Check the session order at your conferences

Cross-posted from What is it Like.

After I was placed in the very last session of two consecutive conference programs, I started noticing that those very last sessions of conferences, which hardly anyone attends, and last sessions of the day, during which nobody can concentrate, are where most of the female speakers get stuck. Just the latest example I was perusing has 4 female speakers out of 49, and 3 are in the last sessions of the day, 1 in the second last. At least there’s always the old “I have to leave early to get home to my kids” excuse for switching to an earlier session.

I’d love to know how widespread this is, so do tell us in comments!

8 thoughts on “Check the session order at your conferences

  1. My recent conferences:

    Not true at Arizona Workshop in Normative Ethics.
    Not true at Madison Metaethics Workshop.
    Not true at St. Louis Annual Conference on Reasons and Rationality.

    Maybe it’s different at more ethics-y conferences?

    Come to think of it, the session I attended in the final slot of the Washington APA had a woman headliner, and the one I plan to attend in the final slot of the Chicago APA has two. But I haven’t noticed this as an APA trend.

  2. I thought that there was some research suggesting that the first and the last of a series of events were better remembered. If that’s right, taking the last session might not be a bad thing. But I’m not sure where I got that information from so take it with a pinch of salt.

  3. Shamik: I’m not sure about which sessions are better remembered, but I’ve certainly participated in planning conferences in which the “most interesting” speakers were given what we considered the prime spots: mid-morning, and just before lunch. The idea was that participants often arrive late for early morning sessions, or are not fully awake; that big conference lunches tend to impact the quality of the questions immediately after lunch; and that conference fatigue tends to set in by the end of the day. So speakers in the mid- to late-morning sessions tend to get the best questions.

    This decision was of course made without explicit regard to gender — though it won’t come as a surprise to many readers to learn that the “most interesting” speakers tend to be male.

    Keynote speakers, on the other hand, typically get the last session of the day, in my experience — presumably because the conference organizers want to keep as many people through the end of the day as possible, or because it simplifies the logistics of taking the keynote speaker to dinner, etc.

  4. Heidi — yeah, I agree that if conference fatigue sets in (or, as the original post suggests, fewer people attend!) then it’s worse going last.

    The best conferences I’ve attended have lots of breaks during the day with fun things to do. One good consequence of this (as well as being fun!) is that there seems to be less conference fatigue and much more energy during all the sessions, whether morning or afternoon. I imagine this is not possible for all conferences, but it might be worth considering when planning a conference.

  5. I’m presenting at one of the last sessions on the last day of the Pacific APA, so I took a quick peek at the schedule. The balance for those sessions did not seem to be particularly female-heavy, but I guess it’s worth noting that there’s a feminist philosophy colloquium that is last/last.

    One downside is that I would have loved to attend the feminism colloquium, but I’m presenting at the same time!

  6. I’ve wondered about this every time I’m at or very near the end of a conference. I don’t think it is typical of my experience, though, and I often note some very good sessions are there.

    Do we think that the sessions the program committee thinks will be the most valuable shouldn’t be put at prime times, supposing there are some? This becomes a practical question for me regarding the central APA.

    So far in our planning, I should say, I’d be hard put to think some were better than others. Hooray for the program committee!

  7. Shamik, Research by John Dovidio seems to show that contributions at conferences by outsiders (i.e., those in the minority) are much less well remembered than those by the insiders. Relatedly, gatherings at the bar/dinning room/smoker rarely discuss papers by the outsiders.

  8. Many conferences I attend are small conferences at which everyone is expected to attend every session. At these conferences, opening or closing slots do not get smaller audiences.

    For other conferences I have organized, I have tried to put wonderful speakers who would be an audience draw in the first and last slots. Happily, I can say that plemty of women have been in this category. In my circles, the people known to give awesome talks prominently include some amazing women. (BTW, these are analytic philosophy circles, without much feminist philosophy.)

    Similarly, even for conferences at which attendance is required, when organizing I try to put excellent speakers in challenging time slots. When women end up in these slots, it’s no insult.

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