2014 HSS Meeting Survey Results

With more than 1300 registrants, the 2014 History of Science Society Annual Meeting and the Philosophy of Science Association Biennial Meeting were the best attended joint meeting of our two groups. The post-meeting survey received 349 responses (27% of all attendees), 208 of them (60%) from current or past HSS members. Over 90% of those surveyed found Chicago to be satisfactory (more than 80% reported being “very satisfied”). We also received numerous comments asking for better use of the science-related resources of the host cities such as universities, museums, labs, etc. Last year’s reception at MIT’s science museum was mentioned by many respondents as a successful model. We should note that the MIT event, which cost almost $45,000, i.e. $90/person, was made possible by a generous donation from MIT and from Harvard as we celebrated the 100th anniversary of Isis. That event also required hiring a fleet of buses, which deepened our carbon footprint, so for future meetings we will try to locate off-site gatherings within walking distance or situated on public transit lines, as we did in Phoenix in 2009.

The Westin Michigan Avenue Hotel was also a popular venue for the meeting (only 17% of the responses to the survey indicated dissatisfaction) and, although we received some negative feedback about the high cost of the hotel especially for graduate students and junior faculty, more than 60% of respondents thought that the hotel’s location—downtown Chicago—increased their overall enjoyment of the meeting. For example, we received positive feedback about the large number of choices of restaurants, bars, etc. near the hotel. With regard to the hotel’s spaces, feedback was generally positive: 70% of the respondents were satisfied with the book exhibit, 72% responded favorably about the session rooms, and 59% were content with the meeting spaces. Yet, we received several complaints about the “narrow” and “cramped” common spaces in the hotel, a fair concern and a trade-off for being in a downtown hotel. Another issue mentioned in several comments was the acoustics—mainly the interfering noises—in the session rooms.

The vast majority of respondents were happy with the HSS program; about 70% indicated that they were satisfied and only 3% reported being dissatisfied. Two main concerns, however, were repeatedly mentioned in the comments. First, this year there was a conflict between the HSS/PSA conference in Chicago and SHOT’s meeting in Dearborn, Michigan. Several respondents asked that we avoid these types of conflicts at future meetings. We in the Executive Office could not agree more, but this was a one-time event, brought about by some unusual circumstances (SHOT’s original hotel lost its liquor license, which would not have been a problem if Southern Baptists dominated SHOT’s membership, but as they do not SHOT had to scramble to find a new conference hotel). We are working closely with SHOT to try to prevent this from happening again so that if our meeting dates ever do overlap, it’s because we are meeting together. Second, there were several comments, especially from faculty members, about missing at least some of the Thursday sessions because of teaching commitments. HSS’s Committee on Meetings and Programs had asked that we begin earlier on Thursday so as to create two extra session times. It was hoped that by doing so, we could reduce the number of concurrent sessions but still have room on the program to accommodate most proposals and thus avoid a high rejection rate. This strategy worked since we were able to limit ourselves to 10 concurrent sessions and still accept almost all session proposals (94%). However, the rejection rate for individual papers was around 40% and this number would have been much higher (over 50%) had we not added the Thursday sessions. Likewise, session acceptance would have dropped to around 75%. Because our strategic plan calls for us to limit the number of concurrent sessions, we will be looking for other ways to increase participation, such as through improved poster sessions, roundtables, etc.

Both of the receptions, the opening reception on Thursday and the joint reception on Saturday, received excellent overall feedback from the respondents, although some were dissatisfied with the opening reception’s food choices. Two issues have been mentioned in many comments: first, the reception was crowded. Second, many people found the method for getting drinks (buying a ticket and then going to a bar) unnecessary and confusing. We in the Executive Office will admit that using drink tickets was confusing, but we are less sure about it being unnecessary, which leads us to say a few things about the opening reception. There are many who enjoy drinking beer or wine at a reception, and we believe that doing so helps stimulate conversation. But the price of a bottle of domestic beer, e.g. Budweiser, or a glass of chardonnay was just over $10, which tends to stop conversation (or make it orbit around a single topic), so we decided to subsidize the price so that our attendees were paying a more manageable $6/serving. The tickets were required to help the hotel track the subsidy that we provided. We also made soft drinks freely available to those who did not care to imbibe. The cost of alcohol is suggestive of food expenses so, although we do our best to provide a variety of hors d’oeuvres, our budget limits what we can do because we strive to keep registration as low as possible).  One way we do this is through sponsorships and it is here that I want to express our thanks to our many sponsors (see the list on page 8) and to issue a challenge.

