annual Meeting” to consider how we can change the printing and advertising model so that it can better meet the needs of members to develop the best possible content for the meeting.

    There were some recommendations in the Annual Meeting Task Force report regarding changing some aspects of how the program is developed, but this seems like a topic that could benefit from wider discussion. If good ideas emerge for how members would like to see the meeting content developed, in addition to those suggested by the AMTF, then SAA could explore options for how to deliver promotional materials in ways that fit that schedule. And, of course, the question of what promotional materials are needed and what form they need to take should also, according to SAA’s new guiding principles, be open for change.

    This seems like a very good example of an area in which we should not let “tradition,” or SAA’s current operational practices, lock the organization into following policies that could be improved, and an excellent opportunity to demonstrate one of recently-adopted Core Organizational Values, “fostering a culture of creativity and experimentation across the association.”

    I believe that now that the AMTF has completed its work, the Council has responsibility for initiating discussion and proposals for changing annual meeting practices. I hope that this topic can be brought up for discussion in the appropriate forum, as I’m sure most Council members are familiar with the concerns members have about the process and the deadline.



  3. I was the MARAC printed program editor for a while, and I question why it takes 3 months (Feb-May) to produce the preliminary program, which is what gets mailed in May. It’s not the full program. The format doesn’t change significantly from year to year. The artwork can be designed independent of the content, I think you could move the program committee meeting to January and still produce the preliminary program on time.

  4. Would not printing the program at all– making it full electronic, a print-it-out-yourself PDF help? I think this may have been explored.
    –Kate Bowers

  5. This issue of the seemingly early deadline for proposal submission is not just an issue for SAA, it is problem for many conferences. For example I believe RBMS requires submissions 13 months prior to the conference. It would be nice if there were a way to provide a bit more time for proposal submission. Perhaps moving the deadline to the end of October would provide a little more breathing room.

    I can say that I have seen many calls for proposals from various sections. I only wish I was in a position to submit something. Perhaps next year…

    Thanks for the encouraging post!

  6. To chime in another reason from a student perspective, the end of September is just not a good time for us to do anything. Which I’m sure plays into the fact that the deadline for student papers and posters falls much later in the process, which is great.

    But we also have session ideas (do we ever), and since many of us will have gotten back from the previous SAA and dove right into classes, meeting a September 30 deadline isn’t realistic. Having even an extra month would make a big difference in our ability to pull people together and develop an idea.

  7. I’m with Chela; there’s got to be a way to make the deadline closer to the conference. If discontinuing a printed, well-designed program in favor of a more prosaic list of sessions posted online means we could do this, I’m all for it.

    The research forum is great because it’s so agile. Maybe think about having more research forum-style presentations and fewer traditional sessions. It’s tough to field panels sometimes when what you’re interested in talking about is on the bleeding edge, no matter how well-connected you are.

  8. We could always experiment with a group of session blocks and see what would happen. I like the idea of mystery sessions that aren’t in the printed program — stuff that is presented because it is new or, like Chela’s comment, a result of longer-term processing of this year’s content. THATcamp style sessions that are composed on the fly at the meeting would also be fun. If new ways of doing things work and energize SAA’s membership, they could be extended to more or all of the program.

    • Wow! To say that I am shocked by the number of responses is an understatement. However I love the ideas that have been suggested and agree with Kate that leaning on what worked in the past is not a good thing if we want to be a flexible organization. Council is also discussing these comments and though it may be too late for this year I am betting that things will be different for the 2015 conference. Thanks again for the response and the reminder think creatively.

  9. The submission deadline has less to do with production deadlines than with the work of the Program Committee, the realities of communicating (well) with speakers, and the need to maintain accurate records. In general, here’s the process:

    • PROGRAM COMMITTEE REVIEW, COMMUNICATION WITH ALL PROPOSERS [10 to 14 weeks] All submissions are compiled into a workbook; each Program Committee member reviews and rates each proposal. All rankings are then compiled and discussed by the full Committee. The process of compiling proposals (staff), reviewing and rating them (Committee members), and then compiling results (staff) takes about 5 weeks. The Committee meeting occurs over three days in mid-November. After the Committee meets, the process of notifying proposers and chairs of accepts, declines (with reasons for decline), and revisions takes anywhere from 4 to 8 weeks because it occurs during November, December, and January, when many people are on vacation or winter break. (The revision process is the most time-consuming, of course, because it requires Program Committee members getting in touch with the proposer and chair, suggesting revisions, and negotiating until the session is accepted.)
    • OTHER ASSIGNMENTS [3 to 4 weeks] In mid- to late January, René and I are tied up with a Council meeting, a Foundation Board meeting, and preparing appointments materials for the Vice President, and the conference work is pretty much put on hold for 3 to 4 weeks.
    • DESCRIPTIONS AND ROSTERS CONFIRMED [4 weeks] In early February, the staff (primarily René) begins work with the Program Committee co-chairs and session chairs to confirm their session descriptions and confirm all speakers and their affiliations. This typically has taken about 4 weeks. (You’d be very surprised to learn the number of times that speakers who are listed on proposals have no idea that their names have been put forward on a proposal!)
    • POPULATING DATABASE FOR ONLINE SCHEDULE AND APP [4 weeks] Based on member feedback, we strive to launch the registration process by April 15. So that registrants are aware of what they’re registering for, we post the program by that date. We send materials to the designer on or about March 1 and have a finished PDF for posting by April 10 or so. At the same time, the staff is entering all corrected information into the database (to ensure that each member/nonmember record is correct) so that we can go live with the online version of the program no later than April 15.

