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Eye on Psi Chi: Summer 2012
Implementing a Successful Student Research Conference
Thelma Pinheiro, University of La Verne (CA)

Planning a student research conference may seem like an intimidating venture, but with enough determination and effort, it can be in any Psi Chi chapter’s reach. Implementing a student research conference not only boosts chapter recognition on campus, but also increases opportunities for students. Student research conferences provide students with the opportunity to present research, hear distinguished professionals in the field, network, and increase professional development. Creating an event of this magnitude brings the experience and feeling of a large- scale conference to a local level to students who are unable to travel to regional and national conferences. This experience also provides students the opportunity to prepare themselves for larger-scale conferences by enabling students to practice presenting research to an audience. Students are able to develop dialogue skills that are required to present at a poster session while in a comfortable environment among their peers. Yet, the mere notion of planning a conference may appear daunting to some, which keeps many chapters from pursuing this endeavor. Establishing a student research conference is like any event that requires planning, fund-raising, and teamwork. With enough support and ambition, any chapter can implement a student research conference on its campus.

Initial Meeting
Prior to planning anything, it is pivotal that members of the chapter’s executive board meet with their advisor. As previously noted, this is a large step for a chapter and requires a lot of resources, so getting advisor and member support is essential. This phase of the planning process is imperative to ensure all board members are on the same page. All board members play a key role in making the event a success. If some officers are opposed to the idea and workload, further discussion is needed. A chapter should never begin a large project without officers and most members supporting the idea. Therefore, it is imperative that a vote take place among the chapter’s executive board and at a meeting for member approval. Once officers and most members have approved the idea, the chapter should establish the date and location of the event. It is crucial to think ahead and allow enough time for planning, fund-raising, and organization. Ideally, a chapter should plan its conference for the following year. When the chapter has finalized the date of the event, reservations need to be made for the location.

Preliminary Planning
The executive board and faculty advisor should establish a conference theme and contact potential speakers. However, when selecting a theme, the chapter should consider its scope of reach. Does the chapter want to open the conference to psychology research only or does the chapter want to open the conference to the entire campus regardless of the area of research? Although a theme is not required, it may help to narrow down speaker options, make planning easier, and entice more students to attend. There are various subfields within the general psychology field, so finding a new theme each year for a conference should not be a problem. Rather, it may be more difficult to narrow down your options due to the abundance of excellent topics available. For example, our chapter held its first conference in April 2011 around the theme of the multiculturalism in psychology.

Once speakers and topics have been finalized, a schedule of events should be drafted. The schedule should outline the entire conference day including the time and location of where presentations will take place. Reservations for a room on campus may need to be made as far as one year in advance. When the schedule is finalized, the chapter may begin publicizing the conference. Submission guidelines should be made available on a chapter’s school website, at chapter meetings, and in the psychology department of the institution.

Because the focus of the conference is on research, it is pivotal to establish research submission guidelines. These guidelines should include important deadlines, conference information, research requirements and/or restrictions, and research award information. Although research awards are optional, it is encouraged to have some monetary awards for outstanding research. The focus of the conference is to invigorate students to conduct research and earn recognition for outstanding work. Thus, having research awards will entice students to present and encourage more students to present at future conferences.

The key to a successful conference is fund-raising, because without funds, chapters will have a difficult time advertising the event, providing food for attendees, and having essential conference supplies, such as programs, name badges, and signs for the event. Chapters should fund-raise according to the extent of the conference they plan to host. For instance, if chapters plan to invite other chapters or institutions to participate in their event, more funds are required due to the higher attendance. A budget for a conference will vary depending on the number of attendees, honorariums for speakers, cost of research awards, refreshments, attendee gifts, programs, and other expenses. Thus, chapters should create a budget and do their best to spend funds appropriately. A chapter may spend between $2,000 and $5,000 for a conference serving approximately 100 attendees. In order to fund for the conference, chapters may consider applying a registration fee to help with costs.

Fund-raising should begin as soon as the conference date is confirmed to allow time for accumulating funds. Chapters should plan at least three fund-raising events each semester. Possible fund-raisers include bake sales, raffles, restaurant events, car washes, and rummage sales. Successful fund-raisers can make $200 to $800 if multiple members participate, and it is crucial that chapters start early. Chapters may also seek assistance from their psychology department. In most cases, departments have funds available for student activities that promote the department or discipline. Various universities’ student government board’s also have funding available for student organizations and simply require the organization to make a presentation, fill out a form, and/or provide a letter of recommendation. At times, the student government may provide enough funding to cover half of the cost of the event. Some student governments may also have requirements that must be met in order for funding to be given. It is advised that the chapter executive board and faculty advisor communicate with its university student government regarding requirements for funding.

Additionally, Psi Chi has an undergraduate research conference grant program that assists chapters that wish to start their own conference. This Psi chi grant awards chapters up to $1,000 for the purpose of implementing a student research conference. If interested in obtaining funding from Psi Chi, chapters must submit an application and a detailed description regarding the conference the chapter plans to implement. The deadline to submit materials for this award is October 1. Information regarding the grant and submission requirements are available on the Psi Chi website. Chapters should not rely solely on one funding source. Chapters may need to use multiple fund-raising sources listed in order to accumulate enough funds to host a conference.

