Advice on organising a BMC

Based on notes taken made at a meeting with Garth Dales in York March 2006 and at the BMC Scientific Committee meeting in London, 24 September 2008.

Organisers should be aware that the academic nature of the BMC, the relatively short time to register and the special needs for mathematicians do not fit in well with what appear to be common practice by Conference Offices. Organisers should be very cautious and indeed on their guard when dealing with them.

The LMS Programme Committee is to review the financial arrangements to bring them more in line with other conference funding. This should give BMC organisers more flexibility in dealing with the increased costs and unexpected problems, particularly those arising from the increasingly commercial environment in universities.
  1. Legal status
    The Memorandum of Understanding that defines the status of the BMC and governs its organisation states that each BMC is independent of LMS, the Scientific Committee and other BMC's.
  2. Finance
    Financial arrangements between LMS and BMC York: LMS pays through the Programme Committee Schedule 1 Scheme. A ball park total of £13-14K was suggested. This covers

    1. costs of visiting plenary speakers
    2. subsidy for UK graduate students (EPSRC funds are also available, see (h) iii below)
    3. £1K for each Special Session [£1.2K is more realistic]
    4. Costs paid for Chairman, Secretary and Treasurer (who should be different from Chairman and Secretary) of the York BMC; ex officio on BMC Scientific Committee and Chair and Secretary for York BMC AGM.
    5. the possibility of the accommodation for morning speakers being paid as well as registration fee is being considered by LMS Programme Committee.
    6. LMS does not guarantee payment in advance.
    7. The LMS will not pay any FEC component. In particular, this means that room hire has to be paid by the organisers. Negotiation with University will probably [be] required to bring some of the charges down to manageable levels. For information, at York the first quote for room hire was £24K. This was clearly way beyond the BMC budget (though not that of the Association of University Administrators whose conference was held there) and it took a great deal of negotiation to find a satisfactory alternative venue at about £4K (the final cost was inflated by some extra hidden charges).
    8. Money from other sources

      1. Registration fee

        The registration fee is an important source of revenue and these days is needed to pay for room hire and (standard) lecturing facilities, as well as subsidising various events such as the Conference Dinner and receptions.

        The fee is set at around £50-60 and has to be considered in conjunction with the cost of accommodation. It has been the practice to charge for late applications but York did not do this. A more positive approach of offering a reduction of £10 for early registration was suggested. This is worth considering.

        Asking members of the host department to pay registration can be awkward and it is difficult (indeed undesirable) to prevent colleagues who do not pay from turning up to lectures and receptions. A reasonable charge for non-residents participants other than speakers needs to be decided - in York only the registration fee was charged, as this on average about covered the daily delegate rate.
      2. Edinburgh Mathematical Society
        This can be approached for a contribution for supporting Scottish mathematics (we were given £750 to produce for posters for graduate students). The surplus was used for related costs.
      3. EPSRC
        EPSRC is prepared to contribute towards activities in its remit. York was given £1500 to subsidise graduate students' registration by £20.
      4. Publishers
        Space for publishers' displays can be rented out. We followed other BMC's in charging £350 but there is a case for increasing this. As well, publishers can be charged for advertising material included in BMC documentation.
      5. Sponsors
        Local banks and industries can be invited to sponsor the BMC and get their logo on all the literature and publicity. Swansea got £1K from BP, we tried Norwich Union and National Express unsuccessfully.
  3. BMC Structure
    Previous BMC patterns useful guide. The main events are as follows.

    1. Plenary Speakers
      Four or five plenary speakers (LMS covers travel & accommodation)

      These have proved quite hard to get, with a success rate of about 1 in 3. Personal contacts help (Fields medallists can be very helpful). The BMC Scientific Committee and the Newton Institute are useful sources of information and advice.

      Invitations should be 2 years in advance and a list ready for that year's BMC.
    2. Morning Speakers
      Usually 12/14; in 1 hour parallel slots. We had 12 in the end, though at one time we had 14 lined up.

      Expected to be UK based (includes visitors for a year or so) and should not be from the host department.