    Thus the time from submission deadline to launch of registration has been about 24 weeks. Program Committee and staff effort has been especially devoted to ensuring that all proposers know the status of their proposal, whether declined or accepted, at the same time and before any information about proposal status is made public; ensuring that every speaker is aware that he or she will be presenting in August; and ensuring that session descriptions convey as accurately as possible what the attendee can expect from the session. (Some attendees are very reliant on the session descriptions as they make a case for employer funding.)

    Off the top of my head, here are some other ideas we might explore:

    • Extend the deadline into late October or early November and schedule the Program Committee meeting in early to mid-December.
    • Be less obsessive about ensuring that we establish contact with every proposer and chair about the status of their proposal, and just assume that our email notifications are received.
    • Forego the processes of confirming program descriptions and double checking that all presenters 1) are aware that their names and affiliations are appearing on the program and 2) are listed correctly. Instead, we could simply take the description that is provided and drop that into the PDF and online versions of the program.
    • Dispense with the PDF version of the Preliminary Program. (We currently provide it because 1) members have requested a way to easily print the entire program and 2) it saves us time when creating the Onsite Program because the majority of the program is already laid out.) We’re also considering doing away with the print version of the Onsite Program, although just 10% of registrants opted out of receiving the NOLA Onsite Program and many of them asked for one at the Registration Desk. Perhaps we should just go cold turkey and expect all attendees to use the new app!
    • Move the registration “live” date to May or even June. (Most attendees register during the two weeks before the Early-Bird deadline, which typically is the end of the first week in July.) But we must keep in mind that some SAA members work in institutions with a fiscal year that ends in June, which means they must allocate/spend their travel budgets well before then.
    • Look at a (much) later deadline and a different set of processes for sessions presented in newer and less formal formats. (A reward, if you will, for thinking creatively!)

    Other ideas? Please share them!

  10. Glad to see discussion of the short deadline. I appreciate the comments from Chela Weber, Kate Theimer, Nancy Beaumont and Danna C. Bell. In some instances, proposed sessions are percolating for some time well in advance of the prior conference and getting a proposal in the month following may be doable. In other cases, what happens at the conference – what we hear in formal sessions or informally — stimulates proposals for the next one. In many such cases, September just does not allow for enough time to get panelists on board even provisionally and to submit a proposal. Good to see discussion of how SAA can be more responsive and nimble on some of this, including what are the timing and logistical obstacles.

  11. Yes, this is a great discussion! I like the idea of pushing the process back to allow more time for people to get together to create ideas. I also like the idea of leaving some blocks open for creation of sessions closer to the conference which would hopefully reflect most recent conversations and issues in the archival community.

    I personally appreciate the printed version of the program. My iPhone could not connect to the hotel’s more general WiFi, so I was stuck with only being able to really use it in my hotel room.

  12. Thank you for your feedback, Nancy! I’m interested in hearing what former Program Committee members have to say about the overall process.In an ideal world, what steps would they keep? What steps would they eliminate? What changes would they make? Their feedback would be beneficial to this discussion.

  13. Susan D'Entremont

    I think not “obsessively checking” with people on the program is a good idea. It’s nice to have your name and affiliation correct in the program, but if SAA shifts to this model, more onus can be on the session organizer to get things right. Also, even with this model I’ve been to lots of sessions that didn’t really match the description in the program, so it may not be worth the effort, especially since the descriptions are written well in advance.

    I also have no problem getting a simple black & white program early with some blank spaces in it. I’d rather that than people declining to submit proposals on “bleeding edge” topics because they are not quite sure of what they will do so far in advance.

    It is also OK to not have printed programs at the conference, as long as a pdf is available and you notify people clearly that they will need to print it out ahead of time. Several regional professional groups do that.

    Please, though, do not rely solely on the app. I don’t have a smart phone – choose to use my grand archivist’s salary in other ways – and, as another person pointed out, even those with smartphones can have many reasons why they aren’t working at the time of the conference.

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