SETAC Globe - Environmental Quality Through Science
11 August 2016
Volume 17 Issue 8

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From Abstract to Presentation: the SETAC Meeting Assembly Process

Cindy Howard, Anne Alix and Tim Canfield, Tri-Chairs, 7th SETAC World Congress/SETAC North America 37th Annual Meeting

Have you ever wondered what happens between the time you submit an abstract and present at a SETAC annual meeting? Have you ever wondered how your abstract presentation ended up on a particular day at a particular time? Well, it’s a finely tuned process that begins long before you may have started the work you’ll be presenting!

The Program Committee of the 7th SETAC World Congress/SETAC North America 37th Annual Meeting is made up of 29 enthusiastic SETAC members, who represent all five geographic units and who have been working together on the program since the spring of 2015 (scheduling monthly conference calls across seven time zones has been very interesting). The Program Committee is organized into nine subcommittees, working on everything from the scientific sessions to fundraising and from organizing volunteers to the very entertaining social activities, all under the outstanding, expert, professional, fun and friendly guidance, support and facilitation of the SETAC North America office staff.

Session Review

Each year, before the annual meeting even has ended, the SETAC North America staff is hard at work on next year’s meeting. However, for us preparations started in earnest shortly after the Salt Lake City meeting wrapped up as the call for session proposals went out, with a due date of February 2016. Of the 29 members on the Program Committee, eight are selected to serve on the Session and Abstract Review Committee, along with one of the chairs from next year’s meeting (SETAC North America 38th Annual Meeting from 12–16 November 2017 in Minneapolis, Minnesota) and the SETAC North America Science Manager, Bruce Vigon. We received 118 session submissions, which were sent for initial review in March to both the SETAC North America and SETAC Global Science Committees for comments and input since this is both a World Congress and North America Geographic Unit meeting. The session proposals and all reviewer comments are then sent to the Session and Abstract Review Committee, where each member is tasked with reading every session proposal and providing review and comments on each of the proposed sessions to ensure they fall within the scope of SETAC’s mission and science. This information is then collated and stored for use at the abstract review. At this point, the proposed sessions are posted on the SETAC website and the call for abstract submissions goes out.

Abstract Review

Abstract submission began at the end of March and ended in early June, and a total of 2,048 abstracts were received. Session chairs were asked to review the abstracts submitted to their sessions and provide comments for use by the abstract review committee. In parallel with the session chair review, each of the ten members (from Great Britain, Australia, Argentina and five U.S. states) of the Abstract Review Committee were sent an equal share of the abstracts (approximately 205 abstracts each). Everybody had to be read through all of their assigned abstracts (first complete read through) prior to the Abstract Review Committee meeting from 27–29 June in Pensacola, Florida, where all of the abstracts were reviewed together and the program created.

Empty session template during abstract review
Committee members fill this empty session template in three days.

Once on site at the abstract review, we started with an empty session template that had to be filled by the end of the three days. Committee members read each abstract again (second complete read through) to ensure the abstracts met the required SETAC standards for annual meeting presentations. Each member typically selected topic areas that were within their expertise. During this phase of the review, the abstracts within a folder were sorted into those requesting platforms and those requesting posters. For those requesting platform talks, the reviewer considered the session chair’s comments, when provided, and suggested talk groupings for that session. Unless there was a reason that raised concern, the reviewer ordered the abstracts according to the guidance of the session chair. In the rare occasion there was a concern, the reviewer contacted the session chair to resolve the issue. In cases where the session chair did not provide any comments prior to the abstract review, the reviewer ordered the talks in what they judged to be the most logical manner.

Committee members assigning folders
Members are seen hard at work assigning folders to poster categories.

Some sessions did not get enough submissions to make a complete platform session. In these cases, the abstracts were assigned to the poster category or, in rare instances, were selected to fill out a session lacking a talk as long as the talk fit into the theme of the session. Once this first review process was completed, another review committee member would then read the abstracts (third read through) and verify the first reviewer’s decision. If verified, then the folder went into the completed box. If not, then the two reviewers would discuss and come to a resolution. Most of this occurred on day 1 of the abstract review, so the room was pretty quiet most of the time as everybody diligently read the abstracts.

