[Coral-List] ICRS costs

Heather Dewar hdewar at earthlink.net
Fri Jul 22 12:57:57 EDT 2011


Thanks for your generosity in sharing this listserve with non- 
scientists. It has helped me do my work better. I'm an environmental  
journalist, not a coral scientist, so I'm ignorant of a great many  
things - but the funding model that Dr. Richmond describes for the  
12th ICRS seems very different than the funding model for  
professional conferences I've attended.

I've helped plan a couple of the 21 national conferences of the  
Society of Environmental Journalists, which draw well over 1,000  
attendees from the U.S. and other countries. (I'm not an officer of  
the organization and never have been, so what follows isn't  
authoritative.) Unlike ICRS attendees, most SEJ attendees are from  
North America, though there is a fellowship program that subsidizes a  
few attendees from overseas. Keeping registration fees low is a high  
priority, since the overwhelming majority of members pay 100% of  
their conference costs out of their own pockets, usually giving up  
vacation days to do so.

To keep costs down, SEJ lines up grant support before choosing the  
conference site. In fact, site selection is heavily influenced by the  
amount of financial aid being offered by the sponsor and host, which  
must be an academic institution - usually a university. This  
financial aid comes in a number of forms: the use of conference and  
exhibit space, audio, video and computer equipment, and professional  
meeting planners; subsidies for coffee breaks, local transportation,  
printing, canvas goodie bags etc.; sponsorship of receptions and  
other events; and cash. SEJ moves the conference around the country  
from year to year to get a good cross-section of relevant issues, and  
to make the meeting accessible to members who can't afford long- 
distance travel. We usually have more than one institution bidding to  
host the conference, and the amounts of the potential hosts' pledges  
are a major factor in site selection. Thus, we have the essential  
financial aid locked in before we commit to a site. If we can't get a  
sponsor at the site we want - well, we deal with our disappointment  
and go some place we can afford.

I attended the Fort Lauderdale ICRS, and though our professions are  
different, our conferences are very similar (down to the unofficial  
dress code; our tribe's customs are a lot like yours). We have about  
the same number of attendees; have at least as many field trips to  
remote outdoor sites, as well as post-conference tours, with all the  
associated costs of boat, bus and gear rental and the labor involved  
in planning them; cover about the same number of days, plenaries,  
topical tracks and small group sessions; attract speakers of national  
and international prominence within our fields; require about the  
same meeting and exhibit space, equipment, local transportation, etc.  
SEJ does have a small staff. One staffer works nearly full-time on  
the annual conference and the 3-4 other staffers pitch in as needed,  
and a professional meeting planner handles registration and some  
logistics. But most of the work for the conference - everything from  
persuading potential host institutions to make a bid, to arranging  
field trips and lining up plenary speakers - is done by member  

SEJ early bird fees this year are $195 for members, $80 for students.  
Non-member rates range from $510 for individuals to $1,100 for  

I wonder if ISRS has ever considered this funding model - sponsorship  
and grant commitments prior to site selection?

Admittedly there is a big difference between a national and an  
international conference. It's unlikely that many developing  
countries have sponsor institutions willing to bid for the privilege  
of hosting ICRS, so that would probably limit your selection to First  
World countries. That would be unfortunate. But is it more  
unfortunate than having many students and scientists unable to even  
consider attending because the registration fees are so high?

You may think SEJ has an easy time attracting sponsors because a  
journalist's group offers good publicity to the host institution. In  
fact SEJ conference contracts explicity deny the host any content  
control and make it plain there is no guarantee the host institution  
(or any of its faculty or programs) will get press coverage of any  
kind. In the pre-conference discussions that I've taken part in, we  
stressed those points repeatedly and rejected most of the host's  
suggestions for speakers and session topics. And the Fort Lauderdale  
ICRS produced far more press coverage than any SEJ conference ever  
has, by an order of magnitude. (That may be an artifact of that ICRS'  
North American location, and not typical.) In fact, maintaining a  
professionally-staffed press room seems to be one of only two  
conference expenses that SEJ does not share with ICRS; the other is  
the publication of conference abstracts.

I look forward to learning why this model could or could not work for  

BTW, this year's SEJ conference is in Miami Oct. 19-23 , so coral  
science is definitely on the agenda, and some of this listserve's  
members will be sharing their expertise with us.


Heather Dewar

Heather Dewar
environment writer
hdewar at earthlink.net
Twitter: @HJDewar

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