Writing a conference proposal?

Conferences, symposia, workshops and more

Are you writing a conference proposal? Conference grants are quite helpful for researchers as it brings us together to discuss cutting edge topics, train students and postdocs to hone their presentation or writing skills, serves as career development, networking and so much more. When writing a conference proposal, your program manager may tell you to put the funds in participant support. The Office of Management and Budget’s (OMB) Uniform Administrative Requirements, Cost Principles, and Audit Requirements for Federal Awards (commonly called “Uniform Guidance“) on participant support is terse. Institutions vary on how to interpret federal guidelines on participant support. At OSU, this line item has severe restrictions, so make sure that your conference meets OSRAA’s policy on what can be considered a ‘participant’. Below are some tips when assembling a conference proposal.

When writing a conference grant, consider the following:

  1. What is your goal? Is this training, discussion on a specific cutting edge topic, information gathering, progress report, policy guidance, something else?
  2. Who is your audience? Researchers? Students (training), invited speakers? Policy Makers? Administrators?
  3. What will the audience get out of it? Will you have moderators or speakers? Will the speakers participate in other parts of the conference? Will this be a ‘train the trainer’ type of proposal?
Nomenclature of the Conference attendee

Please note that these definitions are not mutually exclusive. Therefore, you should consider the proposal language when describing attendees’ roles if you plan to budget their expenses under Participant Support Costs. For example, you might say faculty participants rather than panelists or speakers and explain what they will be doing and learning throughout the event, not just during their session.

Adapted from: http://velvetchainsaw.com/2010/08/05/registrant-attendee-or-participant-importance-of-right-conference-word/

  • Registrant – a person who is formally registers for a meeting or conference, usually for a fee
  • Attendee – one who is present or attends a function or a person who participates in a meeting
  • Participant – one that participates, shares or takes part in a meeting
  • Learner – one that gains knowledge, comprehension or mastery through experience or study; someone who learns or takes knowledge or beliefs; one that is learning; one that is acquiring new knowledge, behaviors, skills, values or preferences (e.g. a ‘student’ or a participant)
  • Speaker – a student, postdoc, faculty or researcher who gives an oral or poster presentation of her/his project in a moderated session at a conference or other meeting (note that by OSRAA guidelines, this description is not a participant and thus would not be reimbursed under participant support).
  • Lecturer – a speaker of authority who presents a topic to an audience for learning purposes
  • Moderator, Facilitator – one or more individuals who lead a group of participants for training purposes (thus not a participant). In some cases, this person may charge a fee for their professional services as a consultant
  • Keynote Speaker – a person of authority with credentials in a field to give a high level overview of his/her career or work
  • Plenary Speaker or Facilitator – someone with authority to stimulate input and discussion by participants to come to conclusion for action
Types of conferences
  • Conference
  • Symposium
  • Seminar
  • Colloquium
  • Workshop
  • Roundtable

Conferences can be large society meetings (e.g. SACNAS, ACS, AAAS), smaller annual conferences for Centers or targeted focus groups (Wikipedia)

  • Attendees/participants are students, academic, industry or government researchers, sometimes administrators
  • Participants submit abstracts to present data (oral or poster), engage colleagues, get feedback, learn to hone presentation skills, learn from others in the field, network
  • Attendees could be a speaker in one session and a learner/participant in another session
  • Conferences usually have one or more keynote or plenary speaker(s). These speakers are lecturers who present a high level overview of their own work or career.

A Symposium is a meeting or small scale conference in an academic setting where participants are experts in their fields. The experts present or deliver their opinions or viewpoints on a chosen topic for discussion. Symposia are particularly good for student speakers as it allows them to practice and get feedback on their own work.

Seminars, Colloquium 
  • Seminars are a type of conference or other meeting typically designed for training. Departments often host regular seminars of student speakers or invited guests.
  • Colloquia are informal meetings or seminars on a broad topic usually led by a different lecturer at each meeting.
Roundtables and Workshops
  • Round table discussions: Participants discuss a specific topic. Each person around the table interactively participates.
  • Workshops are usually interactive training where participants actively engage in activities rather then passively listening to a lecturer. Workshops are usually moderated by a lecturer or facilitiator.