This post comes a bit late, almost a month since the Cambridge Climate and Sustainability Forum was held on 15 March. But as always, better late than never.
Most first year undergrads don’t get involved in such “heavy” organising, being still freshers and trying to navigate the university scene. But I guess having taken a gap year and having had experience organising events since secondary school days for school events, I just thought it would be a great opportunity to get involved in the environmental scene here. Hence when the advertisement for volunteers to form the organising committee for the forum appeared, after a bit of hesitation, I signed up.
The way things are done here are quite different from what I’ve been used to, so there were a few things I found strange. Such as the fact that this forum is under the Cambridge Hub (part of Student Hubs network) banner, yet the organising committee is drawn from the student population at large, with support from the Hub staff. This makes it a little unstable in my opinion, since recruiting students is extremely difficult in the hectic environment of Cambridge. Last year, the whole show was almost as good as run by just one person! Thankfully this year, we managed to recruit a sizeable committee of about 6-7 students, so the workload was more spread out.
Also, the recruitment of organising committee was done just 3-4 months before the actual event itself. Within that short time frame, we had to conceptualise the event, contact speakers, obtain funding, search for a suitable venue, publicise the event and settle the food catering and other logistics.
My greatest “complaint” is the lack of continuity in these forums (this year was the 3rd one held), since there’s a complete turnover of the organising committee each year, with no or little handover. Essentially, every year starts from scratch, there are no established protocols and since most of us are just random students who are interested, and not part of a bigger club or society, we have limited network to tap on for resources and ideas.
Another person, Nele, and I were in charge of the speakers committee, which involved looking for suitable speakers, contacting them and confirming their participation etc. Only thing was, both of us are international students and relatively new to Cambridge/UK, and so really didn’t know much about potential speakers. A lot of time was spent simply googling and reading up on various people, and trying to structure the forum. Very thankfully, we had the support of a great Hub committee who had a large network base to tap on (:
Another “problem” was just the way the university is run. We have 8-week terms, with 5 week vacations in between. During term, everyone’s busy with academic workload as well as various other social activities. Once term ends, especially during Christmas vacation, everyone disappears back home, be it some part of the UK or the world. I guess I’ve just been used to the relatively longer terms in Singapore as well as the “smallness” of it that we could always easily just meet up during holidays to continue planning whatever event we were in charge of planning. Also, unlike in Singapore where co-curricular activities are compulsory and attendance is always taken and is part of your graduation report, everything in university here is optional. Which means that commitment level really differs from person to person. We had to hold Skype sessions to discuss the planning over the vacation (thank God for technology!) and boy, were they long.
Overall though, it was a really great opportunity to get involved in the scene and I definitely learned a lot first-hand about organising such an event. We made use of Gmail and Google Drive for a lot of collaborative work, and I was put in charge of the social media (Twitter and Facebook) aspect of publicity. Sadly the website runs on Weebly which didn’t give a lot of freedom for fiddling around.
Nonetheless, I got to practice my live-tweeting skills for the actual day, and I also drew upon experiences from past events I attended, such as the 3rd Biodiversity of Singapore Symposium. Early bird coffee to entice people to arrive earlier for registration, a central location for the food and information booths so people can mingle and chat and eat at the same time, and lots of interaction! The feedback received at the end was quite positive, which was rather encouraging (: The Pecha Kucha style presentation for quick introductions to organisations to volunteer with was a great suggestion by Nele and very well-received by the participants too!
All that’s left now is to process the videos of the day that we took. This is one thing I’m not that convinced is worth all our effort. The videos were taken in a format that is not compatible with iMovie (which is the only movie-editing software I have), and I’ll have to spend lots of time converting that into a compatible format. Then I have to watch the videos and cut them into appropriate sections, before uploading them. I’ve not had the time to do that since the forum, and I doubt I will until after my exams in June.
It’s quite likely though that I will probably join the organising committee again (despite the stress and workload!) for the next forum, and try to help create a sense of continuity, possibly with greater support from the university itself (:
In other news, I’ve just got back from a one-week field trip to Orielton in Pembroke, Wales for my Evolution & Behaviour course, and it was absolutely amazing. Wonderful weather (for once!!) and great company. Off to Lake District for a hiking trip with friends, before going to Arran, Scotland for my Earth Sciences course (rescheduled after a freak snowstorm got us sent home). I will blog about all these awesome stuff later.