One of the stated goals of Psi Chi is to "encourage, stimulate, and maintain excellence in scholarship of the individual members in all fields, particularly in psychology, and to advance the science of psychology." However, a successful chapter must also subscribe to a number of other unstated goals if it is to achieve the stated goal. First, although Psi Chi is not a social organization, it is an organization of people. To be effective, the chapter must have members who participate as well as belong. To that end, the chapter must motivate the membership to take an active role in chapter activities, and an effective way of accomplishing that is to make the activities interesting and rewarding. Second, a Psi Chi chapter does not exist in a vacuum, either on the host campus, in the host community, or within the parent discipline of psychology. Also, members of Psi Chi rank, by definition, in the top third of their peer group and excel in a demanding scientific discipline. To avoid even the appearance of insularity or elitism, members must overtly interact with other people in and around their host institution. To remain current, members must also interact with other individuals in psychology. Thirdly, Psi Chi is an honor society and its members must act as role models for other students and as representatives for the chapter, the society, the host institution, and the discipline. Finally, in far too many instances, the chapters are passive in their approach to activities, providing speakers or demonstrations with little opportunity for individual members to become actively involved in a dynamic interchange of abilities or ideas.
At TCU, we have addressed all of these concerns by hosting our own student research convention. Such a convention serves as a forum for students to make their first professional research presentation in a nonthreatening environment. It also serves as a vehicle for promoting the interchange of ideas and perspectives between chapters and may stimulate cooperative projects between students and departments at difference institutions. This is of particular value when one school may lack resources or facilities that are readily available at another school. A professional meeting will also focus attention on the host institution and the influx of individuals will benefit the community. Finally, such a meeting is a complex affair to arrange and will require the active participation of many people if it is to run smoothly. The planning and implementation of such a convention will be a daunting task, but will foster a spirit of cooperation and unity within a chapter and, once completed, will instill in the members of the host chapter a feeling of accomplishment and pride in themselves, their chapter, their school, and their discipline.
To host a convention, a chapter must address three general areas: (1) planning and organization, (2) publicizing the meeting and encouraging participation, and (3) implementing the plan. I offer the following suggestions as guidelines.
Planning and Organization
The first important thing to keep in mind is to allow plenty of time. This type of activity should never be undertaken at the last minute. Establish a convention committee and assign specific tasks to each person and then meet regularly to discuss individual problems. Secondly, always have a precise written plan with definite interim goals and deadlines. Each goal should represent a specific portion of the convention and the deadlines should be generous, but absolute. In the last few months before the convention, all committee chairs should be assigned additional members from the chapter to serve under their direction to ensure that each task is accomplished.
1. Start your planning at least a year in advance of the anticipated date of the convention.
2. Your convention committee should include individuals with responsibility to address
- arranging for the rooms, overhead projectors, tables, chairs, and other physical facilities;
- putting together a list of schools to invite, identifying the chapter presidents or sponsors at those schools, putting together a packet of information and a registration form to send to each of these schools, mailing those packets, and following up with phone calls to ensure that the packets arrived;
- arranging for refreshments, meals, water, and other amenities during the meeting, identifying local hotels and restaurants that will offer discounts to participants, and putting together a comprehensive list of those hotels and restaurants along with a map of the campus and the surrounding area showing the location of the hotels and restaurants;
- receiving and scheduling papers, organizing and printing the program, and sending out letters to the presenters telling them when and where they will present; and
- arranging for services during the convention such as manning the registration table, putting up signs to various facilities, printing name badges, and acting as hosts to assist people in locating meeting rooms, restrooms, the cafeteria, etc. The chair of the committee and the sponsor should oversee the activities of the other members, assist when necessary, and ensure that all members are meeting their deadlines.
3. At your initial meeting, decide exactly what you plan to do during the convention. Will you have a hospitality suite? Will you have an invited speaker? Will you have a luncheon or dinner? Will you have papers or posters or both? What provisions must be made if you receive more submissions than you can handle--will you run the convention an extra day or open another meeting room? Will you maintain an undergraduate and graduate school information exchange room? Will you invite exhibitors and, if so, will they be commercial exhibitors (book companies, etc.) or will they be local service organizations (halfway houses, support groups, etc.)?
4. Draw up a large poster-size master plan (PERT Chart?) of all the individual tasks to be accomplished and indicate deadlines on the chart. Post the chart where all members can see it!
5. With your master plan drawn up and your committee appointed, sit down with your departmental chair and anyone else he or she suggests and solicit their input and assistance. Our chair has agreed to provide printing, mailing, and telephone support. The administration agreed to provide on-campus facilities to house our invited speaker and facilitated the reservation of physical facilities for the convention. Once you have official sanction and support, you should assess your resources and determine how much money you will need to raise. This will determine the fee you must charge for registration and participation. This fee should include all convention activities (hospitality suite, luncheon or dinner, etc.).
