The 2015 HSS meeting in San Francisco will long be remembered as one of the better conferences. Approximately 785 people registered for the meeting, and we received 136 post-meeting survey responses. This feedback provides us insights on what we did well and what we might still improve.
The location of the meeting was a hit, with over 80% of respondents giving San Francisco the very highest marks and no one reporting dissatisfaction. The Westin St. Francis hotel won the approval of just over 80% of respondents, though we did hear that the two-towered hotel proved frustrating for those who needed to move quickly between sessions. We also understand the continuing challenge to pay for rooms plus incidentals and food in a city as expensive as San Francisco. We often struggle with how to balance the popularity and allure of big cities with their expense, especially as we see university travel funds dry up around the country.
Some 98% expressed satisfaction with online registration and preregistration, no doubt thanks to our infinitely patient office staff. 92.5% were satisfied with the book exhibit (with suggestions to make more space), 78% satisfied with audio/visual (and if you add those who felt “neutral” it goes up to 98%), and 85% respondents were pleased with the meeting space, though we heard that attendees found the upper hallways to be narrow and crowded and areas for socializing too small and/or lacking sufficient seating.
Our receptions on Thursday and Friday evening were well-attended and satisfying to the vast majority of those who attended and responded. We sympathize with the responders who wished they could have been longer and the drinks either cheaper or free, but those changes would greatly impact the cost of registration.
Respondents were divided on the mixing of the poster presentations and the reception on Friday night. Many who mentioned the combination were in favor of separating the two events, which they felt ostracized the poster presenters and cut into important time needed for socializing with friends and colleagues. However, the poster presenters who responded reported good interactions and appreciated having the posters available during a well-attended event.
The conference program itself elicited many positive remarks this year with 88% of respondents finding it satisfying. We were also pleased to see that 92% of respondents found the presentations themselves to be of good quality, which is no doubt related to 75% of our responders reporting that they found the conference to be a motivational experience. Those who gave papers reported helpful feedback from audience members (over 70% of that subgroup being satisfied with the response(s) they received).
The HSS plenary session was a big hit, with commenters suggesting more of these types of events and calling it a “highlight of the conference.” 84% of responders enjoyed the quality of the performance and 86% the unique format. Similar numbers were reported for Paula Findlen’s HSS Distinguished Lecture. The quality of the roundtables received an 88% satisfaction rate, though there was some dissatisfaction (~7%) with the facilitation of dialogue at these events as well as the number of them happening simultaneously (~17% dissatisfaction).
Once again, the Elizabeth Paris engagement event was a success, particularly Erik Conway’s Q&A after the showing of the film Merchants of Doubt. We are still working to address the concerns attendees had about it being effectively engaging for those not attending the meeting. Rest assured that we are always in touch with local venues to help us host and advertise these events and you are welcome to e-mail us with suggestions, especially regarding more inviting venues.
HSS is pleased to be able to offer resources such as a nursing mothers room, dependent care grants, and quiet rooms to all attendees. While the majority of responders did not need to take advantage of them (though 20% expected to need them at some point), the feedback was overwhelmingly positive and it appears we are all in agreement about the importance of these resources in making the conference more accessible.
Technology has played a larger role in our meetings in recent years and it’s clear that not everyone liked the ubiquity of electronic devices used to network and take notes during the meeting. Still, 64% of respondents were not at all bothered by the use of devices, and 68% reported using a device of some sort, with networking being the biggest factor in their use. And while many of us had smartphones, computers, and tablets at the ready, wifi access still proved a problem. 65% of responders supported folding in the cost of wifi to the meeting, but only 22% wanted to pay more than $10 for such access, an amount that falls far below the cost the hotel would charge us. We received many positive comments during the conference on our new mobile app, Guidebook. However, 75% of respondents to the online survey prefer to use a printed copy or pdf.
Cost is still the chief impediment to attending the HSS meetings. While many attendees have at least part of their travel or registration expenses reimbursed, some pay entirely out-of-pocket and are not eligible for grants. Also high on the list of concerns is meeting dates; these issues are closely related. San Francisco was a very popular meeting destination and we managed to secure a graduate students rate of $99/night, somewhat of a feat. However, it was the dates (the weekend before the U.S. Thanksgiving) that allowed us to negotiate that rate. Cost will always be the chief concern of both HSS and those of us attending the meetings. While free wifi, abundant and free or low-cost coffee, beer, and wine, and open spaces with ample seating for socializing would meet the requests of our responders, they would also drive the cost of registration far beyond what many of us can afford. Rest assured we do work hard every year to negotiate with the hotel to keep costs down.