Planning a conference is a big job, but I learned first hand as a volunteer for the American Geophysical Union (AGU) Fall Planning committee meeting.
AGU receives around 1,400 abstracts which must be scheduled either as a poster or presentation in the scientific program. Most people want oral presentation spots, but there isn’t always enough time, so a team of scientists from each section fly to Washington, DC to decide. Sometimes there are more sessions than available rooms and nobody wants their session to be Friday afternoon, the last day of the conference. As you can see, planning it all out involves a lot of thought and discussion.
Because the schedule is being switched constantly, we move around (lots) index cards on (lots) boards until the it is just right. As a volunteer, I helped with entering the schedules into the system, checking to make sure sure speakers aren’t “double booked” and make sure the formatting followed the standards.
I used to think a computer planned all of this, but in reality it involves a lot of discussion over three long days of work from the organizers, scientists, and perhaps a few student volunteers. These opportunities are great for getting involved – check out AGU’s website for chances to volunteer for the Fall Meeting.