Spotlight Session Selection

This year, the Program Committee is also trying a new approach called Spotlight Sessions. When selecting Spotlight Sessions, the Abstract Review Committee considered the comments and importance placed on the sessions by the respective science committees, the priorities of the SETAC World Council and the North American Board of Directors, the relative global importance and uniqueness of the proposed topic, and the connectivity to the success of the topic presented in previous meetings. The Abstract Review Committee also believes that these sessions should offer something our members may find of particular scientific interest in potential areas outside of their normal expertise. Everyone who submitted a session had the opportunity to check a box to have their session considered as a Spotlight Session for one of the 16 potentially available slots. Much discussion and consideration went into the selection process, and the committee hopes that attendees will take time to attend a few of these sessions during the course of their busy meeting days.

Committee members assigning folders
Abstract reviewers spend hours constructing the best meeting program possible.

Building the Program

Starting on day two, any reviews that were not completed during day one were finished, and the process of building the program board commenced. There were 96 total platform sessions available across the entire week. Color-coded post-it notes for each session were placed on the previously blank white board filling in the 96 spots and then the real fun began. All of the sessions, abstracts and talks are valuable to the society and the meeting, and each and every individual contribution is important. The process to build a balanced program is challenging and takes into account all the submitted sessions with all the submitted abstracts in an effort to build a program that balances presentations across the week to support the interests and needs of our very diverse society. The committee looks to provide sessions that support our more traditional core areas while balancing the incorporation of newly developing areas for the society. As we placed the different sessions on the board, the Abstract Review Committee was asked to make sure that there was something for everybody each day to pique their interest and support their attendance. We also tried our best that we did not have two sessions that were closely aligned occurring at the same time to minimize conflicts of attendance for as many members as possible. We looked at past session attendance numbers to help determine which sessions might need the bigger rooms to accommodate interest. We looked at the timing of advisory group meetings and sessions supported by these groups to minimize overlap. Wow, what a challenge that was! The abstract review members took that charge very seriously and spent many hours placing and moving these post-it notes, all with the goal of constructing the best program they can put together based on the abstracts submitted. Reviewers would come and go to the board so there was constantly fresh sets of eyes on the board. All questions about a session placement are acceptable, and the merits of placing it here verses there on the board were discussed. All days and all sessions are important to the meeting as you, our colleagues and members of SETAC, spend much of your year doing the great science that impacts our world, and we value seeing your work.

Committee members assigning folders
Greg Schiefer, SETAC North America Executive Director, relaxing after a long week of reviews.

Final Steps

Day three started with a final review of the program after sleeping on the discussions from the end of day two. Once everybody agreed that the board was as good as it was going to get, Jason Andersen locked all the talks in with his blue tape. Each and every abstract then had to be entered into the tracking system. This is a long process but one that is very critical as it provides the basis of the meeting app and the development of the program book our members use to build their individual schedules. Members paired up to input every talk by session into the system. Then, each session is verified to make sure it is accurate. No stone is left unturned. When we are sure it is all completed, we let Greg Schiefer, the SETAC North America Executive Director, know and he can finally relax a little bit after a long hard week.

In two and a half days, we finalized 16 Spotlight Sessions, assigned 760 abstracts to 96 platform sessions, 1,285 abstracts to poster sessions and worked out the entire four-day scientific program schedule for the World Congress into the best arrangement possible. Our thanks to everyone in the SETAC office for organizing the work so well for us, as well as for all of the food! A special thank you to Elin Ulrich, SETAC Salt Lake City co-chair, for sending down two loaves of friendship bread for the review committee to enjoy. They were awesome!

So that’s how your abstract became a vital part of this SETAC World Congress. Each person’s presentation together with everyone’s participation in the other aspects of the meeting – attending professional training courses and plenary sessions, visiting exhibitor booths, volunteering in the green service project, mentoring students and enjoying the social events – will make the World Congress in Orlando a truly memorable experience.

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