Behind the Scenes at a Nanoelectronics Conference

15 Jul 2016

IVNC logo

My supervisor, Dr. Alireza Nojeh, is the organizer for this year’s International Vacuum Nanoelectronics Conference, and so of course, I and the other 7 members of the Nojeh lab have, ahem, “volunteered” to staff the conference.

Oh, did that sound like I was unhappy? Not at all! It’s actually been very fascinating (despite the several hundred collective man-hours of work) to see the inside work going on in preparing for an event for some of the field’s best academics, industry researchers, and up-and-comers to come and brag about their past months’ or even years’ work. Plus, let’s be honest: I’m an undergrad who has had one year of math and physics and has just started working in a electrical engineering graduate research lab – I was feeling completely out of my element, and it has been a nice break to turn my attention to planning and organizing, which is something I do rather well.

So, what sort of things go into organizing a conference?

Uh, well, mostly printing things and then arranging them into neat piles. Lots and lots of printing…

Photo of stacks of printed papers Small sampling of printed things.

… and spreadsheets…

Screenshot of spreadsheets

Screenshot of more spreadsheets

… and of course, the last-minute-rescheduling emails:

Photo of scheduling emails

Which were not always so polite, thanks to the pressures of planning, lack of sleep, and, in some cases, mad last second scrambling to get better data plots – but I’m pretty sure there’s some unwritten grad student rule somewhere that what happens during conference week stays in conference week.

But the job also has its perks, like these extra bottles of wine that mysteriously made their way to our table during the banquet, after it was made known to the catering staff which table was the volunteers’ table.

Pictured: wine gift from the catering gods Speaking of things happening in conference week that stay in conference week…

They also fed us exceedingly well:

Photo of lunch buffet Three-course lunch buffet, anyone?

And, because this is my web site, I’m also going to show off these arm badges I made for the volunteers:

Picture of arm badge Made with felt and magic.

You see, we needed some way to make the volunteers visible, but nobody wanted to wear t-shirts, which would probably get pretty stinky if we had to wear them all week in the middle of July, anyway, and I nixed the idea of hats, so the best idea I could think of was armbands, but I was having a difficult time finding a place to get custom armbands on short notice, and after trying a few different avenues I realised that it would probably actually be less work to just buy some felt and sew them myself than to source them, and so I did.

The best part was making a bunch of fancypants physics researchers exclaim in amazement as though I had performed magic.

Photo of me wearing armband Armband action shot

No wait, the best part was one of the leading academics in the field telling me that this was the best team of volunteers at any conference he’d ever attended.

Photo of volunteer team The best volunteers ever!

No… no, wait, the real best part was getting to attend a conference as a first year undergrad at all, but that really deserves a whole post of its own.

Update: the post is now viewable here.