A Challenge: The Saturday night joint reception received rave reviews, and part of that had to do with a generous donation of 15 cases of beer by Lagunitas, which recently expanded from its West Coast roots to Chicago. This donation was made via introduction by HSS friend Jaime Jurado, who, ever since the Austin meeting in 2004, has kindly offered to help us land a beer donation from a local brewery (unfortunately, most hotels do not allow beer donations). He also introduced us to Harpoon Brewery in Boston for the 2013 Meeting and helped us contact Lagunitas. So if any of our members have connections—and they may not be as magical as Jaime’s—we would be grateful if you could provide us an introduction. And a big THANK YOU to Lagunitas for their wonderful contribution. Now, back to the survey.

Almost 28% of those who attended the opening receptions also visited the tables of the Joint Caucus for Socially Engaged Philosophers and Historians of Science (JCSEPHS) event. 80% of the attendees were satisfied with the quality of the JCSEPHS presentations and 78% found the duration of the event to be satisfactory. Moreover, 89% of the respondents asked for a similar event at future meetings along with some suggested improvements, such as proper signage for the event. Incidentally, another two events that were not included in our surveys but for which we received positive and encouraging feedback were the HSS/PSA Graduate and Early Career Caucus Mixer on Thursday night and the HSS at Work/GECC Networking Event on Friday night.

Although only a small number (3%) of respondents used Dependent Care Resources during the meeting, providing this service is welcomed warmly in the comments—especially since 17% of respondents think that they are going to need to use a dependent care provider at future HSS meetings. “I fully support the continued provision of the room” and “Really nice addition to HSS meetings” are a couple of the positive statements that we received.

Technology is now a vital part of HSS meetings. Fortunately, 77% of the respondents were satisfied with the audio/visual services provided in the meeting. Although 63% of the respondents used tablets or smartphones during the meeting, only 12% used the meeting program app, Grupio. Some 32% of those who haven’t used the app still prefer using printed programs, 16% prefer the online pdf version of the program, 31% did not know about the app, and only 4% found it not to be user-friendly. One of the hottest topics in our comments was the lack of wi-fi service in the meeting area, especially in session rooms. We sympathize completely and are looking into making wi-fi access available for all future meetings (which will either require an increase in registration fees or a wi-fi angel). Approximately 84% of the respondents said that they would be willing to pay $10 (or less) in additional registration fees in order to have wireless Internet access in the meeting space.

Program quality, host city, and costs are, respectively, the most important factors for respondents in deciding whether or not to attend a conference. The importance of the meeting’s location cannot be underestimated. Chicago has always proven popular in post-meeting surveys as one of the more desired places to meet in the US, which helps explain the record attendance. The top choice of cities? San Francisco, site of next year’s meeting (and $99 room rates for graduate students at the conference hotel, the Westin St. Francis, across the street from Union Square in downtown San Francisco—a rate made possible by the fact that we are meeting the weekend before the US Thanksgiving holiday). As far as meeting outside of North America, 44% of respondents are amenable to this, while 18% responded negatively to the suggestion. Respondents are split evenly with regard to moving the HSS annual meeting to early August, rather than keeping it in November, in order to have a meeting in Europe—28% responded positively and the same number negatively. Given the difficulty that our members have in simply reaching the meeting early on Thursday during our traditional meeting time, a summer conference (with access to affordable dorm rooms) seems essential.

As you might imagine, it’s challenging to put on a conference that will make everyone happy, but we are heartened by the overwhelmingly positive responses. We hope you will continue to share the ways in which the meeting was helpful to you, as well as send your suggestions about how we can improve future meetings.