IMCC4 Wins Major Award

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By Edward Hind-Ozan

Exciting news here at IMCC HQ! Dr. Brett Favaro, co-chair of the recent 4th International Marine Conservation Congress (IMCC4), last month received the ‘Award of Distinction to a Local Conference Chair’ at the Destination St John’s annual award ceremony. When presented the award at St. John’s City Hall, Dr. Favaro was told the award was due to efforts that had been made to extend the conference to the local community. With over 100 conferences held in St. John’s held in 2016, the recognition is significant.

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IMCC4 Co-Chair, Dr. Brett Favaro recieves the ‘Award of Distinction to a Local Conference Chair’ from the Mayor of St. John’s and the CEO of Destination St. John’s. (image: City of St. John’s)

As the late-arriving Deputy Chair of IMCC4, I’m not at all surprised that Dr. Favaro was honoured with this award. The ideas that he and Co-Chair, Samantha Oester (she is equally worthy of this award, but it was a local awards ceremony), came up with made IMCC4 the next-level meeting that so many of you enjoyed. The City of St. John’s were impressed with the workshops that were held pre-conference, the beach cleanup that delegates took part in, our embracing of the truly fantastic George Street Festival as part of the congress’ extracurricular program, and the Tales from the Sea public storytelling session LSPU Hall.

I had a chance to catch up with Dr. Favaro over e-mail this week, and he was happy to talk more about why IMCC4 won the award. For him, just as significant as the conference’s outreach program, was the fact that St. John’s was made to be the star of the show, not just any host city. Favaro told me, “We really pushed to integrate the conference to the local environment – this wasn’t just a bunch of people flying into the convention centre, it was a cultural experience in many ways. We wanted people to bring their knowledge to this place to help us manage our oceans better, and we wanted them to take away an experience that they will remember after.”

Most gratifying, perhaps, is reviewing the list of meetings that IMCC4 was competing alongside in winning this award. St. Johns is home to important fishing and hydrocarbon industries, each represented by their own meetings, so for a marine conservation meeting to top that list is quite something. Dr. Favaro believes this is partly down to the message IMCC4 sent with its commitments to sustainability and equality, with events like the sustainable seafood dinner, and policies like the meeting accessibility policy delivered in collaboration with local inclusivity organisation, inclusionNL.

Dr. Favaro was also quick to emphasise that although the IMCC4’s award was for a local chair, “it takes a village”. He shares it with the whole Organising Committee, especially congress co-chair Samantha Oester and now IMCC5 Meeting Manager, Travis Nielsen of Azurigen Management and Consulting Solutions Inc.

And, it’s also important we share this award with you, our delegates. You constantly push us to organise meetings that are worthwhile for marine conservation, while also ethical and inclusive in their delivery. Many of you, quite rightfully, wouldn’t attend the meetings if they weren’t. In my current capacity as IMCC5 Chair, I look to the initiatives that landed this award, as the standard I must meet. We need to make Kuching as central in the next International Marine Conservation Congress as St. John’s was in the last, and this is our intention. Our organising committee has already met with several local stakeholder groups to ensure we do this, and we’ll soon begin to announce local initiatives to take part around IMCC5 on this blog. To foster greater inclusivity, we’re looking into providing telepresence attendance. In short, IMCC4’s success will make IMCC5 better a meeting, one we hope you’ll enjoy as much.


Edward Hind-Ozan was the IMCC4 Deputy Chair. He is currently IMCC5 Chair and Vice President of the Society for Conservation Biology (SCB) Marine Section.

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The advantages and benefits of volunteering and helping with conference organization

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By Heather Penney

I am finishing my PhD in biology. Throughout my career I have volunteered with several conferences, both by convenience (several were held in my town, hosted by my university) and by passion. As a grad student, I have gained unparalleled experience and networking opportunities from volunteering conferences, and I have had benefits that I did not expect. I haven’t volunteered at every conference I’ve been to, but volunteering helped me stay afloat in the sea of people and maybe it could help you too! The following are my person positive experiences that I hope will convince you of how great volunteering can be!

  1. Networking

Peers:

I have met wonderful people, who ended up being very good and probably life-long friends through volunteering. I have met people from all over the world, gained new Twitter followers and people to follow, and I know some folks have had some unexpected collaborations that have resulted in publications simply from sitting down for a coffee or beer with a person whose work they found interesting and met through volunteering. Our peers are potentially our future coworkers, and it’s hugely beneficial to connect with them! Volunteering is an excellent way to meet other grad students, both those who are also volunteering and those students that ask questions because they see the ‘volunteer’ on the back of your shirt.

