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Working Sessions Guidelines

"Working Sessions” is the catch-all title for all sessions at the annual ASTR conference that are not plenary paper sessions. This category includes all former seminars, research groups, reading groups, forums, working groups, and workshops, as well as formats that have yet to be imagined or proposed. It is intended to allow the leaders of sessions to construct formats that are appropriate to the work that they are proposing to do, and it is further intended that proposals for working sessions include justifications of the proposed session in terms of both their scholarly/intellectual program and their format. What follows are some guidelines and principles for working sessions that are expected to apply to any format being proposed.

Starting and Conducting a Working Session

Anyone wishing to initiate a working session should submit for review by the annual Program Committee a 500-word proposal, together with the proposed call for potential participants, not to exceed 500 words. Proposals should be conceptually substantive and rigorously focused, and should include a 300-word intellectual/scholarly rationale for the session together with a 200-word account of and rationale for the format that the session will take (a proposal form is available here). Ongoing groups should make clear how their proposal fits within and contributes to their ongoing, evolving work. Each year, the annual Program Committee publishes a notice on the ASTR website inviting proposals; the customary deadline is May 31st of the year of conference.

The detailed explanation of how the group will be conducted should include an outline of anticipated conference and/or extra-conference activities. Working sessions in the past have engaged participants in a variety of ways. They have:

  • Exchanged papers by e-mail prior to the conference discussion;
  • Conducted email discussions of general issues and arranged procedures for the conference meeting;
  • Constructed reading lists or bibliographies for the group’s work in general and for particular meetings;
  • Assigned respondents to papers for online discussions or at the group’s conference meeting;
  • Arranged breakout groups during the group meeting; and
  • Encouraged pre-conference paper editing among group members.

Under no circumstances are any portions of working sessions to be devoted to the oral presentation of participants’ papers nor to oral summaries of them. Related suggestions will be found below under the headings, "Before the Conference” and "During the Conference.”

The call for papers/participants should specify the title and the focus of the group, with bullet points that highlight issues and goals. The call should provide a description of the work expected of participants, due dates, and contact information. It must not exceed 500 words. ASTR generally recommends that a Working Session have at least two and no more than four leaders to help coordinate the group’s activities. Calls are posted by the Program Committee on the ASTR website, usually by mid April in the year of the conference.

Conveners should attempt to include in their group a spectrum of senior scholars, junior scholars, and graduate students, and formats should provide equal opportunities for all to participate. No Working Session may be limited to invited members only. With exceptions, particularly for ongoing groups in the early stages of their organization, conveners may normally extend invitations to a total of no more than two or three scholars. Groups may vary in size, but must allow for meaningful participation by all. It is strongly recommend that group sizes be no more than 12-14, although it is recognized that the goals of some newly formed groups might entail appealing to a larger constituency.

Working sessions are open to auditors. Some conveners have provided them with calls and abstracts of papers (prepared by their authors) or summaries of the group’s work, and this type of outreach is encouraged. Some conveners have opened the sessions to a few questions from the floor near the end of discussions. It is recommended that this part of any session should not exceed 15 minutes (in the case of 2-hour sessions) or 30 minutes (in the case of 3-hour sessions). But customarily participation by auditors has been, and should remain limited. The collaborative work of the group’s contributing members is the priority.

The Vice-President or her/his delegate is available on request to review proposals as they come in, prior to their review by the annual Program Committee, and may offer suggestions to prospective conveners about revising proposals. The Program Committee will make the final selection based on the quality of the proposals and the availability of space and time for groups to convene at the annual conference. No format will be privileged over any other, and ongoing groups are not guaranteed representation at any given conference. The Program Committee will see that approved calls are posted on the ASTR web site page for the annual conference.

Prospective conveners are urged to attend ASTR's annual noon lunch-box meeting of conveners of working groups and program committee members; exchanges at this meeting about best practices can be beneficial.

Guidelines for Participants in Research Groups, Reading Groups, and Forums

Each convener must make clear to prospective members of his/her working group the following conditions of their participation. This could be done in the letter welcoming applicants into the group. These guidelines for participants will be posted each year on the ASTR web conference posting of calls for papers/participants.

  • To participate in a working group you must be a member of ASTR and must register for the annual conference at which your working group is meeting.
  • At any given conference, you may take part in no more than one Working Session. Members should not make multiple submissions. This will result in scheduling conflicts, confusion, and delays in programming.
  • If you are on a plenary panel of an annual conference, you may not participate in a working session.
  • You are responsible for meeting the internal deadlines and requirements of the seminar and/or group to which you are applying. By applying to a particular group, you are committing to its requirements and deadlines, and may be dropped from the program if you do not do so.
  • You are expected to read and comment on the work of your colleagues and to participate in discussions at the meetings.

Before the Conference

It is the responsibility of every Working Session’s conveners to arrange communication among all participants. E-mail exchange and/or web posting are recommended over regular mail. Blogs, websites like Blackboard, and other electronic arenas are useful. The most productive groups carry on some form of discussion prior to the conference (e.g., using exchanges of e-mail or an internet discussion group). Ongoing groups will continue their discussion over the academic year (and not just during conference meetings). Conveners may wish to distill various critical issues and assign subgroups to consider these prior to the conference. Find a balance between pre-conference conversation and readiness and energy to participate at the conference itself. Be cautious about having too much on-line discussion so that no one has anything new to say during the session. The precise conduct of any advance exchange is up to the group leaders, but early, strong, and responsive leadership will result in more productive meetings. Conveners should carefully plan the agenda for the meeting itself and inform participants in advance of this agenda. Conveners should frame discussion questions in advance that will engage the group in key issues and concepts.

At the Conference

  • Some groups meet informally at the conference site before the scheduled meeting. This is at the discretion of the conveners.
  • At the beginning of the meeting, the conveners should explain the agenda to the participants and auditors, and should stay with it unless there is a consensus for altering it.
  • It should be the goal of a working session to advance the discourse on the subject at hand.
  • The group leaders’ task is to facilitate the work of the group, keeping it focused, purposeful, judicious, and rigorous.
  • Group leaders should remind their participants in advance to be sensitive to group dynamics and to share the floor. Leaders should not hesitate to intervene should someone prove to be insensitive. It is the group leaders’ responsibility to lead the session.
  • Group leaders are responsible for the structure and should plan and announce timelines and time allotments in the way one plans a class. A major job of a group leader, where appropriate, is to keep a speaker’s list, and adhere to it.
  • Group leaders should find a way for each participant to contribute early in the session, and should avoid the development of a culture in which one or more participant "stars”.
  • Under no circumstances are the meetings to be devoted to the oral presentation of papers.
  • Notwithstanding all of the above, conveners should recognize that there are many ways to run a good and successful seminar. Flexibility and suitability to the group’s project are key.
  • Conveners should make arrangements at the meeting for the preparation of reports on the group’s activities to the Program Committee and for the ASTR Newsletter.
  • Conveners of ongoing group meetings should make preliminary plans for continuation (or termination), and should articulate to members of any working session the stage in the group’s work to which the Working Session contributes.

After the Conference

A designated member of each working group should submit a report on the group’s work, to the Program Committee, noting especially what procedures worked well, and provide a more informational report on the work to the ASTR Newsletter. Ongoing group conveners must submit for review by the Executive Committee each year their plan for continuation (or their intention to terminate). Conveners are welcome to apply to the Program Committee for space and time for formal meetings at the annual conferences and for web support, but these allotments are not guaranteed annually, and should not constitute the bulk of the groups’ activities.


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