Conference Committees
Creating conference committees may ease the workload of hosting a student research conference. The executive board should consider creating committees for each aspect of the conference and recruit members and officers to join. Ideally, the executive board should nominate officers to hold committee chair positions, or create a chapter officer position for research conference chair, and encourage members to sign up for committees. This ensures that the executive board is aware of assignments and conference planning at each stage at all times. The types of committees many chapters choose to create depend heavily on the type of conference they wish to have. All chapters considering a conference should have at least five committees: registration, research poster submissions, publicity, fund-raising, and conference assistants. Chapters should also consider having an additional three committees: food, programs, and gifting. Possible committees and descriptions of what each committee would be responsible for are listed below.

The registration committee oversees the entire conference registration process. Although students who do not register are able to attend the conference, it is encouraged for all students who plan to attend to register. This helps the chapter decide how many seats, food, and materials are needed. Members of the registration committee create the registration form, distribute registration forms, record registrant information, and oversee the registration check-in booth on the day of the conference. The registration committee also keeps track of the number of registrants to guarantee there is enough materials for attendees. The main responsibility of this committee is to make sure conference paperwork is available to students and that student registration is high.

The submissions committee oversees the research component of the conference. Members of this committee are required to contact potential abstract reviewers to determine acceptance or rejection of submissions and award research awards. The committee should also ensure students submit all materials. The submissions committee is responsible for organizing research awards, research guidelines, and distributing research abstracts to reviewers. The members of this committee also oversee the poster session during the conference and present the research awards to the students during the conference.

The publicity committee oversees the conference’s advertising. Members of this committee are required to create and post flyers around campus, contact the school’s newspaper or radio station, and announce the conference in classrooms. The committee should consider creating a press release and submitting it to the university’s publicity department to spread awareness about the conference. The committee designs all conference announcements and posters and is responsible for spreading the word on the campus. This is possibly one of the most important committees and requires that members continuously create new methods of promoting the event and enticing students to attend.

The fund-raising committee is responsible for overseeing and organizing all fund-raising events to pay for costs incurred from the conference. Members of this committee formulate fund-raising ideas and find sponsors or donors to donate for the conference. This committee should start planning regular events immediately to ensure the chapter has enough funds to host the event.

The food committee is responsible for communicating with caterers for the event. Although food and refreshments are not required at a conference, it is recommended. Students and faculty often take time off from other personal obligations to attend, so having snacks may be a good gesture of appreciation. Additionally, conferences may last three to six hours, so having food may reduce the likelihood of attendees leaving the event due to hunger.

The programs committee is responsible for designing the event program. Members of this committee obtain presenter information, award winner information, event information, and sponsor information for the program. Chapters may choose to opt out of having programs in order to reduce costs; however, it is important to have speaker and conference scheduling information available at the conference. This information may be displayed in a program or poster where attendees will see it, such as at the registration table or at the doorway of the room where the talk will be given.

The gifting committee is responsible for ordering attendee gifts and/or speaker gifts. The chapter executive board and gifting committee work closely to determine the type of research awards that are given. In most cases, the research awards are monetary, but a plaque or certificate is often awarded in addition. Members of this committee must find donors or search for items that may be given at the conference. This is committee is also optional, but is a good way of showing appreciation to all attendees and speakers. Chapters may want to consider working closely with the university to acquire university merchandize such as pens, notepads, or binders. For chapters that wish to acquire non-university items, this is where fund-raising and/or networking is required.

Conference Assistants
The conference assistants committee ensures that conference attendees go to the appropriate locations for conference events. This committee is solely needed on the conference day. Members of this committee alternate throughout the various conference locations and act as guides for individuals unfamiliar with the location, conference information, and other issues. This committee also monitors the time limits of speakers to ensure presentations begin and end on time. Members of this committee can also monitor the entrance to allow the audience to come and go between speakers.

Conference Day
All of the planning leading up to the conference day does not stop once the day arrives. On the conference day, the executive board and some members should arrive early to take care of last minute details. Many issues may arise prior to the event starting, such as chairs not being set up, poster session easels disappearing, or registration tables not being set up. In most cases, when events are booked in university ballrooms or auditoriums, university staff is usually responsible for setting up. However, it is also likely that other events are booked during the same day of your event, which may cause staff to be late due to setting up those events. Thus, plan to arrive at least one hour early to the conference venue. Committees should also arrive early for orientation prior to the conference commencing. Committee chairs may have created schedules or have information they need to discuss prior to committee members taking their posts. Creating a student research conference is a big achievement and a rewarding experience, so make sure to take some time to truly appreciate what it is your chapter has done for the community, the organization, and for your chapter.

Thelma Pinheiro, BS, is a doctoral student in the clinical-community psychology program at the University of La Verne (Ca;ULV). She graduated magna cum laude from ULV with a bachelor of science degree in psychology and a minor in sociology and earned psychology departmental honors. During her senior year at ULV, she helped start the ULV Psi Chi chapter's first student research conference. She is also in the midst of finalizing the ULV Psi Chi chapter's second research conference that will take place in early May 2012. Ms. Pinheiro is currently the president of graduate affairs for the ULV Psi Chi chapter and has been an avid member of her chapter for over four years. Thelma's research interests are in acculturation issues among immigrant populations, their stress and coping, and their psychological well-being.

Copyright 2012 (Volume 16, Issue 4) by Psi Chi, the International Honor Society in Psychology


Eye on Psi Chi is a magazine designed to keep members and alumni up-to-date with all the latest information about Psi Chi’s programs, awards, and chapter activities. It features informative articles about careers, graduate school admission, chapter ideas, personal development, the various fields of psychology, and important issues related to our discipline.

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