6. Select the schools you wish to invite. Do not be afraid to include schools some distance away. Many chapters will travel as much as five hours to reach you and some departments will allow them to use institutional vans to make the trip. We have had a few people drive as much as ten hours to attend. Send your packet and invitations at least three months in advance. It is better to send them early in the preceding semester. Send the packets to an individual (chapter president or sponsor) whenever possible. Follow up with telephone calls once or twice to ensure that the packets arrived and as a reminder.
7. Your packet should include an original letter (not a photocopy) of invitation signed by the chapter president and faculty sponsor, a page of information (what, when, where, and how much) detailing the convention activities, a small poster suitable for copying that lists the convention date, place, etc., and two or three copies of the registration and submission form (with a note that they may be copied for additional people). You should require that all people attending send in separate registration forms and that all student paper submissions should have their faculty sponsor's signature.
8. Registration at the convention should be an option for those who decide at the last minute. Last-minute paper submissions should not be accepted. Allow about a month and half before the date of the convention as the final deadline for accepting paper submissions and stick to it! Otherwise you may find yourself trying to edit and print your program two days before the date of the convention.
9. A word about registration fees. Make your fees realistic! Do not attempt to make money from the fees. These are students that are applying and large fees may discourage them from attending. We have been able to hold our fees to $15 or less (including the luncheon!) by aggressive fundraising activities. On the other hand, registration at the convention should be a couple of dollars more than preregistration to encourage preregistration.
10. When people send in registration forms, set aside a packet of information on hotels, restaurants, etc. for them and mail it ASAP. You will probably not be able to include a program, unless you have two mailings--one with hotel information and another with the program in it. You should have a telephone contact person available to answer questions after your invitations go out. Our chair allows the departmental secretary to do this.
11. When you have reached your submission deadline, you need to create and print the program. The program should be done as neatly and professionally as possible (many computer programs allow you to design professional-looking publications), since this is the image you are conveying to potential participants. As soon as you have assigned times to all presenters, send them a letter telling them where and when they will present. If you do not send out programs to preregistered participants, you should have them available at the registration table along with a name tag to ensure that each person gets one. This also helps you to control printing costs. We have found that, with the preregistration and telephone calls, we can use about 10 to 15 percent of the number of people who preregister as an estimate of those who will register on the day of the convention.
12. If you plan a luncheon or dinner, assume that all who have registered will attend unless they specifically tell you that they will not. You should have a place on the registration form for people to check if they will not be attending. This will help you plan for the number of plates to order. It is unrealistic to plan a steak and lobster dinner, but you should also avoid cheap meals. With an accurate estimate of attendees, your cafeteria manager or caterer can help you plan a reasonable meal. You should have a nonmeat (healthy choice) alternative available.
13. You should discourage smoking in the convention rooms and at the meal. On the other hand, you will have people attending who smoke. Designate a smoking area or room inside the building.
14. During paper sessions, have someone stationed at the door to prevent people from entering or leaving while presenters are speaking. You should also designate someone as the timer. Allow 15 to 20 minutes per paper, including questions, and instruct your timer to hold up cards signifying five minutes, two minutes, and one minute remaining. Most people will comply with the time limit. If a presenter runs over, have your timer wait for the presenter to pause and then stand, thank the presenter for the paper, signify that the presenter will be available to answer questions later, and call for the next paper.
15. At all times during the convention, you should have members of the chapter available as hosts or hostesses to offer help, answer questions, and direct people wherever they need to go.
16. Your registration table should be manned early, and you should have a typewriter on hand to make name tags for those who register at the door.
17. Whenever possible, cohost the convention with another school to spread out the work and the expense. This also spreads out the credit and builds rapport with other chapters.
18. Have someone on hand to take photographs. If you have an invited speaker or renown guest, many people will want to have their picture taken with that person. It is best if you can arrange for the students from each chapter to pose in a group. That way, you can send them a group photo with the guest for their archives. Always try to obtain the names of everyone in the group so you can identify them later.
19. It is better to have a luncheon than a dinner, since many people will want to leave after the paper sessions to drive home. On the other hand, people will arrive the night before and you might plan to have a hospitality suite to welcome them. Also, coffee or juice and donuts in the morning are always welcome.
We are preparing our fourth annual convention and we have learned from each one. No two are alike and you will never have one that runs absolutely smoothly. Be adaptable and you will be able to solve almost all of the last-minute problems that may arise. Your biggest enemy will be a lack of preparation on your part. You cannot expect to "wing it" and have it work out well. However, with appropriate planning and thoughtful participation by all, you will have an activity that will reflect credit on you, your chapter, your department, and your school. It will also give your members a sense of pride in themselves. Most importantly, it will "encourage, stimulate, and maintain excellence in scholarship of the individual members in all fields, particularly in psychology."
Spring 1993 issue of the Psi Chi Newsletter (Vol. 19, No. 2, pp. 6-7), published by Psi Chi, The National Honor Society in Psychology (Chattanooga, TN). Copyright, 1993, Psi Chi, The National Honor Society in Psychology. All rights reserved.