      The current convention is that morning speakers do not pay registration but they or their department pay travel and accommodation.

      About 9/10 accept initially but a number withdrew, some quite close to the start. Overall hit rate about 3/5.

      There was an issue over paying travel and accommodation with one invited speaker.
    3. Special Lecture
      A lecture on history or relevant current events (mathematical finance?)
    4. Special Sessions
      Two or three Special Sessions, each of 2 or 3 more specialist lectures, held during the afternoon. Two organisers for each Special Session, preferably not all in house. The norm seems to be one internal and one external organiser.
    5. Splinter Groups
      12-16 held in slots during the afternoons. While preceding BMC's are a good guide to areas likely to be supported, interests in the host department can help to raise attendance. It is worth being proactive and contact interested colleagues and co-workers in good time.

      It is useful to have an external organiser as well as an internal one.
    6. Quasi-political meetings
      Held in evening on a topic of current interest. They could include Education (with a Minister to speak). The last two were on the RAE and on the future of the LMS and IMA.
    7. Popular lecture.
      Intended to attract and inform members of the public. Speakers on Mathematics with a public reputation, such as Simon Singh or Marcus de Sautoy should appeal to the public, especially sixth formers (so avoiding school holidays is desirable in this respect). Use local press to publicise popular lecture as well as BMC. Local information office will advise on displaying posters (they can also supply city maps and information about local entertainment).
    8. Publishers' reception
      This is sponsored by CUP and Springer-Verlag. The arrangements are informal. Care should taken over this function as unexpected extra (sometimes extortionate) costs such as corkage can be incurred. At York, these meant that regrettably the generous gesture by the publishers had to be refused.
    9. Banquet
      We held this on the last evening. Inviting the VC as a goodwill gesture might be considered as a means of securing some interest and support within the university administration.
    10. Local satellite meetings
      Integrated specialist meetings or seminars which start just before or finish just after the BMC.

      Separate applications need to be made for satellite meetings. [We had Functional Analysis before and Semigroups after]
  4. Administrative matters

    1. BMC Scientific Committee membership
      Representatives of the BMC Committee of a host department join BMC Scientific Committee three years before the BMC is held. This Committee is a very useful source of advice and experience. It is also very helpful to read applications from the most recent BMC's.

      Members of the local BMC Committee should attend the two preceding BMC's to learn the ropes.
    2. Application timetable
      It is recommended that the host department makes an application in principle a couple of years in advance, giving some indication of dates and costs. The final application should be 9 months to a year in advance.
    3. Online registration and booking
      Recent BMC's have used the web for registration and booking accommodation very successfully and this practice has become the norm. In York we used a small independent company ConfOnLine which provided an excellent, secure service at a very reasonable price. Not only were accommodation, payment and special needs covered but participation in Splinter Groups could also be requested. Statistics on registrations, payments and Splinter Groups were available as desired. More details can be supplied on request.
  5. Dates
    Usually Monday-Thursday before Easter. As Easter was early in 2008, we chose Tuesday-Friday after Easter Monday. The proximity to Easter itself might have been a disadvantage and possibly contributed to the relatively small number of participants. Unfortunately because of the primacy of commercial conferences and the consequent constraints, we had little choice over dates.
  6. Accommodation
    If the host university's Conference Office is used, it is vital to be very careful over bookings. Organisers should be aware that cancellation fees can be applied early (a year in advance) and rise steeply nearer the time of the conference.
  7. Publicity
    The LMS Newsletter accepts items about the BMC.

    A poster was prepared and for reasons of economy emailed as a pdf file to all mathematics departments. With hindsight it might have been better to have posted them.

    Advertising in Ireland and on the continent was suggested. We notified Danish, French, German and Italian bodies but only with limited success.
  8. Chair of the BMC Scientific Committee
    The Chair serves for 4 years and stands down 1 May. It would be helpful if the Chair could liaise closely with the local BMC Committees and the LMS Programme Committee.
Maurice Dodson, Steve Donkin, Tony Sudbery, Chris Wood
York BMC 2008 Committee
3 November 2008