The HSS Atlanta Conference

A full house at the joint opening reception.

A full house at the joint opening reception. (Photo: Robb Cohen Photography and Video)

The 2016 HSS meeting in Atlanta was a success, according to the 219 attendees who submitted post-meeting surveys. Each year, HSS asks for this feedback so that we can see what about our annual meetings works best and what we need to improve.

Total registration was about 620, a significant—but not unexpected—drop from our numbers in San Francisco (793). Of these 620 registrants, 424 were HSS members (68%) a number that is probably low since some HSS members registered with PSA or SLSA.

Just under 50% of the respondents gave Atlanta the highest marks (very satisfactory), with 75% of our responses rating the host city as very satisfactory or somewhat satisfactory. The hotel expenses for our 2016 meeting were significantly lower than last year’s meeting in San Francisco, and several participants commented on the welcome attendance of scholars from the South, a region which historically sends few representatives to HSS conferences. The lower costs for dining (there was a large food court a block away from the hotel) and for rooms ($89/night for grad student rooms) also benefitted graduate students and others. The Westin Peachtree Plaza earned satisfactory remarks, with 59% of respondents reporting that they felt very satisfied, though crowded elevators and a lack of food options in the hotel itself proved frustrating for attendees. Fully 61% of respondents were very satisfied with the costs required at the Atlanta meeting. We often struggle to balance our participants’ desire to meet in large, cosmopolitan cities with the more pressing problem of expense, especially as we strive to attract attendees who do not receive institutional support.

Ensuring a positive experience for all our participants is a major goal for the Society as we move forward, and we saw mixed progress this year. Despite efforts to verify that all venues would be accessible for those with mobility issues, some respondents reported problems accessing rooms. We take accessibility seriously and were pleased that Kate Jirik, a graduate student at the University of Minnesota, once again provided us her assessment of the hotel’s accessibility (the takeaway was that the Westin St. Francis in San Francisco, which is a historic hotel, and San Francisco in general, were much more accessible). Next year and in the future, we will take steps to make sure that both hotels and off-campus events are accessible for all of our participants, whatever their challenges.

Evelynn Hammonds (Harvard University) delivers the 2016 Distinguished Lecture: ““The Negro Scientist”: W.E.B. DuBois and the Diversity Problem in Science and the History of Science.”

Evelynn Hammonds (Harvard University) delivers the 2016 Distinguished Lecture: ““The Negro Scientist”: W.E.B. DuBois and the Diversity Problem in Science and the History of Science.” . (Photo: Robb Cohen Photography and Video)

We were pleased to see continued enthusiasm over our services for parents. For several years we have offered dependent care grants, a nursing room, and a quiet room. In Atlanta, for the first time in many years, we also provided on-site child care, made possible through the efforts of Jessica Pfeifer of PSA and made more affordable by sharing costs among HSS, PSA and SLSA. Although relatively few participants reported taking advantage of these services, 27% responded that they anticipated needing child care in the future, and we received overwhelmingly positive feedback even from those who neither used the service nor anticipated using them in the future. We are especially glad to see that our participants feel strongly, as we do, that offering resources for parents and dependent care is vital to the health of the Society and the meeting.

We hosted the Atlanta meeting, jointly, with our long-time partners in the Philosophy of Science Association (PSA) and, for the first time, the Society for Literature, Science, and the Arts (SLSA). Many attendees took advantage of the opportunity for interdisciplinary conversation, with 15% of respondents reporting that they attended at least two PSA sessions and 7% attending two or more SLSA sessions. In all, 48% of respondents attended at least one session from SLSA or PSA.

One of the benefits of a joint meeting is the ability to share costs. So in addition to splitting the expense for the onsite child care, we were, for the first time, able to hire a professional photographer for our conference. You may have seen Rob Cohen and his crew busily snapping photos, and we will post many of their pictures on the HSS site. Having someone with a professional eye record our meeting will help us promote it for future events.

When we asked attendees to give us the main reasons why they come to annual meetings, fully 75% of respondents cited the program as a primary factor and each year we ask for feedback on the quality of sessions. One element of the program, which arose from the HSS’s strategic plan and was started in 2015, is an increased number of roundtables. This has been a resounding success. Almost 90% of survey respondents were satisfied with the quality of presentations in these roundtables (up from 88% last year), and 79% were satisfied with how well the roundtable sessions facilitated dialogue, which was especially gratifying since we began the roundtables for that specific purpose. There was also broad support for the continued inclusion of a poster session at the conference, with 83% of respondents saying they would like to see a poster session at future meetings (please consider submitting a poster proposal when the 2017 CFP is issued later in January). Participants asked for more diversity in the program, and more pre-1800 sessions; the Society continues to welcome proposals along these lines. Each year we face inevitable conflicts between similar sessions, and despite a few complaints, respondents reported far fewer conflicts than in previous years. We will continue to work to reduce the number of concurrent sessions and carefully examine the program for potential conflicts.

The joint opening reception gave attendees a chance to buy the latest history of science books and catch up with friends and colleagues.

The joint opening reception gave attendees a chance to buy the latest history of science books and catch up with friends and colleagues. (Photo: Robb Cohen Photography and Video)

When asked about obstacles to attending the conferences, cost remains by far the most significant barrier. Many survey respondents reported that expenses were still high this year, despite the comparatively low cost of the Atlanta meeting. 34% of respondents paid their own way, and we are sensitive to the need for conference sites that cost less than those available in more expensive cities. While many attendees desire wifi, coffee, and locations in cities with a vibrant local culture, these amenities increase the cost of registration enormously. International attendees face special challenges on this front, and HSS is making efforts to be more true to its identity as an international society by organizing its first meeting outside North America in 2019. We recognize that this poses difficulties for our American attendees, which makes it all the more important for us to continue to work hard each year to negotiate with venues to keep costs down.

As part of its efforts to reduce the environmental impact of the meeting, we have encouraged attendees to make use of our meeting app, Guidebook, or a digital version of the program. While 47% of respondents favored limiting the number of printed programs for environmental reasons, 51% reported that they preferred using a paper program. By far, the most popular suggestion for improving our environmental friendliness was to eliminate bottled water from our meetings, with 67% of survey respondents in favor. We’ve been asking the hotels for a few years now not to distribute bottled water and that does have an effect. One of our goals for the meeting is to make it more sustainable, and we will be providing updates on those efforts.

Technology has played an increasingly large role in our meetings, and attendees reported more satisfaction with the use of technology than in recent years. Although 22% of respondents did not use a mobile device, most used a smartphone or tablet, and only 8%—far fewer than in previous years—found this distracting. HSS promoted the use of Twitter and other social media during the meeting this year, but adoption remains low, with only 27% of attendees saying that they Tweeted. This year, we asked if attendees would be interested in resources on how to use social media effectively during the meeting, and 57% said they would not. Of those who did use it, however, 73% reported that it was helpful for networking, indicating that social media may have a role to play as the Society continues to explore ways to foster networking among graduate students, early careerists, and senior scholars.