Conference organizers:

Planning a conference is a LOT of work. I have established relationships with many professionals (including government and faculty members) that I would not have otherwise had the opportunity to work with, and this has also resulted in collaborations and importantly, reference letters! They get to know you and your work ethic, which is key at the start of your career. For some folks these collaborations have resulted in jobs, graduate positions, and post-docs, simply because they helped the conference organizers with the conference. Talk about a boon to your career!

People you really wanted to talk to:

Volunteering can be a great way to break the ice. You have an excuse to talk to people, and they have an excuse to talk to you. Talking with giants in your field can be very intimidating, just walking up and saying “Hi my name is…” is often difficult, for some of us, and volunteering can give you a reason, and the courage to go introduce yourself!

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Conferences are often a sea of unfamiliar people. Volunteering is a great way to help you break the ice and make all kinds of new friendships (© Matt Tietbohl)
  1. Developing Different Skill Sets

I don’t know about you, but my Master’s degree was entirely focused on science and writing. These things make a good scientist. However, there is more to conservation than just science! In my PhD, I have made a conscious effort to further develop into a well-rounded citizen, in addition to improving my skills as a scientist. The following are some additional skills I have developed from volunteering:

Administrative duties

No matter what kind of job you get after grad school, there will inevitably be administrative aspects. Conference organizing has a lot of administrative requirements like scheduling, budgeting, and advertising. There are not many other times in grad school that you get these opportunities, which can make your CV more competitive when you apply for jobs.

Communication

Often volunteering to help organize a conference means that you are asking people for things. Maybe booking a room, finding out something for a conference guest, or emailing about fundraising or donations. Cold calling or emailing someone is in fact a skill. Writing emails or having telephone calls can be awkward, and one way to get better at it is to practice doing it. Having an excuse and a reason to do it, i.e. the conference needs you to find out something, is excellent practice and can help you conquer some anxiety associated with awkward social situations –  I know it definitely helped me!

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Keni Rienks, a volunteer at IMCC4, helping out at the Ocean Optimism booth in St. John’s, Newfoundland. (© IMCC4)
  1. What would a conference look like without volunteers?

Most academic conferences run on volunteers! Conferences need people to organize them, often beginning years in advance. The heavy lifting is usually done by professionals already involved (like professors, government scientists and NGO employees), but the fact is those professionals delegate at least some of their workload to graduate student volunteers, and they keep everything running smoothly.

If we had to pay people to do the work that volunteers do, no academic conference would ever happen because it would simply be either a terribly organized conference or it would substantially more expensive, likely prohibitively so! For example, most of us have tried to schedule a meeting with our supervisory committee, say 3 to 5 people. Sometimes trying to just schedule that meeting is a juggling act. Now imagine, 50 people at a conference, with registration desk, talk scheduling, food and beverages and social activities. Now imagine 600 people! You can see how volunteers quickly become more and more important, and honestly make these meetings happen.

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Volunteers are the bread & butter that help make conferences run! They are the folks both behind the scenes and right in front of you that help ensure a successful conference experience (© Matt Tietbohl)
  1. Financial incentives

We all know conferences can be expensive between flights, accommodations, and the registration fees. More often than not conference organizers are able to provide discounts for their volunteers, which makes attending conferences possible. Over the course of my PhD, I have attended 5 conferences that had a registration fee. Of those, my supervisor only had to pay the full registration fee for two of them (which I didn’t volunteer at), because for those three ‘free’ conferences I volunteered my time and I got at least a partial discount. Without volunteering I would not have been able to attend IMCC4!

My department has an Annual Biology Graduate Symposium. It has remained free for everyone, students, staff and faculty for the last 11 years because graduate students volunteer their time. Subsequently, that is 5 more presentations that I would not have done otherwise, because without volunteers that symposium would not happen. So stuck in a bit of a financial rut? Volunteering could be the difference maker to get you to IMCC5!

Volunteering makes conferences happen, they benefit you and your career, plus, it’s fun! Volunteers can help as much or as little as they want. Every little task counts. Volunteering is just what it is, volunteering. No one will make you do something you aren’t comfortable with or don’t have time to do.

 

If you are interested in volunteering at IMCC5, stay tuned! We will be sharing information about volunteering soon, once registration opens in early January! We hope to see you volunteering at IMCC5!!

Cheers, your friendly neighborhood IMCC5 Volunteer Coordinator!

Heather Penney